The Jewish Synagogue
The History of the Jewish Community in Teplice
The Jewish settlement in Teplice is of old standing. The first documented accounts of Jewish inhabitants of Teplice come from 1414 when Teplice were described as a town belonging to the local Benedictian nunnery.
Jews were mentioned as creditors of the local nobility and Teplice as a liege town provided them with permanent refuge and many economic advantages over royal towns. It was indeed the royal towns from which Jews were consistently repudiated and they were forced to conform to the strict laws of Statuta Judeorum, published already by king Přemysl Otakar II.
The synagogue building is documented in the town books as early as around 1550. Soon the Jewish school and the ritual bath (mikve) was added. The position of Jews in Teplice back then is best reflected in the so-called Instructions issued in 1606 by Radslav Vchynský, the owner of the Teplice dominion: Jews were not allowed to move, settle, buy or sell a house or even make a complaint with the rabbi in Prague unless given consent by the suzerain.
At the beginning of the Thirty Year War in 1618 Teplice had 78 Jews; when the war ended in 1652, mere 500 Christian inhabitants were left but there was 231 Jews.
The first known rabbi is mentioned in 1654 - Löbl Baum. In 1668 the Teplice Jews were twice repudiated from the town by way of a sovereign order and some were repudiated to the Jewish ghetto. The evicted Jews settled in the surrounding areas and in the nearby Sobědruhy they founded their own religious community, established a cemetery and built a synagogue.
Jews were always a welcome source of funds for the suzerain; they paid special fees for protection and they were charged from all business and professional activities. Thanks to one of these fees, the so-called „Pardongeld“ imposed by the Clary-Aldringengs in 1696, we can create a picture of the sources of Jewish living in Teplice – they traded, lent money and contributed to the spa business. Besides these fees they also paid tax to the municipality from land and real estate, for access to the Jewish cemetery, for use of the municipal water supply, for living in the town and also contributions to the army.
In 1726 the so-called Familiant Law was passed, strictly reducing the number of Jewish families in the Austrian monarchy. During the application of this law the number of Jewish families in Teplice dropped to 55.
It was not until the reign of Joseph II. that Jews were freed from medieval restrictions: the Edicts abolished the special signs the Jews had to wear on their clothes as well as the obligation to live in the ghetto; Jews were allowed to study at universities, to deal in almost all crafts and trades and to eat together with Christians. A law concerning names was also passed – Jews had to record their name with a German surname.
On June 1, 1793 Teplice were hit by a great fire during which 166 Christian houses and the whole Jewish ghetto in the middle of the town were burned down. Thanks to the support by the suzerain the district was restored soon and three new baths were built – for men, women and foreign Jews. However, the district was not defined so strictly any more and it became an integral part of the town. The year 1831 saw the foundation of the Israelitische Badeinstitut which was in charge of the hospital serving to cure also foreign Jews.
From 1832 the Teplice Jewish Community had its own educated rabbi - Dr. Zachariáš Frankl. The turbulent year of 1848 brought a radical change in the legal position of the Jewish inhabitants: they obtained the freedom to move and settle, they gained access to public offices. In 1861 one of the last medieval restrictions was removed – Jews were allowed to own and lease land without any limitations.
In 1853 Teplice had 2 800 inhabitants, 500 of which were of Jewish religion; in 1870 already 1 280 Jews were here. This growing number of community members resulted in 1880 – 1882 in the construction of a new large synagogue – the largest synagogue ever built in Bohemia.
After the First World War a large group of orthodox Jews – refugees from Eastern Europe – came to the Teplice region and settled here. In 1932 the Jewish Religious Community in Teplice had around 5 000 members. Besides Teplice and a part of Trnovany the community comprised the municipalities of Bořislav, Rtyně nad Bílinou, Kladruby, Újezdeček, Žalany, Řetenice, Hudcov, Bystřany, Duchcov, Ledvice, Libkovice, Lahošť, Mariánské Radčice, Jeníkov, Oldřichov and Zabrušany.
The events in the nacist Germany, the annexation of Austria and the menace of the frontier occupation were the cause that many Jewish families decided to leave already at the end of summer and in September of 1938. Until the end of the year approximately 7 000 Jews left the Teplice district, leaving a substantial property behind. The chronicle states that out of 231 large undertakings in the town 89 had Jewish owners and almost all shops were in Jewish hands. 511 villas and houses and 526 flats in Teplice were abandoned.
After the war only a handful of Jewish inhabitants returned and thus most of the 1 300 members of the restored Jewish Community were comprised of refugees from Carpathian Ruthenia. Most of them later took advantage of the opportunity to move to the newly reborn state of Israel so in 1949 only 420 Jews lived in Teplice.
Today the Teplice Jewish Community is also active in the Most, Chomutov and Louny district and hase mere 100 members and a sole oratory in Teplice in the Lipová street no. 25 in the building of the former Jewish Spa Institute; both the Teplice synagogue and the one in Sobědruhy fell sacrifice to wartime and even post-war efforts to erase Jewish monuments from the face of our towns.
The New Synagogue in Teplice-Šanov
In the second half of the 19th century the Teplice Jewish Community began growing rapidly. In the 70s the old synagogue was not capable of taking in all the believers and therefore it was decided to build a new synagogue that would better suit the growing Jewish community and represent it at the same time. The number of Jews in Teplice was increasing constantly – in 1879 precisely 1 718 people of Jewish religion were counted and in 1890 the Teplice Jewish Community with its 1 865 members was the second largest Jewish community in Bohemia after Prague!
In 1872 the Teplice Jewish Community succeeded in buying the lands of the Haas family for 25 000 guldens with the total area of 5 071 m2 at an outstanding site – a hill that together with two other hills overlooked the close vicinity of Teplice. Until middle 17th century the hill was called Breite Stein (Wide Hill), then Judenberg (Jewish Hill) when in 1669 the original Jewish cemetery was moved there. After 1862 the cemetery was closed down because the area of the Jewish Hill became very lucrative for new building activities. In 1861 – 1864 a new evangelical church of St. Bartholomew was built at the peak of the hill in close neighbourhood of the Jewish cemetery; in the south bank of the hill was a road that connected the town of Teplice with Šanov – it later became the Lípová street along which pretentious villas were built.
The same period saw the first building plans or rather drafts by the well-know Viennese architect Wilhelm Stiassne as a latter record of the Temple Community states. Although the present state of research does not give but one Stiassne’s sketch or other indicia of his authorship, it is not necessary to deny it in spite of the fact that the operational plans were drawn up by another architect. It can be assumed that the strong and wealthy Jewish community in Teplice wanted the best architect for such an important building and so they turned to building councillor architect W. Stiassne (1842-1910), the builder of many buildings in Vienna, numerous synagogues (Vienna II - Leopoldgasse 29, Prague - Vinohrady and Jeruzalémská street, Čáslav, Jablonec nad Nisou., Malacky) and the latter president of the Vienna Jewish Community. The community could thus enjoy the patronage of the well-known architect, who however did not have to bother with detailed plans. Those were drawn up in 1875 by architect Herrmann Rudolph (1846 - 1924), who came to Teplice from Dresden to finish the construction of the first municipal theatre and then he settled here.
The plans were completed, however the actual construction was commenced several years later due to different opinions among the Jewish community concerning the needed but also monumental and therefore very expensive building.
An important event was the foundation of the Fellowship of the Temple Construction (Tempelbau Verein) in 1879. The purpose of the fellowship, founded after the fashion of the Fellowship of the Christian Church Construction in Vienna, was to establish building funds by way of voluntary collections and contributions, to acquire as many supporters in the municipality as possible and to enforce the construction of the new synagogue. At the end of January 1880 the local newspaper called Teplitz-Schönauer Anzeiger repeatedly printed a notification of the prepared general assembly of the fellowship with a view to accept new members, elect the board for the next year and discuss the proposals submitted. The assembly took place on Sunday, February 1, 1880 with 36 members present; in May 1880, after more than a half-year of regular activity, the fellowship had 111 active members and 86 contributing members, gathered funds amounting to 910 guldens and 58 kreutzer and belonged to the most active fellowships within the whole Jewish community.
In the summer of 1880 it was decided that the synagogue be built according to the plans by architect Hermann Rudolph. The plans were submitted as executive plans to the Teplice municipal office on August 19, 1880 and the office issued a decision two weeks later, allowing the construction of the new synagogue in Teplice. Hermann Rudolph himself was designated the building inspector; he executed the construction together with another Teplice builder David Ferber.
The ceremonial of the laying of the cornerstone took place with many guests present in a rather unusual time, in the middle of the winter, on December 28, 1880. The actual building works commenced on March 11, 1881. The rapid construction had to be discontinued in August of the same year due to sinking of a part of the walling and the four pillars that were to carry the large calotte. The pillars had to be torn down and rebuilt upon deeper foundations; on the advice of Josef Mocker (then the executive architect of the completion of the Cathedral of St. Vitus in Prague) the pillars were equipped with iron beams which were to better distribute the thrust of the calotte. All these changes required a new and more meticulous project, which was approved at the end of February 1882 and according to which the whole construction was completed without any difficulties in the summer of the same year. On Friday, June 16, 1882 the ceremonial plumbing of the calotte was organized by the Fellowship with the presence of the Jewish Community representatives. Memorials on the course of the construction and other contemporary documents were stored in the calotte. The actual approval of completed building took place on September 6, 1882.
The whole construction of the synagogue took only 18 months to complete, which was of course reflected in the costs; having counted the reconstruction and the basic equipment these costs climbed to 100 000 guldens. This money invested by the Teplice Jewish Community was from a large part covered with loans of Teplice banks and landed mortgages. A part of the sum was disbursed thanks to diligent collections within the Jewish Community.
The ceremonial consecration of the new synagogue organized by the whole Jewish community took place on Sunday afternoon, September 10, 1882. The orderly procession of the community members accompanied by many town citizens set off on a symbolic journey from the old synagogue in the former ghetto to the new one. The ceremonial opening of the synagogue was followed by the actual consecration inside the temple which, according to the estimate made by Teplitz-Schönauer Anzeiger, was witnessed by 2 000 people. Many distinguished guests and delegations of neighbouring Jewish communities were present; those who could not attend sent at least a message of greetings. In the evening a ceremonial banquet took place in prince Clary’s Garden Hall. A commemorative medal of tin was issued at the occasion of the ceremonial consecration.
However, at the time of the consecration the building was not fully equipped yet – the interior lighting was still missing (substituted by candles for the occasion), there was no heating, the inventory was but partial and the painting and other professional works had to be postponed on account of high humidity in the new building.
The synagogue was built in neo-Renaissance style with Moorish features. In the last quarter of the 19th century neo-Renaissance was a completely dominant style of public and monumental buildings and therefore it is no wonder that the said style was chosen for the new synagogue in Teplice. The synagogue was not only a sacral space of the Jewish religion – the House of God – but also a building where the Jews could meet to study or to discuss social matters; its dimensions and pretentiousness should represent the strength and might of the Jewish community and the neo-Renaissance style best suited this purpose; the style is reflected in the building’s symmetry, decorative elements of the facade and the big calotte reminiscent of the calotte of the Florence dome.
On the contrary, the Moorish style was used in our territory exclusively with synagogues – in the second half of the 19th century, at the time of strengthening of citizen freedoms, the Jews much more stressed the importance of the place where they came from originally. Palestine, their original homeland, had for centuries been influenced by Arabian builders. It is no wonder that when the Jews in Europe wanted to remind themselves of their original homeland in their own buildings, they turned to Islamic architecture. In case of the Teplice synagogue the overall neo-Renaissance style was also mixed with elements of the Moorish style, albeit in a discrete manner. The most significant of these elements were the four small calottes at the corners of the building, which complemented the main calotte – in the same manner as slender minarets complemented calottes of Islamic mosques. Many other similar elements were concealed from the eyes of outside observers in the interior decoration of the temple.
The synagogue was a capacious cubic two-storied building with a three-aisled disposition, finished at the east side with a semicircular apsidal recess. All four faces of the building were divided symmetrically by high windows and filled with numerous decorative elements drawing from the legacy of Renaissance architecture. The elevation was topped with a moderately steep roof crowned with the central calotte and four small calottes in the corners of the building. The monumentality of the synagogue (its dimensions were 41 m of length, 25 m of width and 42 m of height at the top of the main calotte’s pole) was underlined by its great location and together with the evangelical church it ruled the Jewish Hill as well as the whole town panorama – its high central calotte was easily visible from the surroundings.
It is worth mentioning here that the building with its dimensions and decorations was one of the jewels of Jewish sacral architecture in north-eastern Bohemia. The overall capacity or even he mere number of seats in this building was almost unmatched in Bohemia at the time – the only comparable exception being the Great Synagogue in Pilsen.
The ground floor was located behind the entrance hall and it was ended in the east with the tabernacle with the Thora; it was reserved for men and it had 734 seats. As usual with synagogues, the places for women were separated from those for men. In this case the women places were located on the first and the second floor on balconies circulating around the main bay in U-shape. The galleries provided 638 seating places for women. A winter oratory with 120 seats for men and 70 seats for women was located in the room above the entrance hall.
The Teplice Temple Fellowship, which in 1884 replaced the original Fellowship of the Temple Construction, was active in the synagogue until 1938. In its code of rules the fellowship stated that the scope of its activity is „to ensure material means for enhancement of the Jewish synagogue in Teplice, to support Jews reliant on help and to provide clothes for poor schoolable children“.
Regular activities of the fellowship alternated with its additional activities mostly with a view to ensure and realize various building adaptations and reconstructions in the synagogue. One of the most important adaptations was the installation of gas lighting in 1883. In 1905 a whole series of adaptations followed; finally, the interior painting was applied and the walls were incrusted with red marble to the height of 1 meter, also double windows were installed as well as a steam heating boiler. In 1927 the obsolete gas lighting was replaced by electric lighting.
In October of 1938 Teplice were ceded to Germany. However, the large majority of Teplice Jews managed to leave the town before and thus from October 9 the synagogue was completely abandoned. In December the town mayor took necessary steps to protect the property, closing the synagogue down in an attempt to prevent vandalism and trying to find a new use for the building together with the Reich administration. The town was in need of new municipal buildings and therefore it proposed that the synagogue be used (after some necessary adaptations) as a museum, town archive and at the same time as a gallery and concert hall. The Reich administration seemed to be in favour of this solution. However, this attempt to preserve the building was marred during the night from March 14 to March 15, 1939, when the synagogue was set on fire during local riots; it burned down completely by the morning. Due to the nature of the damage the municipal building office decided immediately that the ruins be demolished.
Thus, in a most inconsistent manner, vanished one of the jewels of Teplice architecture. The vast majority of synagogues in the frontier territory were met with the same fate. The only thing remaining is the few memories, documents and contemporary photographs.