Montage of portraits of delegates to the Twelfth Zionist Congress, which convened in Karlovy Vary in 1921. Photograph by A. Person. (YIVO)

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Karlovy Vary

(Ger., Karlsbad or Carlsbad), town and spa in the Czech Republic, 110 kilometers west of Prague. In 1921 and 1923, Karlovy Vary hosted the Twelfth and Thirteenth World Zionist Congresses.

Nothing is known about the presence of Jews in Karlovy Vary during the Middle Ages. Prohibited from living there beginning in 1499 (under the privilegium [charter] de non tolerandis Judaeis of King Vladislav II), Jews founded a community in the neighboring town of Hroznětín (Ger., Lichtenstadt). However, beginning in the sixteenth century Jews arrived at Karlovy Vary sporadically as spa patients, their numbers increasing in the eighteenth century.

In 1806 a kosher restaurant for spa guests was opened and in 1844 or 1847 a Jewish hospital (spa house)—probably containing the first prayer hall—began accepting charity patients. The prohibition against the settlement of Jewish families, however, remained in force as late as 1849. Nonetheless, a Jewish tobacconist’s family lived there from 1793 to 1799, and five Jewish families were resident in 1849. A total of 914 persons (8.6% of the population) lived there in 1880; numbers grew to 1,405 (9.5%) in 1900; and to 2,120 (8.8%) in 1930. In addition, 3,600 war refugees from Galicia found temporary refuge in the town in 1915.

In 1823, Karlovy Vary was the site of probably the last gathering of Jakub Frank’s followers. A prayer society was founded in 1864 as part of the Hroznětín religious community, and Karlovy Vary was constituted as its own religious community in 1869 (about 100 families lived within its borders at the time). Beginning in 1870, the community had its own rabbi. By 1872, there was a Jewish school, a hospital (with 26 beds), a burial society, and a women’s society. In 1925, the community (Karlovy Vary with its environs) contained 2,900 persons.

In the nineteenth century, Jewish families founded significant industrial works, including a porcelain factory (Benedikt) and glassworks (Moser). Among the well-known artists and scientists who came from Karlovy Vary were Ernst Löwenstein (1878–1950; physician); Bruno Adler (1889–1968; writer); Walter Serner (1889–ca. 1942; a leading figure of the Dada movement); Franz Allers (1905–1995; conductor); and Walter Kaufmann (1907–1984; composer and conductor).

In 1938, Karlovy Vary and its surrounding areas were annexed to Nazi Germany. The Great Synagogue, dating from 1877, was torched in 1938 and torn down in 1939. Nearly all of the town’s Jewish residents fled into the Czech interior, while the rest were interned; between 1942 and 1944 at least 90 percent of those who had fled died in Nazi death camps. The city’s last rabbi, Ignaz Ziegler, was active from 1938 and died in Jerusalem 10 years later. After World War II, the decimated Jewish community was reestablished, mainly by new settlers from Eastern Europe. A postwar prayer hall was damaged in 1946 through an act of arson. In 1947, the town hosted a European Zionist conference.

While before 1948 the religious community had numbered approximately 500 members (of whom only 10% were former residents of Karlovy Vary), in 1966 there were only 222 Jews left, and in 1995, only 44 members remained. In 2002, posters calling for a pogrom appeared in the town and the memorial to the victims of the Holocaust was damaged. The community is still active and also serves as a center for spa guests. The cemetery, dating from 1869, has been preserved.

Suggested Reading

Hugo Gold, “Geschichte der Juden in Karlsbad,” in Die Juden und Judengemeinden Böhmens in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart, pp. 255–260 (Brünn, and Prague, 1934); Ignaz Ziegler, Dokumente zur Geschichte der Juden in Karlsbad 1791 bis 1869 (Karlsbad, Czech., 1913).



Translated from Czech by Stephen Hattersley