History of the Jews in Pacov

Written by Jan Zoubek – Archiver, Pacov – [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 Jews lived in Pacov years before we can see actual evidence of their presence there.

Most likely, Jews came sometime in the second half of the 16th century, after being expelled from Bohemia—mainly from Prague— in 1541. They arrived in large numbers and started settling in provincial towns. According to the lists created by Prague’s Jews in 1570 for tax purposes, only one Jew lived in Pacov. However, the probability is that this was not a single Jew but rather a whole family. 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 the locksmith’s tools to Jan, son of Rozhurek, for 2 Meissner groschen (60 groschen) in 1596.

The first Jew known by name is Aaron from 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 Jews who lived in Pacov in 1570, the first recorded Jew in Pacov. This individual had a business trading just about everything — glass, brass, textiles, glittering knick-knacks, etc. After the battle on White Mountain [November 8, 1620], the situation of the Jews improved, particularly after they were put under the protection of the king in the year 1627. [Ferdinand III reigned from 1627 to 1657.] Lord Jan Cernin, Sr. from Chudenic, who owned the seigniorial Pacov, acknowledged and surely benefited from the Jews’ acumen. He wrote that “in the chaos of his time, only they are able and know how to get desired merchandise.” Lord Cernin conducted business largely with Jews from Prague. He sold them mutton from his farmsteads and bought diverse necessities from them and from the Jews of Tabor [a regional center city 18 miles west of Pacov or a reference to the larger Tabor district].

Jewish traders from Pacov had to pay the nobility both a monetary tax and a tax in kitchen spices. When, in 1638, a Jew in Pacov did not do so (not having spices in stock), the noble first intended to send him to jail. However, realizing that this wouldn’t serve his purposes, 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 from Pacov did not do very well. His cattle and wagon trade —which he had in addition to a store—was more of a hindrance than a benefit. The army took his cattle and wagons. Since the [Thirty Years’] war impoverished the farmers who owed him money, he became impoverished and did not have the money to pay taxes. Most likely, he is the Jew who in 1639 ran away from Pacov, leaving his debts behind. His father, unnamed, was, at the time, with his daughter in Destna [small town 19 miles south of Pacov].

Beginning with the second half of the 17th century, there is more information about Jews. From 1654, we finally have an accurate list of Jewish names. In 1640, Mr. Herschel, a tanner, bought a house from the nobility. Mr. Herschel 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, 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 had with them an unnamed Jew who taught the children. Only males above the age of 10 were counted for tax purposes; women and children were not included. Therefore, we can guess that the total number of Jews in Pacov was about 15-20 people.

The fact that they had a teacher for the children is an excellent testament to their vision and selfless devotion. In times of a deep cultural decline, they provided the 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 Pacov Jews is random: For example, we know that in 1659, a soap boiler, Vaclav Stejskal, bought a small iron boiler from a Jewish woman for two reichsthalers; and in 1679, Alzbeta, daughter of Jiri Krepelka, quarreled with the wife of a Herschel until aldermen had to reconcile them.

After the 30 Years’ War, Pacov slowly recovered. Peace prevailed, and the sensible rule of General Sigmund Myslik’s (from Hirsov) widow, a countess from Zdar, [55 miles east of Pacov] created a calm environment. Therefore, in the second half of the 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 and Herschel’s house, bought from the nobility in 1640.

Due to an influx of Jews and natural, internal growth, two houses were insufficient. Probably newly arriving Jews rented from the nobility, originally Christian houses that were left empty after the country’s destructive depopulation. When they grew stronger economically, they bought those houses and the stronger Jewish community of Pacov arranged to have its own cemetery. They purchased the land for the cemetery—behind the town in the direction toward Rouckovice [northeast of Pacov]—in 1680 from the local municipality. They paid yearly interest of two groschen to the town.

One of the Christian houses that became Jewish property was a house named after the family Kolarik. A Jew, Abraham Pik, with his brother-in-law Benjamin, inherited the house from 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 Kopa, each Kopa being worth 70 kreuzer.

Salomon Posn, a Jew new to Pacov, had been renting a house from the nobility. 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 “Schutzgeld,” a fee for protection, as well as interest to the nobility, in addition to performing various obligations, such as helping with the harvest. For this he was paid 36 kreuzer yearly. Work was not hard then for the citizens of Pacov.

Another Christian house that came into Jewish hands, formerly known as the organist’s house, was built in a desolate place. The Jew Marek Bernard purchased the plot, of course without a field, from the organist Jiri Masata for four guldens. That house was built by the nobility, who sold it on July 28, 1701, for 75 gulden to Marek Bernard. 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 nobility.

Soon, Jews bought houses where there used to be butcher shops and where, possibly, they could have their own livestock. Prior to 1693, the tanner Salomon Abraham had a house in Pacov. Another tanner, as well as Vaclav Havlovy, a non-Jewish shoemaker, purchased houses next to his. It is said that Jews had lived in that house previously. It didn’t remain in Christian hands for long. Soon, Vaclav Havlovy sold it to Pavel Radec, also a non-Jew, who sold it to Salomon Abraham in the same year, 1693, for 25 Kopa. 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 his son Filip and his wife. The original Salomon house, formerly known as Jaros’ house—the one bought from the nobility for 70 Kopa Meissner—Mother Judita sold equally to sons Hasek, Filip, Jisa, and Pinkas for the same sum of 70 Kopa Meissner, on January 12, 1706.

The old house owned by tanner Filip since 1654 was sold in the year 1717 to the richest of Pacov’s Jews, citizen Jakob Lebl, for 150 gulden. In 1727 this house burned down in a terrible town fire. Jakob Lebl 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, he 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 they die before his second wife, and should she 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 [Hapsburg 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: sisters Rosina, 18 years old, and Lia, 14 years old, and 9-year-old brother Lebel. His parents were also born in Pacov. The house was formerly owned by the nobility, and he paid 16 gulden for protection and 3 gulden for taxes. 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 citizens at the time, which was 40 gulden from farming or trade.

In 1722, in house number 248, lived the 26-year-old Jew Wolf R., with his wife Beta from Ronov. Wolf got married when he was just 15 years old. They had three children, Rosina, 10 years old, a son, Joachym, 6 years old, and 2-year-old Estera. His trade was selling linens, which yielded him 50 gulden. He paid 10 gulden to the nobility for protection and 6 gulden for the Jewish tax. Wolf ’s father Marek was born in Pacov, and, as we already know, he bought the house in 1691 from the organist.

House number 249 we already know as the house of Jarsovsky, but by 1722 it was known as Jisovsky. In 1734 it was owned by three brothers. The oldest, Salomon Jise, 45 years old, 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 Lebl. The second co-owner, Pinkas Salomon, was born in 1704 and was married at age 17 to Pacov’s Jewish Ancka. By 1734 they had four daughters, Kacenka, 12 years old, Judita, 9 years old, Lia, 8 years old, and Rosina, 6 years old. In 1730 their son Filip was born.

The third owner, Salomon Haska, had a wife from Haber, from the Caslav district. They had a son, Kaska, and a 6-month-old daughter, Ancka.

The brothers claimed that their family was in Pacov for 70 years, from the time their grandfather lived there. That would mean the family Jise came to Pacov in 1660, making it the fourth oldest Jewish family living there.

Not only did they live together, but they 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. That made him the poorest Jew in Pacov. Each paid eight gulden per year to the nobility for protection, and three gulden each for the Jewish tax.

In house number 250 resided the richest man in Pacov, the Jew Jakub Lebl. 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. Statistics in 1654 show the original house as belonging to his father. Jakub Lebl was, at that time, 45 years old. According to the 1734 records, he was married to his second wife, Rozalie, from Prague. He had total of seven children between his first and second wife. The oldest, Anna, was 15 years old; Jakob, 13 years old; Juttele, 10 years old; and Michal, 8 years old. Surprisingly, he also named his next daughter Anna. Then came Ludmila, 6, and Beta, 2.

Jakob Lebl was a wholesaler, buying wool in the surrounding areas and selling it to Pacov’s weavers. He then bought the finished textiles, selling them locally and internationally as far as Terst [modern Trieste, a seaport in Northern Italy]. From there he imported silks and silk ribbons. In his store, he also sold grains, spices, and trinkets. From the nobility he rented a distillery in number 246, with the rights to distill, sell, and tap spirits. His rent was 310 rynsky gulden yearly and 28 rynsky gulden for protection, which included use of the cellar. The older Jews in Prague estimated his ability to pay at a higher rate, and ordered a yearly Jewish tax of 96 gulden. His yearly profit, from the trade and a sale of spirits, was 1,000 gulden. That was a profit significantly higher than that of his Christian competitor, Mayor Matej 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 born in 1718, and Filip 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 nobility for 50 gulden a year. He also traded leather and wool. He paid 16 gulden 30 kreuzer for protection and a Jewish tax of 60 gulden. He, too, lived well, earning 300 gulden per year.

The last Jewish house is number 252. It was a Jewish house for many years and 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. As did Marcus Meller, he paid 16 gulden 30 kreuzer for protection, and 20 gulden for the Jewish tax. He traded mainly textiles in local markets. That yielded him an income of 200 gulden.

In 1734 there is a mention of a prayer house. It was not a separate building, but rather was located in the house of one of the Jews.

It is understandable that the increase in the number of Jews in Pacov was not without controversy. What we know about these disputes is that they were not based on religious hatred but were genuine legal disputes emerging from the fact that Jews were buying “na gruntech,” properties that were meant to be taxed by the town, with additional fees paid to the priest. When Jews acquired them, they did not pay either the town or the priest. Pacov was the first town to claim its rights, and it won the lawsuit. In a 1718 settlement, it was determined that Jews living in the four now-Jewish houses were obligated to pay to the town a monetary contribution of 10 kreuzer per month. In the future, they would be exempt only if they bought empty building lots directly from the nobility. The Jews did not recognize the settlement and refused to pay. Only in 1729 did they promise to pay—and they did.

The dispute with the priest was more serious. He was complaining to a commission that his tithes decreased because Jews now owned previously Christian properties. From his point of view, he was correct. Tithes were tied to the houses, not the owner. He argued that he had a right to tithes from the four houses, and the Jews should pay.

The administration took on both complaints and suggested remediation. The commission—in Pacov, August 1734—recommended that Jews who insinuated themselves into the town after 1618 should be evicted from the town. (Note: The consensus decision of 1650 determined that in Czech lands, only Jews living there before 1618 were to be tolerated.)

As far as the town contributions were concerned, they recommended that the Jews start paying immediately the owed amount of 10 kreuzer per month to cover the period from 1718, when the town and nobility made a deal, 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 lived scattered among them. There was a concern that this could give rise to disturbances, particularly when “the priest administers the last rites,” and it advised that the Jews should be ordered to move into new houses outside of the town (Tummelplatz). In addition, they should 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 serious, as the eviction did not comply with the resolution of 1650. The Jews found the strongest support among the nobility, which was represented by a Prior of Pacov’s monastery, Barefooted Carmelites, Father Johannes Bernardus and S. Bonaventura. Surely, the noble was afraid of losing income from the protection fees paid by the four evicted Jews, which would have been 66 gulden 30 kreuzer. In addition, he might have defended them because of a poor relationship with the 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 nobility. Therefore, they were “domicidal” and not subject to municipal taxes. He argued also that fees to the priest are not paid by Jews anywhere and that Jews lived among Christians in other towns like Tabor and Brandys, without causing any disturbance.

We do not know how it turned out, but it seems that from then on, the Jews paid the town, and they paid nothing to the priest. They kept acquiring more houses, and they started to live in a more concentrated area. In 50 years, they owned not six but ten houses. In Pacov’s register from 1787, they are listed in this order: I. Aristocratic Distillery, II. Bernard and Joachim Volff, III. Mendl Abraham, IV. Jakub Lebl, V. Isak Lebl and Abraham Moises, VI. Samuel Filip, VII. Salamoun Jakub, VIII. Lebl Elkan, IX. Jakub Jisa, and X. Filip Samuel.

In the 1829 register we find these Jewish homeowners in Pacov: Jakub Kral lived in a house number II. At this residence he also had a farm building. Salomon Moller had a residence in number III. In number IV, David Pick owned a very spacious house (I suspect it is the former house of Zelenohorsky, belonging at the beginning of the 18th century to Jakob Lobel). He also had a farm building. In number V lived Mojzis Robicek, and in number VI, Jakob Pick.

Abraham Rotenbaum owned houses VII and VIII. One of them was huge, 95 x 30 square sahu, or meters. Isak Randauer also owned two houses, numbers IX and X, but the smaller Jewish house, number I, was used by the nobility for a religious fund. Jews also owned urban houses, such as number 179, belonging to Mr. & Mrs. Lazar and Rosalie Moller. Gabriel Pick owned house number 174.

The Jewish religious community owned the synagogue in house number 379 and a plot of land, number 1379, measuring 200 square sahu, which served as the cemetery.

Before the upheaval in 1848, and before the total liberation and emancipation, the Jews had one more struggle. It was a long dispute with the city that was hindering them from free economic competition—and it was in vain. As before, the disputes were not driven by religious resentment but were consequences of a decline in the guild system.

Jews Emanuel Muller and Josef Moravec wanted to open stores and were granted permits in 1840 by the nobility. That caused an alarm and lawsuits followed, because on the demand of the guilds, the town refused to grant the permit to conduct business in the houses in the town. The municipal authorities successfully defended this fundamental principle at regional and county councils and, in 1843, even in a higher court.

The Jews did not want to yield on this, especially when the aristocracy was on their side. In spite of repeated rejections, Josef Moravec opened his store in 1840 in number 76. After closing the first one, 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. But again he was forced to retreat, because the city officials sealed his store, an action upheld by the court in 1843.

Equally unsuccessful was Emanuel Meller, who wanted to open a store in house number 274. The entire dispute was a struggle for jurisdictional power between the aristocracy and the municipality. Upholding the current laws, the municipality scored a victory, protesting that the aristocracy was interfering with its authority. The aristocracy could only grant permission to those Jews in houses under its jurisdiction. Both Jews wanted to open stores in municipal houses, which was impossible without municipal consent.

Another dispute was with the butcher’s guild in 1840. The Jew Jachym Moravec was leading a fight for free competition and to be incorporated in the guild’s books. The guild won. Jachym Moravec was not granted membership in the guild and was banned from selling meat.

A détente began after 1848, bringing total emancipation to the Jews and resulting in the strong growth 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.

Among the outstanding Jews who lived in Pacov were Vilen Zirkl and Bernard Pick, JD. Vilen 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 editor Josef Penizek from national newspaper Naroni listy. He died prematurely from heart disease in 1894 and is buried in Pacov.

Jewish holidaymakers from Pacov at the local holiday resort.

Jewish holidaymakers from Pacov at the local holiday resort.

Dr. Bernard Pick was not born in Pacov but was a citizen there for 40 years. As a cosmopolitan intellectual with a large heart, and an idealist, friend, and advocate of ordinary people, Dr. Pick served for years in the municipal council. With his noble-minded character, he gained the deep respect and admiration of all who knew him. His biggest pleasure was to reconcile two feuding parties, often doing it 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 Service and Telegraph; Hugo Jokl, Ph.D., professor of the Czechoslovak Komensky gymnasium in Vienna; Doctor of Engineering Josef Roubitschek; concert master Josef Moravec; and Mrs. Dolfina Pope, graphology expert, who wrote many valuable articles.

Pre-war Pacov with the house of Brothers Lederer in the background.

In commercial and industrial fields, the Jews in Pacov still occupy prominent positions. There is the Brothers Lederer’s large department store; and Victor Weiner’s leather factory, which began exporting goods to France, England, and Egypt even before the war.

The leadership of the Jewish religious congregation was entrusted to a progressive, forward-looking mayor, Emil Lederer. He was a wholesaler, who during his mayoral tenure corrected deficiencies necessary to reorganize the cemetery ​and to repair old tombstones. 

A charitable donation of 4,000 Czech crowns was used to repair “Cadik-Hadin” hall, and preparations were started for the repair of the synagogue. The mayor also enabled the establishment of an exhibition, in Pacov’s museum, commemorating old Jewish artifacts, attracting the well-deserved interest of all visitors. ✡