Ceremonial hall at the cemetery, built in 1900, Brno, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic), 1974. The Hebrew inscription over the door, a combination of two verses, reads: “Zeh ha-sha‘ar, le-vet mo‘ed le-khol ḥai.” Photograph by Jacob Roth. (YIVO)

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(Ger., Brünn), capital of Moravia, in today’s Czech Republic. The earliest evidence of Jewish settlement in Brno is a 1254 charter granted by Přemysl Ottakar II, Margrave of Moravia. This charter was renewed in 1268 and incorporated into municipal statutes in 1276. A charter from 1345 encouraged Jews—who were engaged primarily in commerce and moneylending—to settle in Brno.

In 1348, approximately 1,000 Jews lived in Brno, largely in the Jewish quarter (with its own “Jews’ Gate”). There was a yeshiva in the fourteenth century. The only rabbi known from this period was Yisra’el ben Ḥayim Bruna (ca. 1400–1480). During the Hussite Wars (1419–1436), the Jews of Brno suffered along with the rest of the population. In 1454, they were expelled by Margrave Ladislaus Posthumus; Christian burghers were then given title to Jews’ houses, as well as to the synagogue and cemetery. The burghers were also released from debts to Jews. Many of Brno’s Jews settled in Slavkov (Austerlitz), Rousínov (Neu-Raussnitz), Boskovice, and other nearby communities.

From 1454 until 1848, Jewish residence in Brno was officially forbidden; Jews could attend markets upon payment of a special Leibmaut (body tax) and spend the night in the New World Inn, located in the suburb of Křenova (Kröma). In 1734, Jacob Dobruschka (d. 1763) leased a kosher eatery in Křenova; by 1750, he held the tobacco monopoly for Moravia and was one of 52 Jews living in Brno at the time. In 1759, his son, Solomon (c. 1715–1774), received permission to hold religious worship in his house. In 1753, a Hebrew printing press was set up by Franz Josef Neumann. Ya’akov Frank held court in Brno from 1773 to 1786. His adherents met in the home of his first cousin, Schöndl Dobruschka (1735–1791).

Though small in number, Brno’s Jews—including the Häller, Auspitz, Gomperz, and Franckl families—played an important role in developing the wool industry in the early nineteenth century. When the Jewish community was reestablished officially after the Revolution of 1848, members of these families took a leading role. In 1852, a Jewish religious community (without the authority to collect taxes) was constituted, and a cemetery and burial society were established; in 1855, a Neo-Romanesque synagogue was consecrated; in 1859, a religious community (with the authority to collect taxes) was officially recognized; and Baruch Placzek (1835–1922) served as rabbi from 1860 to 1922.

Brno became Moravia’s largest Jewish community, mostly at the expense of rural settlements. The Jewish population numbered 445 in 1848; rising to 2,230 in 1857; to 4,505 in 1869; to 8,238 in 1900; and to 10,202 in 1930. During World War I, about 16,000 refugees from Eastern Europe passed through Brno, and many remained after Czechoslovakia came into being. During the interwar period, many foreign Jews studied at Brno’s technical college, especially after the numerus clausus (quota on Jewish admissions) was introduced in Hungary in 1920. Zionism was popular in this period. Max Hickl (1874–1924), a publicist and early Zionist, founded the Jüdischer Buch- und Kunstverlag (Jewish Book and Art Publishing Company) and the weekly Jüdische Volksstimme (1901–1939), both of which were taken over by his nephew, Hugo Gold (1895–1974) in 1924.

During the Holocaust, about 13,000 Jews were deported from Brno and its surroundings. There were 1,033 Jews in 1948, 500 Jews in 1959, and 700 in 1969; just 300 live there today. The last rabbi of Brno was Richard Feder (1875–1970).

Suggested Reading

Hugo Gold, ed., Die Juden und Judengemeinden Mährens in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart (Brno, Czech., 1929), pp. 137–172; Hugo Gold, ed., Gedenkbuch der untergegangenen Judengemeinden Mährens (Tel Aviv, 1974), pp. 19–36; Jaroslav Klenovský, Jewish Monuments in Brno (Brno, Czech., 1995).