A local grassroots association has managed to purchase the rundown former synagogue in Pacov, Czech Republic and hopes to begin implementation of its longterm plans to restore the building as a memorial and cultural center.
“We intend to save the building from falling apart and turn it into a dignified memorial of the former local Jewish community,” Daniela Orlando, chair of the Tikkun Pacov association, told JHE. Tikkun Pacov was formed in 2015 and received official non-profit status in 2017.
The association took formal possession of the synagogue in January, after it raised 950,000 Czech crowns (€37,000), mainly through private donations but also with a subsidy from the municipality, to purchase it from a private owner.
The synagogue will contain a permanent exhibition commemorating four centuries of Jewish life in Pacov, while also hosting educational and cultural events organized by our association in order to return it to its rightful place in the physical and mental landscape of our town. We hope to get a better idea of the future use of the synagogue and involve the local people in its restoration through a public discussion in August. This will be attended by museum experts and professionals but we would like to engage the general public as well and find out more about their expectations and ideas related to the synagogue. We have of course invited the municipal authorities and the preservationists too.
In March, Jewish heritage experts, including field researchers from the Jewish Museum in Prague led by Dr. Lenka Uličná, archeologists from Archaia Brno archeological institute led by Petr Duffek, and preservationists from the National Heritage Institute, visited the synagogue. They examined the genizah in the synagogue’s attic, and conducted a preliminary assessment of plasterwork.
They also visited the Jewish cemetery, located at the northeastern edge of town. Established in 1680 and used until the 1960s, it has around 300 gravestones, the oldest dating back to the early 18th century, and a recently restored ceremonial hall. The cemetery is in the care of the Jewish Community of Prague and, Orlando said, is being maintained by a local volunteer.
The first mention of a Jew in Pacov dates from 1570. The synagogue was probably built before 1823 and then reconstructed in neo-Romanesque provincial style after a fire in 1864. It functioned until the Jewish community was deported in 1941. The community was not revived after the Holocaust, and no Jews live in Pacov today.
Having obtained the synagogue after the war, the Jewish community of Tábor sold the building to a state-owned distillery and yeast-manufacturing plant in Kolín in 1952. From 1956 it was used as a collective farm’s storeroom and business premises. Even after 1989 the synagogue continued to be utilized for storage and business purposes by a string of private owners.
In the video below, on the iDNES.cz web site, Orlando tours the synagogue in December 2018, after the sale to Tikkun Pacov went through:
Orlando, who is not Jewish, presented about the Pacov synagogue project at the conference on Urban Jewish heritage held in Krakow in September.
She told JHE that she got involved in the project in 2016. This was, she said,
after members of the original grass-roots movement published their first articles in the local newspaper and organized several public events in order to raise awareness about the Jewish history of Pacov. It looked like a fascinating opportunity to discover and restore another side of Pacov, one that by then had almost completely disappeared, and accomplish something truly worthwhile – even more so today when we all need to remember the legacy of the Shoah harder than ever. Uncovering the history and fate of the Pacov Jews made me realize our future may depend on our understanding of the past, and so protecting our heritage became a moral imperative for me. I simply couldn’t stand by while the synagogue crumbled.