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Mladá Boleslav

Town in Bohemia, 60 kilometers north of Prague. The presence of Jews in Mladá Boleslav (Ger., Jungbunzlau; known to Jews as Bumsla) was documented by the second half of the fifteenth century. Until the nineteenth century, Jews comprised roughly 10 percent of all inhabitants. The Jewish quarter there—together with those of Prague and Kolín—was among the most important in all of Bohemia.

As many as 135 Jews are mentioned in the 1592 census. In 1615, the number of adult Jews was 120, but this figure rose to 775 in 1687 due to the immigration of Polish Jews and Jews expelled from Vienna by Leopold I in 1670. The Jewish population was 794 in 1834, and had risen to 865 in 1880. From the beginning of the twentieth century, however, the numbers decreased; the Jewish population was 402 in 1910; 419 in 1921; 264 in 1930; and only 183 prior to World War II.

The Jewish quarter in Mladá Boleslav was situated in the northwest part of the historical core of the town, not originally isolated from Christian neighborhoods. There were 31 houses in the Jewish quarter at the beginning of the seventeenth century, as well as a town hall, a hospital, and a ritual bath. The so-called Nová Škola (New School) was built at the end of the sixteenth century. Following a fire, it was rebuilt in 1697 and modeled after the Maisel synagogue in Prague. The last reconstruction dates to the end of the eighteenth century. After 1938, the inventory of the synagogue was transferred to Prague and the building was used as a warehouse; it was finally demolished in 1962.

Mladá Boleslav was torched many times, the last fire occurring in May 1859. The local rabbi, Isak Ellbogen, wrote a seliḥah (Seliḥot le-zikaron ha-esh) that was printed in Prague in 1860 to commemorate the event. It was the last literary production of its kind to be published in Bohemia.

The town was owned by various Czech aristocratic families until 1594, when it purchased its autonomy; the considerable sum of 1,000 florins was contributed for this purpose by a local Jew named David Fleckeles. In 1731, a Jewish shopkeeper named David Brandeis was accused of poisoning a local Christian printer with plum jam and was imprisoned. When the accusation proved untrue and he was released, Brandeis composed a megillah (memorial scroll) titled Shir ha-ma‘alot le-David (A Song of Ascent of David), which was read each year on the Tenth of Adar. The day was celebrated as “Povidl Purim” (Jam Purim).

After 1848, the Jews of Mladá Boleslav were permitted to take an active part in the administration of the town as members of the municipality. In 1897, anti-Jewish riots occurred amid widespread national disturbances between Czechs and Germans. Hermann Pollak, a teacher in a local Jewish school, founded a Jewish museum in 1922. It was subsequently shut down by the Nazis and its treasures transferred to the Central Jewish Museum in Prague. Among the various objects taken were historical archives dating back to the sixteenth century; today these documents are housed at the Jewish Museum in Prague.

The first known rabbi of Mladá Boleslav was Shemu’el ben Yosef of Lublin (early seventeenth century), author of Leḥem rav. Others included Mosheh Yitsḥak Spira (ca. 1702; later chief rabbi of Bohemia and father-in-law of Yonatan Eybeschütz), Yeḥezkel Glogau Schlesinger (ca. 1821; author of Mar’eh Yeḥezkel), Yom Tov Spitz (1824–1842; son-in-law of El‘azar Fleckeles), and Moritz Grünwald (1886–1893; later chief rabbi of Bulgaria).

In January 1942, the Nazis ordered 1,041 Jews from Mladá Boleslav and the surrounding areas to assemble in the old castle; they were first deported to Terezín and subsequently shipped to various extermination camps. After World War II, a small congregation was reestablished, administered by the Prague community. Its activities ceased in the 1950s.

The town’s large Jewish cemetery was first mentioned in 1584, and the oldest preserved gravestones date back to the end of the sixteenth century. The most famous individual buried there is Yaakov Bassevi of Treuenberg. The last burial took place in 1992.

Suggested Reading

• František Bareš, Paměti města Mladé Boleslavě, 2 vols. (Mladá Boleslav, Czech., 1920–1921); Jiří Fiedler, Židovské památky v Čechách a na Moravě (Prague, 1992), pp. 290–291; A. E. Goldmann, “Dějiny Židů v Mladé Boleslavi,” in Die Juden und Judengemeinden Böhmens in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart, ed. Hugo Gold, pp. 204–221 (Brünn and Prague, Czech., 1934); Tomáš Pěkný, Historie Židů v Čechách a na Moravě (Prague, 1993); Vladimir Sadek and Jirina Šedinová, “The Jewish Cemetery at Mladá Boleslav,” Judaica bohemiae 18.1 (1982): 50–54.