It was exciting to visit the synagogue in Loštice, CZ and learn first-hand about the work spearheaded by the Respect and Tolerance Foundation, a civic organization founded around 15 years ago that documents the history and culture of the pre-war Jewish communities in the towns of Loštice, Mohelnice, Úsov (and also Olomouc — which has an active Jewish community today — and Šumperk) — and uses its resources in educational programs for students and adults.
We have always linked to the Foundation’s web site, but this week marked JHE Coordinator Ruth Ellen Gruber’s first visit to its main center, in the renovated synagogue in Loštice, during her current Jewish heritage trip in the Czech Republic.
Respect and Tolerance director Ludĕk Štipl described some of the activities and exhibits.
Among them are a permanent exhibition on local Jewish history, as well as an extensive library of Jewish-themed books.
The exhibit include a permanent exhibit on Fanny Neuda, who lived in Loštice in the 19th century (arriving when her husband became rabbi there) and wrote Stunden der Andacht (Hours of Devotion), believed to be the first Jewish prayer book by and for women.
The Jewish Women’s Archive writes:
A best-seller that ran into twenty-eight editions, it soon became the standard women’s prayer book of its time. This is all the more remarkable because at the time of its publication in 1855 there already existed numerous examples of this form of literature, which had first appeared on the market at the beginning of the century. But in contrast to the earlier works, which were mainly composed by men, Fanny Neuda’s Stunden der Andacht was probably the first prayer book for Jewish women in the nineteenth century written by a woman. The sale record indicates the fulfillment of Fanny Neuda’s hope that her prayer texts, “the fruits of a woman’s heart,” would “find an echo in the hearts of women.”
The synagogue was built in 1805-6 to replace a wooden synagogue that had burned down. After the Holocaust the building was used as a warehouse, town museum, and music school. Owned by the town, it underwent full restoration starting in 2006, organized by Respect and Tolerance.
The restoration retained the evidence that the building suffered over the decades, and as part of the project some of the pews and six stained glass windows rescued from the monumental synagogue in Olomouc, built in the 1890s and designed by Jakob Gartner, and burned down by local fascists in March 1939, were incorporated. (One smaller window is preserved in the synagogue in nearby Úsov, which we will note in another post).
As part of the educational programming, Respect and Tolerance has installed — in the book compartments of the pews — individual exhibits evoking the lives of individual members of the local Jewish community who were deported and killed in the Holocaust — photographs, documents, and other items (mainly period pieces, not necessarily pieces that actually were owned by the victims).
Štipl explained that it was an effective way to personalize the Shoah, especially for young people — to teach them about the people who were killed and how they related to the town as families and individuals, not as part of overwhelming statistics.
Four stolpersteine memorial are also placed outside the synagogue.