Richard Feder at a memorial ceremony at the former Terezín concentration camp, Czechoslovakia, 1969. (The Ghetto Fighters’ Museum/Israel)

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Feder, Richard

(1875–1970), Czech rabbi. Richard Feder was born in Václavice (near Benešov, south of Prague). He studied philosophy in Vienna and also attended the rabbinical seminary in that city; he then served as a rabbi in Kojetín, Louny, and Roudnice nad Labem. From 1917 until 1942, Feder held a rabbinic position in Kolín. Each of these communities was located in the Czech regions of Bohemia and Moravia; sermons were delivered in Czech before World War I.

Following the Nazi occupation of Czech lands in March 1939, Feder tried to organize a collective emigration of the Jewish community in Kolín (which consisted of about 600 people). His promising negotiations with the French government to establish a settlement in New Caledonia ultimately failed, and he and the rest of the Jews from Kolín were deported to Terezín. Feder served there as a rabbi and became one of the leading spiritual authorities of the ghetto that had been established. He survived Terezín and returned to Kolín, where he tried to revive Jewish communal life. In 1953, he became the chief rabbi of Moravia and Silesia, residing in Brno; following the death of Gustav Sicher in 1960, he was appointed chief rabbi of Bohemia.

Feder was one of just a small number of rabbis who were active members of the Czech Jewish movement. A frequent contributor to Českožidovské listy, Rozvoj, and Rozhled, he also published several polemical articles in the Zionist journal Židovské zprávy. He wrote Czech-language textbooks on biblical Hebrew and Jewish religious instruction, as well as studies on the history of Jewish communities in Roudnice nad Labem and Kolín.

Feder’s essays were usually published first in Českožidovský kalendář and subsequently in book form. His collection of articles titled Židé a k řest’ané (Jews and Christians; 1919) contributed to the ongoing dialogue between Jews and Christians. In Židovská tragédie (Jewish Tragedy; 1947), Feder describes his deportation to Terezín and his experience in the ghetto; it was one of the first books on the Holocaust to be written in Czech. The publication of Život a odkaz (Life and Heritage; 1976), a posthumous collection of articles, includes texts about Feder’s childhood and youth, several historical essays, and reflections on various Jewish holidays.

Feder’s accomplishments were twice acknowledged by the Czech state. In 1965 he received a medal in recognition of his efforts to oppose fascism and to restore Czech Jewish life and for his “uncompromising stand in the fight against fascism and for peace.” In 2002 he was posthumously awarded the T. G. Masaryk medal by President Václav Havel.

Suggested Reading

Zuzana Peterová, Rabín Feder (Prague, 2004).