OSTRAVA (until 1929 Moravska Ostrava; Ger. Maehrisch-Ostrau), city in N. Moravia, Czech Republic; after Prague and Brno the third largest Jewish community in Czechoslovakia between the two world wars. The town was prohibited to Jews in the Middle Ages. In 1508 the local lord permitted one Jew to settle, against the wishes of the town. He was followed by others, resulting in an expulsion order of 1531, although it was only partly carried out. Jews mainly from *Osoblaha (Hotzenplotz) later did business in Ostrava. In 1786 the municipality leased its distillery to a Jew. Other Jews subsequently arrived and in 1832 a minyan was organized. When in 1837 the city council was in session deciding on whether to grant a Jew right of sojourn, the mob rioted and the council did not dare to decide in the affirmative. A *Kultusverein was organized in 1860 under the guidance of the *Teschen community. A cemetery was consecrated in 1872 and a community authorized in 1875; it then numbered 58 persons. The Jewish population was divided between the different parts of the city; Polnisch-Ostrau (after 1918, Slezska Ostrava), which was then under Silesian administration, and Maehrisch-Ostrau, which was under Moravian administration. After a prolonged conflict over where the community's institutions would be located, Maehrisch-Ostrau became the center.
With the rapid development of the city, caused by the development of mines and the founding of the Vitkovice steelworks by the *Gutmann brothers, the community thrived, absorbing Jews from older Moravian communities and many from Galicia. In 1879 the main synagogue was consecrated. While in 1880 there were 1,077 Jews in Ostrava, in 1900 there were already about 5,000 and in the census of 1930, 7,189 Jews. In 1937 the Jewish population was around 10,000, making Ostrava the third largest Jewish community in Czech-speaking lands. On the eve of World War II there was a wave of emigration to Ereẓ Israel. Several leaders of the Czechoslovak Zionist movement who resided in Ostrava, like Joseph *Rufeisen and Paul Maerz, also left. On the other hand, there was a steady influx of Jews to the city, from Galicia across the border and from Carpatho-Russia; consequently the religious community in the town was strengthened and successfully rivaled the liberal-minded local congregation. By 1875 a religious congregation had been established, and a rabbi was invited in 1890. Later a "Sephardi," i.e. ḥasidic, congregation was established as well. Alois Hilf was president of the community. Additional synagogues were opened in the suburbs of Privoz (1904), Vitkovice (1911), Hrusov (1914), and Zabreh, among others. In 1912 the community built a vacation home for Jewish children. After 1918 Ostrava became a main center of Jewish life, where the regional offices of the Zionist Organization and of *He-Ḥalutz were located. The *Maccabi sport club was strong there, and in 1929 a *Maccabiah was held in Ostrava with the participation of some 2,000 men and women. Other organizations like Maccabi ha-Ẓa'ir and *Blau-Weiss thrived there. A Jewish technical school was founded in 1919. The communal statute adopted in 1921, based on universal, proportional, and direct suffrage for men and women without regard to their citizenship, served as an example for many other communities. Among the new communal institutions opened in the 1920s were the Kedma, a home for Jewish apprentices (1924), and a new Orthodox synagogue (1926). In the community's elementary school, teaching was in German in the lower grades and in Czech in the upper grades. The community increased from 4,969 in 1921 to 6,865 in 1931 (5.4% of the total population). There were some very active communities on the outskirts and in the vicinity of Ostrava, e.g., Frystat (Ger. Freistadt; 322 in 1930), Karvinna (172 in 1930), Orlova (Ger. Orlau; 394 in 1930), and Frydek (Ger. Friedeck; 237 in 1930), Mistek (195 in 1930), Hrusov (Ger. Hruschau; 219 in 1930). Jewish life in Ostrava was depicted in the writings of Joseph Wechsberg, a native of the town who later emigrated to the United States.
Immediately after the German occupation, the Jewish old-age home was confiscated and most of the synagogues in the city and in the suburbs of Vitk, Privoz, Hrusov and Zabreh were set on fire. On Oct. 17, 1939, about 1,200 Jews were transferred to Zarzecze, where a forced-labor camp, Nisko nad Lanem, was erected; the Ostrava community was forced to supply the materials for the building of this camp, which was known as Zentralstelle fuer juedische Umsiedlung ("central office for Jewish resettlement"). The Nisko camp was part of a projected plan to create a Jewish reservation in Poland, but it was soon abandoned. In March 1940, 600 Jews were driven over the border into Poland; another 500 were returned to Ostrava. Many of those driven east survived the war while those who remained, 3,903 in 1941, were subjected to deportations. Between Sept. 17 and Sept. 29, 1942, 2,582 Jews were deported in three transports. In all, a total of 3,567 Jews were deported from Ostrava; 253 survived.
After World War II the Jewish congregation was reestablished, with numerous Jews from Carpatho-Russia who had chosen to settle in Czechoslovakia instead of their native land ruled by the Soviets. A prayer room was active in the city from 1978. A new cemetery was opened in neighboring Sliezska Ostrava and a ceremonial hall was added in 1988. Few Jews lived there in the early 21st century.
H. Gold (ed.), Juden und Judengemeinden Maehrens… (1929), index S.V. Maehrisch-Ostrau; R. Iltis (ed.), Die aussaeen unter Traenen… (1959), 77–82; M. Kreutzberger (ed.), Bibliothek und Archiv, 1 (1970), 173. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Fiedler, Jewish Sights of Bohemia and Moravia (1991), 129, 130.
[Meir Lamed and
Henry Wasserman /
Yeshayahu Jelinek (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.