History of the Pacov Jewish Community

By Karel Vošta

Originally published by the Z mého kraje monthly in September 2018.

Taxation lists dating from 1570 and a quote from a Jewish person most likely represents the first mention of a Jewish presence in Pacov. In the mid-17th century nine Jewish men, young and old, were mentioned by name but no women were included. In addition, a man “teaching children” was quoted. This documents that the growing Pacov Jewish community tried to ensure education of their religion through a teacher or rabbi and a cantor, who led the singing of religious texts in the prayer room. Often, these roles were conducted by one person. In the 19th century, the Pacov Jewish community had already built a synagogue and also a mikveh (bath), and school where children were taught in German.

The rabbi was a qualified interperter of the Torah and the halakha (Jewish religious laws). He was a teacher and counselor of religious matters, the leader of the synagogue and had the duty of officiating couples in marriage. However, this position was not always filled and if necessary, rabbis from neighboring communitites would stand in. The rabbi was a professional scholar who was usually hired by Jewish communities for a definite period of time. Among other important people necessary for functioning of a religious community, were the shamash, whose duties included secretarial work and assisting the cantor. Also the shochet, ritual slaughterer and the mohel, performer of circumcision or brit milah. 

Juda Lodmer (Lederer) can be considered the first known Jewish cleric living in Pacov. We have evidence of him in 1793 when 18 Jewish families were already living there. Juda stayed in No. X (Jewish houses were usually numbered with Roman numerals). He was described as a synagogue teacher and cantor and also as a shochet, who slaughtered animals and supervised the processing of meat. He came from Radenín near Tábor and conducted services in a provisional prayer room in the attic of Wolf Meller’s house. 

The tomb of Mendel and Jakob Meller

Philipp Meller was born around 1750 and came from a local family. He was a trader but also a mohel, a qualified surgeon practicing circumcision on eight-day old male babies as they entered the Jewish community. The mohel was an esteemed man who originally was not allowed to accept renumeration for his activity. The Meller family descended from the Levi tribe and there are several tombstones in the Pacov Jewish cemetary with a relief depicting a pitcher, the symbol for the ritual of cleansing. 

The religious leader of the Jewish community was sometimes called a “Religionsweiser” in German and in Hebrew, “Moreh Tsedek”, an individual who had lesser authority than that of the rabbi, but could fulfill certain rabbinical functions. Samuel Stern (1839–1851) who was quoted as Religionsweiser, came from Touškov near Pilsen in West Bohemia. He stayed in a small house No. 177 located next to the synagogue. This house belonged to the Jewish community. His son Jakob was a tailor and simultaneosuly a mohel and a shamash. Elias Polatschek officiated weddings  in 1848 and 1849. Among other rabbis we know of were Ignaz Troller (1852–1854), Simon Wolf Freund (1857–1867), Max Hoch (1900–1901) and Dr. Siegfried Brett (1903) who later moved to Klatovy in West Bohemia.

A synagogue’s cantor used to be a hired scholar, too. We know of Ignaz Rosner (after 1870) from Hungary, Heinrich Kuhner (1901) from Bzenec in Moravia and Rudolf Presser (1910) from Lipník nad Bečvou. His son was Otto Presser (born in Pacov 1912–1945), who in his younger years became the unforturnate last rabbi of Tábor. Rabbis and cantors, not shamashes, were staying in the Jewish small house No 177, which was located next to the synagogue. The shamas held an honorary position that received renumeration for his services. As a rule, a local citizen who lived in his own house was assigned the position of shamas. This was the case of Jindřich Scheck (1866–1936) who came from a poor family in Radenín. He was trained to be a tinsmith, and ran his trade in Pacov. He  received an annual pay of  1,800 Czech crowns and was also paid for practising kashrut – the ritual kosher slaughter of animals. His son, Siegfried succeeded his father in performing the same role as shamas. Siegfried, known as Frýda Scheck, or in Czech, Vítězslav (b. 1909), died in Auschwitz together with his wife Blažena and their daughters Jindřiška, Marta and Helenka.

The last senior of the Jewish community in Pacov, Emil Lederer (right) with his brother Viktor

The house No 315, a school building,  also belonged to the Jewish community. At the end of 19th century, 34 children attended the school. However, the school was closed soon after and the children were then taught religion within the curriculum at primary and secondary schools. In this house lived the last of Pacov’s rabbis: Jindřich Pick (1926–1928), and Natan Guttmann. The latter came from Nowy Sącz in Halič, Galicia and came to Pacov in February 1928. His daughter Nelly Prezma née Guttmann (b. 1926), survived the Holocaust and today lives in Israel. It is of interest that the Catholic Dean was among the rabbi’s friends. Rabbi Guttmann’s annual pay was 8,400 Czech crowns. Retired Rabbi Šalamoun Kohn (1854–1931) living in No 87 was also paid by the Jewish community. He was active in Nové Strašecí in the Rakovník region of North Bohemia, and was probably born in Nová Cerekev. He and his wife Eliška, who died in 1908, are buried in Pacov. Hugo Jokl (1891–1960) came from an old Pacov family and he also received a rabbincal education. He became a professor and was a teacher at a Czech grammar school in Vienna, Austria from 1922 until 1939, and in Tábor after 1939. After the annexation of Austria by Germany, Jokl, along with his family, lived for a short period of time in Pacov. He survived thanks to the so-called mixed-marriage state.

Leopold Pachner (b. 1897–1969) who survived Terezín, conducted services in the synagogue in Tábor after the war. He and Jokl were cousins and they were the last Jews to be burried in the Jewish cemetery in Pacov.