This morning we said goodbye to Prague and headed east towards our next hotel stop, Olomouc, about a three hour drive. Kamila will be accompanying us throughout the rest of our time in the Czech Republic and will continue on with us through Poland.
Our first stop today was to a small village, Lostice, near Olomouc. We discovered the program here in Lostice from Eva and Tony Vavrecka years ago and continued to be amazed by the work of Mr. Štipl.
Mr. Štipl welcomed us into the restored synagogue and gave us the history of the Jews in Loštice. He told us that the first record of Jews in the area was 1554 because there was a Jewish cemetery with headstones dating to this year and that there was a synagogue which had been built in 1860. The Jews stayed peacefully in this area, we were told. We learned that the Jews of Loštice had been very much assimilated into the community and he said he had been unable to find any record of any prejudice or acts of violence against the Jews, noting to the contrary, that there had been an atmosphere of cooperation between the Jewish community and the Christians. He told us there had been one time of difficulty in 1726-1727 when Charles IV, emperor of the Austro-Hungarian empire, issued a decree that Jews could not live in proximity to a Christian church. There was a Christian church near about 20 Jewish homes. Initially the town chose to ignore the decree, but when its non-compliance was discovered by the emperor, the town was threatened. The community then thought they could close the Christian church and then build a new church near the town square, closer to the Christian homes. This was deemed not acceptable by the government, so the town devised a new plan: There were about 20 homes owned by Christians near the Jewish synagogue, so they chose to swap homes – Christians would move to the Jewish homes and vice versa. Each owner had permission to hire an appraiser to assess the value of the homes and if there was a discrepancy in value, the owner of the home with the higher value, would receive compensation. Mr. Štipl said these appraisals were in the town’s archives.
In 1942, 59 Jews from Loštice had been sent to concentration camps and after the war, only 3 returned —several members of the Hirsch family: mother, father and one daughter. The Jewish community of Loštice was not revived and the synagogue was closed and used for storage. After the parents died, the daughter Greta Hirschova moved away, and there have been no Jews in Loštice for decades.
In 2004 Mr. Štipl’s organization purchased the empty and decaying building and in 2006 began restoring the synagogue. They completed it in 2011. No longer a functioning synagogue, it is now a center of learning for schools, teachers, and community members, all with the goal of preserving memory. The benches in the center are from the Olomouc synagogue, destroyed by the Nazis in 1939 during Kristallnacht. Each of the 21 seats is dedicated to victims of the Holocaust from Loštice and surrounding towns.
Mr. Štipl also said that the synagogue had had about 100 stained glass windows which were lined in lead. When the synagogue was set on fire, most of the windows were destroyed. It was a miracle, we were told, that six windows survived and ended up in the possession of a local Czech man. When this man heard about Mr. Štipl’s renovation of the Loštice synagogue he approached him and tried to sell them for an outrageous amount. After much time and negotiation, Mr. Štipl was able to purchase the windows which now proudly hang in the Loštice synagogue.
Each of the seats has a compartment dedicated to one of more families, and inside the compartment are everyday objects from the period and photos which somehow link to the people to whom that box was dedicated. In the box for Otto Wolf there are several items including pages from his diary, photos of his family and a spoon. We were all fascinated by these compartments and we spent some time looking through them. Mr. Štipl explained how these objects were used to teach both the history of the Jews in the area and the history of the Holocaust to children.
When people ask “Isn’t the trip the same every year?” here is one of many reasons why it is never the same! Our dear friend in the Jewish Community of Olomouc, Petr Papousek invited us to the Holocaust Remembrance program he was doing today in the center of Olomouc – the reading of the names of the victims of Olomouc. Our students had the opportunity to read names in English alongside community members. The American Ambassador to the Czech Republic opened the program earlier and community members from all walks of life took turns reading names alongside our students. An experience only captured through valued partnerships.
We ended the day with dinner at the Jezdecký areál Hostinúv Dúl Tršice [Hotel Horse Riding] that we call the Horse Farm where we had a wonderful dinner with the new Mayor of Tršice, Pavel Kováček, the Deputy Mayor, Mrs. Ohera, her sister, and Jan Pečinka, the Czech Scout leader with several of the Boy Scouts. Also, attending the dinner was Susan Spears, the niece of Slavek (a main rescuer of the Wolf family) joined us for dinner. We met Susan briefly in 2019 as she was visiting Trsice to buy her family home. She has been living in Trsice the past year with her husband renovating the home. We will learn more from her tomorrow about her family story as it relates to the diary. The Scouts who have maintained the site of the memorial our schools had erected in 2012 and have continued to meet with us each year, had once again brought some of their activity journals which chronicle their many community activities and they presented each student with a series of Boy Scout post cards. After saying good night we headed back to the hotel for a debriefing of the last two days and sharing of our most poignant and meaningful moments.
Day 8, moving away from the capital of the Czech Republic and heading east to a village known as Lostice. The first stop in Lostice, was a restored synagogue where the people on the trip visited Mr.Stipl. There they were given a mini-lecture on the history of the Jews in Lostice. They learned about the Jewish that was located here, and how they were impacted as well. What I found very sad however interesting was how out of 59 Jews from Lostice that were sent to concentration camps, only 3 ever came back. This day was filled with a lot of new information, that was area based.
It is sad to learn that the presence of Jewish people in Lostice was effectively destroyed by Nazi deportations to concentration camps. However, to see that the synagogue in Lostice had been rebuilt is a symbol of hope. The fact that the restored synagogue uses old benches and windows from the original is symbolic of the idea that we will never forget what happened there.
It is distressing to read that Nazi deportations to concentration camps completely wiped off the Jewish population in Lostice. The synagogue in Lostice having been rebuilt, however, is a sign of hope. The renovated synagogue’s utilization of historic windows and benches is symbolic of the concept that what transpired there will never be forgotten.
what I find interesting and very saddening is that the concentration camps in Lostice completely wiped off the jews and what has occurred will never be forgotten
It is sad to read that the village of Lostice used to be a peaceful home for many Jews until the 20th century–since then, there haven’t been Jews in Lostice for decades. Despite this, the recent restoration of the synagogue provides hope in spite of its dark history.