Burial society pitcher. Mikulov, 1801. (Jewish Museum in Prague)

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(Ger., Nikolsburg), town in Moravia, in today’s Czech Republic. Mikulov was the largest and most important Jewish community in Moravia until the middle of the nineteenth century, and seat of the Moravian chief rabbinate from the mid-sixteenth century until 1851. The oldest written evidence of Jews in Mikulov dates from 1369, but the Jewish community was probably founded by Jews expelled from Vienna and Lower Austria in 1420. Additional Jews arrived after the expulsions from Brno and Znojmo in 1454.

In 1575, Mikulov came under the rule of the Dietrichstein family, who were generally seen as protectors of the Jews. A charter from 1591 granted Jews communal autonomy, placed them under the jurisdiction of the lord (rather than the municipality), and allowed them to pay the lord in money and kind instead of in manual labor. This charter was subsequently renewed, and occasionally modified, by each new lord until 1780.

The Jewish population, which numbered 1,586 in 1606, increased dramatically after the influx of refugees following the Khmel’nyts’kyi massacres (1648–1649) and the second Jewish expulsion from Vienna (1670). After the conquest of Belgrade by the Habsburgs in 1688, Jewish captives were ransomed and settled in Mikulov. The Familiants Laws limited the number of Jewish families to 600 (later raised to 620). The population rose from 2,395 Jews in 1749 to 3,670 in 1847, peaking at 3,680 in 1857.

Mikulov was on a major trade route between Vienna and Brno; many of the Jews there traded in textiles, wines, animal hides, and candles. There were also tailors, butchers, and cobblers organized into separate guilds. Nonetheless, the vast majority of Mikulov’s Jews were itinerant peddlers. The overcrowded Jewish quarter, which was situated under the Dietrichstein castle, suffered from frequent fires. After such fires in 1561 and 1584, all wooden buildings were banned. Another fire in 1719 devastated the Jewish quarter, including the Old Synagogue (built ca. 1450) and the community archive. The local lord opposed reconstruction, but the intervention of Samson Wertheimer (1658–1724), a court Jew in Vienna, reversed his decision.

There were 12 synagogues in Mikulov, named according to their worshipers’ origins (Wiener, Bisenzer) or occupations (Shoemakers, Cobblers), the names of their benefactors (Abeles, Michalstädter), the religious rite (Hasidic, Ashkenazic), or the age of the structure (Old, New). The Old Synagogue (rebuilt in 1723) was the seat of the Moravian chief rabbi, who usually served as the local rabbi as well.

The Moravian chief rabbinate attracted many renowned rabbis. The first was probably Yehudah Leib ben Betsal’el (Maharal of Prague), who served in this position from 1553 to 1573. Others included Yom Tov Lipmann Heller (1625); Menaḥem Mendel Krochmal (1648–1661); David Oppenheim (1690–1705); Shemu’el Shmelke Horowitz (1773–1778); Gershon Chajes (1780–1789); Mordekhai Banet (1789–1829); Neḥemyah Trebitsch (1831–1842); and Samson Raphael Hirsch (1847–1851). Many of them are buried in the rabbis’ section of the cemetery. (The cemetery dates back to the fifteenth century; the burial society to 1653.)

Mikulov was home to Moravia’s most prominent yeshiva, which attracted students from Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary and experienced its heyday under Mordekhai Banet. Its doors closed in 1856. A Hebrew printing press operated in the town from 1762 to 1779, and briefly once again at the turn of the eighteenth century. A German Jewish elementary school was established in 1782; a German Jewish high school (with an affiliated vocational school) was opened in 1839. In 1844, Hirsch Kolisch (d. 1866) established a school for the Jewish deaf, which was run by Joel Deutsch (1813–1899) and transferred to Vienna in 1852.

After the Revolution of 1848, Mikulov’s importance declined precipitously. Its economic significance had already taken a blow in 1838, when it was bypassed by the Vienna–Brno railroad. With increased freedom of movement in the second half of the nineteenth century, many of Mikulov’s Jews left for those two cities. From its peak of 3,680 in 1857, the Jewish population dropped to 1,500 in 1869; to 1,213 in 1880; to 900 in 1900; to 573 in 1921; and to 437 in 1930. During World War I, thousands of Jews from Galicia found temporary refuge in Mikulov. The Jewish town, which had been reconstituted as a separate municipality in 1850, was more than 60 percent Christian by 1900. Of the twelve synagogues, only five were active in 1868, and only two in the twentieth century. Mikulov’s last rabbis were Me’ir Feuchtwang (1861–1888); his son David Feuchtwang (1892–1903); Moritz Levin (1903–1918); and Alfred Willmann (1919–1938).

The Jewish Museum for Moravia and Silesia was founded in Mikulov in 1936. Its collections were moved to Brno in 1938 and to the Central Jewish Museum in Prague in 1942. After Mikulov was annexed by Nazi Germany in 1938, almost all of the town’s Jews fled. Those who remained were deported to extermination camps in 1941 and 1942. On 15 April 1945, the Nazis killed 21 Hungarian Jews working in a forced labor battalion at the Mikulov brick works. The Jewish community was not reestablished after World War II, and much of the Jewish quarter was subsequently demolished. The Old Synagogue is now used for concerts and museum exhibitions. Since 1995, it has housed an exhibition on the Mikulov Jewish community.

Among the natives of Mikulov are Joseph von Sonnenfels (1732–1817), the legal scholar, Viennese professor, and court chancellor (under Emperor Joseph II) who converted to Christianity as a child; Abraham Trebitsch (ca. 1760–1840), historian; Eduard Kulke (1831–1897), author of tales about Moravian Jewry; Heinrich Landesmann (known as Hieronymus Lorm; 1821–1902), author and journalist; and Max Pohl (1855–1935), Berlin actor.

Suggested Reading

Hugo Gold, ed., Die Juden und Judengemeinden Mährens in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart (Brno, Cz., 1929), pp. 417–443; Hugo Gold, ed., Gedenkbuch der untergegangenen Judengemeinden Mährens (Tel Aviv, 1974), pp. 92–95; Y. Z. Kahane, “Nikolsburg,” in ‘Arim ve-imahot be-Yisra’el, vol. 4, pp. 210–313 (Jerusalem, 1950); Jaroslav Klenovský, Historic Sites of Jewish Mikulov, trans. Ernest E. Rosenbluth (Mikulov, Czech., 2000); Abraham Naftali Tsevi Roth, Sefer takanot Nikolshburg (Jerusalem, 1961/62).