Written by Jan Zoubek, archivist in Pacov, in 1934.
Translated by Daniela Hogan and Dr Eva Horn
Edited by Lois Goldrich and Rhonda Roth
It is not easy to say when and from where the first Jews came to Pacov; and I regret the lack of information that would shed light on the hidden past. However, it is certain that the Jews lived in Pacov years before we can see the actual evidence of their presence there.
The first Jews most likely came during the late 16th century after being expelled from Bohemia – mainly Prague – in 1541. They arrived in large numbers and started settling in provincial towns. According to the lists created by the Prague’s Jews in 1570 for tax purposes, only one Jew lived in Pacov then. Most likely, however, it was a whole family rather than a single person. The Jew in question made a living by trading merchandise, as was the custom of many Jews. Perhaps it is the same, unnamed Jew that sold locksmith’s tools to Jan, son of Rozhurek, for 2 kopas of Meissen groschen (120 groschen) in 1596.
The first Jew known by name is Aaron of Pacov, who in 1622 leased work animals and wagons to those in the surrounding area. In addition to Aaron at the time of the 30 Years’ War [1618–1648], there was another Jew, probably a descendant of the aforementioned Jew who lived in Pacov in 1570 – the first recorded Jew in Pacov. This Jew ran a business trading just about everything – glass, brass, textiles, glittering knick-knacks, etc. After the battle of White Mountain [November 8, 1620], the situation of the Jews improved, particularly after they were put under the protection of the king [Ferdinand III who reigned from 1627 to 1657] in 1627. Count Jan Czernin of Chudenice, who owned the seigniorial Pacov, acknowledged and surely benefited from the Jewsish acumen. He wrote that “in the chaos of our time, only they are allowed and able to get desired merchandise.” Count Czernin conducted business largely with the Jews from Prague. He sold them mutton from his farmsteads and bought various necessities from them and from the Jews of Tábor [a regional center city 18 miles west of Pacov or a reference to the larger Tábor district].
Jewish traders from Pacov had to pay a monetary tax and a tax in kitchen spices to the manorial lords. When in 1638 a Jew in Pacov failed to do so (having no spices in stock), his lord at first insisted on sending him to jail. Upon realizing that this wouldn’t serve his purposes, however, he released him after the Jew promised he “would go to Prague right away, travel night and day, and be back by Tuesday with the spices.”
Aaron of Pacov did not do very well. His cattle and wagon trade – which he ran in addition to a store – was more of a hindrance than a benefit. The army eventually confiscated his cattle and wagons. Impoverished by the [Thirty Years’] war, he had no money to pay his taxes. Most likely it was him who in 1639 ran away from Pacov, leaving his debts behind. His father, unnamed, was at the time staying with his daughter in Deštná [small town 19 miles south of Pacov].
Beginning with the second half of the 17th century, there is more information about the Jews. From 1654, we finally have an accurate list of Jewish names. In 1640 a Mr Herschel, a tanner, bought a house from the manorial lords. He had a helper named Salomon, not yet 20 years old There was a second Jewish family composed of two brothers, Abraham and Joachim, who lived together and managed a store. A third family in Pacov was headed by a poor Jew named Filip, who owned a store that was not doing well. His son Simon and his servant Moses were both less than 20 years old. These three families supported an unnamed Jew who taught their children. Only males above the age of 10 were counted for tax purposes; women and children were not included. Therefore, we can guess the total number of the Jews in Pacov was about 15–20. The fact that they procured a teacher for their children is an excellent testament to their vision and selfless devotion. In times of a deep cultural decline, they provided their children with an education, thus building a foundation for their future prosperity and growth. This is probably the reason why 80 years later, the richest inhabitants in Pacov were Jews.
Other news about the Pacov Jews is random: For example, we know that in 1659 a soap boiler Václav Stejskal bought a small iron kettle from a Jewess for two Reichsthaler; and in 1679 Alžběta, daughter of Jiří Křepelka, quarreled with Herschel’s wife until aldermen reconciled them.
The post-White Mountain boom
After the 30 Years’ War, Pacov slowly recovered. Peace prevailed, and the sensible rule of the countess of Saar [55 miles east of Pacov], the widow of General Sigismund Myslík of Hyršov, created a calm environment. Therefore, in the late 17th century the Jewish population grew and strengthened as well. The families named in the 1654 register lived together in two homes, Abraham’s and Filip’s house. One of those was in fact Herschel’s house, bought from the local nobles in 1640. Due to an influx of the Jews and natural internal growth two houses were insufficient. Newly arriving Jews probably rented from their manorial lords the originally Christian houses that were left empty after the country’s destructive depopulation. When they grew stronger economically, they bought those houses and the expanding Jewish community of Pacov arranged to have its own cemetery. They purchased the land for a cemetery – on the outskirts of town in the direction toward Roučkovice [northeast of Pacov] – in 1680 from the local municipality. They also paid the municipality a yearly interest of two groschen.
One of the Christian houses that became Jewish property was a house named after the family Kolářík. A Jew named Abraham Pik and his brother-in-law Benjamin inherited the house from his friends. Abraham then bought out Benjamin, and with the advice of his wife sold the house on May 11, 1691, to his brother-in-law Salomon Posn and his wife for a sum of 43 kopas, each kopa being equal to 70 kreutzer. Salomon Posn, a new Jew in Pacov, had been renting a house from the manorial lords. He actually bought the house for his soon-to-be-married daughter and her future husband, intending to give them his rental home. During his purchase, he stipulated the right to sell the house to another Jew, should the wedding be canceled. The owner had to pay a protection fee called “Schutzgeld” as well as interest to the local nobles, in addition to performing various obligations such as helping with the harvest. These obligations could be waived for a measly sum of 36 kreutzer yearly. Statute labour was not hard then for local citizens.
Another Christian house that came into Jewish hands, formerly known as the Organist’s house, was built on an empty plot of land. The Jew Marek Bernard purchased the plot – without a field – from the organist Jiří Mašát for four gulden. The house was built by the manorial lords who sold it on July 28, 1701, to Marek Bernard for 75 gulden. Not only did he acquire the house and a plot of land for a total of 79 gulden, but in addition he didn’t have to pay anything to the town because he bought the house from the local nobles.
Soon the Jews bought the former butcher shops in which, possibly, they could have their own butchery. Prior to 1693, a tanner Salomon Abraham had a house in Pacov. Another tanner, as well as a Gentile shoemaker named Václav Havlový, purchased houses next to his. It is said the Jews had lived in that house previously. It didn’t remain in Christian hands for long. Soon Václav Havlový sold it to another Gentile Pavel Rádec who sold it to Salomon Abraham the same year (1693) for 25 kopas. Salomon Abraham now had two small houses next to each other. The additional house was passed on by Salomon Abraham’s widow Judita on November 6, 1704, to Salomon’s son Filip and his wife. The original Salomon house, formerly known as Jaroš house – the one bought from the local nobles for 70 kopas of Meissen groschen – Judita sold equally to her sons Hašek, Filip, Jíša, and Pinkas for the same sum of 70 kopas of Meissen groschen on January 12, 1706.
The old house owned by Filip the tanner since 1654 was sold in 1717 to the richest citizen of Pacov, the Jew Jakob Lébl, for 150 gulden. In 1727 this house burned down in a terrible town fire. Jakob Lébl rebuilt it in the same location for 3,000 gulden. It was a real town mansion. It had three vaulted shops, a tavern, a granary, storage rooms, and two rooms on the second floor. On December 29, 1734, Lébl registered the house in his and his second wife Rozalie’s names, plus the names of children from his first and second marriages (his first wife was named Judita) with one proviso: Should he die before his second wife, and should she later remarry, her second husband would have no right to the house and all would belong to the children. It seems that his second wife was considerably younger.
Between 1654, when Pacov had only two Jewish houses, and 1722 the number of houses tripled. According to the Terezian cadaster, the tax register named after Maria Theresa [Habsburg ruler from 1740 to 1780], the Jews owned houses from numbers 247 to 252.
House number 247 was occupied by the Jew Lazar (Leser) Haska. Born in Pacov, he was 28 years old and single in 1734 when Pacov revised its tax register. He lived with his widowed mother and siblings: 18-year-old Rosina, 14-year-old Lia, and 9-year-old Lébl. His parents were also born in Pacov and his house was formerly owned by the local nobles. He paid a protection fee of 16 gulden and a tax of 3 gulden. He earned his livelihood by peddling various goods, mainly textiles, which he carried on his back to markets in the surrounding towns. On average, he earned about 100 gulden a year. At first glance, it does not appear to be much. However, it is substantial when we compare it to the average income of other Pacov farmers and traders at the time, which was 40 gulden.
In 1722, in house number 248, lived the 26-year-old Jew Volf with his wife Běta of Ronov. Volf got married when he was just 15 years old. In 1722 they had three children: 10-year-old Rosina, 6-year-old Joachym, and 2-year-old Estera. Volf sold linens, which yielded him 50 gulden. He paid 10 gulden to the local nobles for protection and a Jewish tax of 6 gulden. Volf’s father Marek was born in Pacov and, as we already know, he bought the Organist’s house in 1691.
House number 249 we already know as Jaroš house. By 1722, however, it was known as Jíše house. In 1734 it was owned by three brothers. The oldest, Salomon Jíše, was 45 years old and had a wife, Moscha, of the same age. Both were born in Pacov and thus weren’t among the newly arrived Jews. They had only two children, 22-year-old Filip and 15-year-old Lébl. The second co-owner, Pinkas Salomon, was born in 1704 and was married at age 17 to Pacov-born Jewess Ančka. By 1734 they had four daughters: 12-year-old Kačenka, 9-year-old Judita, 8-year-old Lia, and 6-year-old Rosina. In 1730 their son Filip was born. The third owner, Salomon Haska, brought his wife from Haber in the Čáslav district. They had a son named Koška and a 6-month-old daughter Ančka.
The brothers claimed that their family lived in Pacov for 70 years since their grandfather came to town. That would mean the Jíše family came to Pacov in 1660, which would making them the fourth oldest Jewish family living there.
Not only did the brothers live together, they also worked together selling dry goods door to door. In their home in Pacov, they also sold textiles. The oldest, Salomon, earned 100 gulden, Pinkas, 75, and Salomon Haska only 50 which made him the poorest Jew in Pacov. Each paid eight gulden per year to the local nobles for protection, and a Jewish tax of three gulden.
In house number 250 resided the richest man in Pacov, the Jew Jakub Lébl. His house, as we know, was rebuilt after a town fire in 1727 for quite a large sum on an old Jewish site owned by Filip. The records show the original house belonged in 1654 to his father. Jakub Lébl was at that time 45 years old. According to the 1734 records he was married to his second wife Rozalie who came from Prague. He had seven children in total between his first and second wife. The oldest, Anna, was 15 years old; Jakob, 13 years old; Jüttele, 10 years old; and Michal, 8 years old. Surprisingly, he also named his next daughter Anna. Then came Ludmila (6) and Běta (2).
Jakob Lébl was a wholesaler who bought wool in the surrounding areas and sold it to Pacov weavers. He then bought the finished textiles, selling them locally and internationally as far as Trieste, Italy, from where he imported silks and silk ribbons. In his store, he also sold grains, spices, and trinkets. From his manorial lords he rented a distillery in the house No 246, with the rights to distill, sell, and tap spirits. He paid a yearly rent of 310 Rhenish guilder and a protection fee of 28 Rhenish guilder which included the use of the cellar. The Jewish elders in Prague estimated his ability to pay at a higher rate, and demanded a yearly Jewish tax of 96 gulden. His yearly profit from the trade and a sale of spirits amounted to 1,000 gulden. It was a significantly higher profit than that of his Christian competitor, Mayor Matěj Zoubek, whose business yielded him just 200 gulden. No Christian citizen in Pacov earned more than 200 gulden at that time.
House number 251 was inhabited by a Jew named Marcus Meller, born in Vimperk [about 75 miles southwest of Pacov]. He arrived in Pacov in 1702 and later married Regina, daughter of a Pacov Jew. This apparently took place in 1717, when he was 33 years old and his bride 28. They had only two sons: Lazar who was born in 1718, and Filip who was born in 1719. Marcus Meller purchased the house in 1718 from his brother-in-law. A tanner by trade, he rented a tannery from the local nobles for 50 gulden a year. He also traded leather and wool. He paid 16 gulden 30 kreutzer for protection and a Jewish tax of 60 gulden. He, too, lived well, earning 300 gulden per year.
The last Jewish household was the house No 252. A house long occupied by the Jews, it was known in 1654 as Abraham’s house. It now belonged to Adam Mendl. He inherited the house from his father and lived in it with his wife Marie who was 10 years younger. In 1734 he was 50 years old, and they had no children. Like Marcus Meller, he paid a protection fee of 16 gulden 30 kreutzer and a Jewish tax of 20 gulden. He traded mainly textiles in local markets which yielded him an income of 200 gulden.
From 1734 we have a mention of a prayer house. It was not a separate building, but rather a space located in the house of one of the Jewish residents.
Disputes and agreements
It is understandable that the increase in the number of Jews in Pacov was not without controversy. What we know about the ensuing disputes is that they were not based on religious hatred but were instead genuine legal disputes emerging from the fact the Jews were buying farmland properties that were meant to be taxed by the town, with additional fees paid to the parish priest. When the Jews acquired them, they did not pay the town nor the priest. The town was the first to claim its rights and win the lawsuit. A 1718 settlement required the Jews living in the four now-Jewish houses to pay a monetary contribution of 10 kreutzer per month to the town. In the future, they would be exempt only if they bought empty building lots directly from the local nobles. The Jews did not recognize the settlement and refused to pay. Only in 1729 did they promise to pay – and pay they did.
The dispute with the parish priest was more serious. The priest complained that his tithes decreased because the Jews now owned the former Christian properties. From his point of view he was right. Tithes were tied to the houses, not the owner. The priest argued that he had a right to tithes from the four houses, and the Jews should pay these.
Pacov administration took up both complaints and suggested remediation. A visiting commission recommended in August 1734 that the Jews who insinuated themselves into the town after 1618 be evicted from the town. (Note: The consensus decision of 1650 determined that only the Jews that have been living in the Czech lands since before 1618 were to be tolerated.) In regard to the contributions it recommended that the Jews start paying immediately the due amount of 10 kreutzer per month to cover the period from 1718, when the town made a deal with the manorial lord, until 1729, when they actually started to pay. Thus the Jews needed to pay 80 gulden in total.
The commission was also concerned that the Jews did not live together, separately from the Christians, and instead were scattered among them. There was a concern that this could give rise to disturbances, particularly when “the priest administers the last rites,” and the commission advised that the Jews be ordered to move into new houses outside of the town (Tummelplatz). In addition, they were to reconcile with the priest.
It is obvious that the commission’s initial recommendation to expel the Jews and move them out of town was not meant seriously, as the eviction did not comply with the resolution of 1650. The Jews found the strongest support among the nobility, which was represented by the prior of Barefooted Carmelites monastery in Pacov Father Johannes Bernardus, and S Bonaventura. The prior must have been afraid of losing income from the protection fees paid by the four evicted Jews, which would have been 66 gulden 30 kreutzer. In addition, he might have defended them because of a poor relationship with the Pacov parish priest. He proved that the Pacov Jews had been in the town for 136 years and that they now held houses that were largely bought from the local nobles. Therefore, they were “dominical” and not subject to municipal taxes. He argued also that parish fees are not paid by Jews anywhere and that the Jews lived among Christians in other towns like Tábor and Brandýs without causing any disturbance. We do not know how it turned out, but it seems that from then on, the Jews paid the town fees but not the parish fees. They kept acquiring more houses and they started to live in a more concentrated area. Fifty years later they owned not six but ten houses. In Pacov register from 1787, they are listed in this order:
I. Manorial Distillery, II. Bernard and Joachim Volff, III. Mendl Abraham, IV. Jakub Lébl, V. Isák Lábl and Abraham Moises, VI. Samuel Filip, VII. Salamoun Jakub, VIII. Lébl Elkan, IX. Jakub Jíša, and X. Filip Samuel.
In the 1829 register we find these Jewish homeowners in Pacov:
Jakub Král lived in a house number II where he also had a farm building. Salomon Möller resided in the house number III. Number IV was a very spacious house (possibly the former Zelenohorský house, belonging at the beginning of the 18th century to Jakob Löbl) owned by David Pick who also had a farm building. Moses Robitschek lived in number V, and Jakob Pick in number VI. Abraham Rotenbaum owned houses VII and VIII. One of them must have been huge as it covered the area of 95×30 square fathoms. Isák Randauer also owned two houses, numbers IX and X. The smaller Jewish house number I was used by the local nobles as a religious fund. Jews also owned urban houses, such as number 179 belonging to Lazar and Rosalie Möller. Gabriel Pick owned the house number 174. The Jewish religious community owned the synagogue in the house number 379 and a plot of land number 1379 measuring 200 square fathoms, which served as a cemetery.
Before the upheaval in 1848, and before their full liberation and emancipation, the Jews had one more struggle to overcome. It was a long dispute with the town council that kept preventing them from entering a free market – and it was in vain. As before, the disputes were not driven by religious resentment but were instead a consequence of the guild system decline.
The Jews Emanuel Meller and Josef Moravec wanted to open stores and were granted permits in 1840 by the local nobles. An alarm and lawsuits soon followed as the town council – urged by the local guilds – refused to grant them a permit to conduct business in the town houses. The municipal authorities successfully defended this fundamental principle at regional and county councils and in 1843 in a higher court too.
The Jews refused to accept that, especially as seeing the local nobles were on their side. In spite of repeated rejections, Josef Moravec opened his store in 1840 in the house number 76. After closing the first store, he opened a leather store in 1842. Later that year, he received a permit from the manorial council to cut leather and cloth for sale. Yet again he was forced to back away as the city officials sealed his store, an action later upheld by the court in 1843.
Equally unsuccessful was Emanuel Meller who wanted to open a store in the house number 274. The entire dispute was a struggle for jurisdictional power between the local nobles and the municipality. The municipality scored a victory in accordance with the law as it protested against the nobles interfering with its authority. The nobles could only grant permissions to the Jews living in houses that fell under their jurisdiction. Both Jews wanted to open stores in municipal houses, which was impossible without municipal consent.
A dispute with the butcher’s guild took place in 1840. The Jew Jáchym Moravec fought for a right to enter a free market and to be incorporated in the guild’s books. The guild won. Jáchym Moravec was denied guild membership and was banned from selling meat.
After 1848 a détente leading to the full emancipation of Jews also resulted in a strong increase of the Jewish population. The highest number of Jews, 164, was reached in 1910. In 1929 due to World War I this number fell to 121.
Vilém Zirkl and Bernard Pick, JD, are ranked among the most outstanding Jews who lived in Pacov.
Vilém Zirkl was born in Jistebnice. He lived in Pacov briefly. He was an untiring Jewish-Czech worker, excellent theater actor, writer, and translator. He followed in the footsteps of Josef Penížek, the editor of the national newspaper Národní listy. He died prematurely from heart disease in 1894 and is buried in Pacov.
Dr Bernard Pick was not born in Pacov but lived there for 40 years. A cosmopolitan intellectual with a large heart as well as an idealist, friend, and advocate of ordinary people, Dr Pick served for years in the municipal council. With his noble-minded character, he gained a deep respect and admiration of all who knew him. His biggest pleasure was to reconcile two feuding parties which he often did for free. As a lawyer, he stood up only for cases he believed in.
Many other Jewish natives from Pacov deserve recognition: Emil Jokl, JD, minister of Postal and Telegraph Services; Hugo Jokl, PhD, professor of the Czechoslovak Comenius Gymnasium in Vienna; Josef Roubitschek, DI; the concert master Josef Moravec; and the graphology expert Dolfina Pope, who wrote many valuable articles on the subject.
The Jews in Pacov still occupy prominent positions in commerce and industry. There is the Brothers Lederer large department store and Victor Weiner’s leather factory which began exporting goods to France, England, and Egypt even before the war.
Leadership of the Jewish religious congregation was entrusted to a progressive, forward-looking mayor Emil Lederer, a wholesaler who during his mayoral tenure had the Jewish cemetery reorganized and the old tombstones repaired. A charitable donation of 4,000 Czech crowns was used to repair the Tzidduk Hadin hall and the preliminary stage of synagogue restoration was initiated. Mayor Lederer also enabled the establishment of an exhibition commemorating old Jewish artifacts in the local history museum that keeps attracting a well-deserved interest of all visitors. ✡