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(Ger., Prossnitz), manufacturing town in the fertile Hána region of Moravia, in today’s Czech Republic. Known as Jerusalem of the Hána, the Prostějov Jewish community, which was founded in the second half of the fifteenth century by Jews who had been expelled from Olomouc (Olmutz) in 1454, remained the second largest community in Moravia until the second half of the nineteenth century, rivaled only by Mikulov (Nikolsburg).

The earliest Jewish cemetery dates to the fifteenth century, with the oldest remaining tombstone inscribed 1654. With roughly 600 Jews in the late sixteenth century, the population fell to about 500 during the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) but increased dramatically thereafter due to the influx of refugees after the Khmel’nyts’kyi massacres (1648–1649) and the expulsion from Vienna (1670). A synagogue was dedicated in 1676 (and replaced in 1904). A second synagogue was built around 1836. A German Jewish school was established in 1782. There were 1,398 Jews in 1713, with the population continuing to grow and peaking at 2,000 in 1857.

Prostějov’s Jews played an important role in Moravia’s textile industry, often coming into conflict with Christian guilds. In 1801, Feith Ehrenstamm established a cashmere factory, becoming Moravia’s first Jewish factory owner in cloth manufacture. In 1859, Mayer and Isaac Mandel established the Habsburg Empire’s first factory for ready-made clothes.

Prostějov’s first known rabbi, Yitsḥak Ḥayut ben Avraham (d. 1639), was followed by many renowned successors, including Menaḥem Krochmal (ca. 1646), Gershon Ashkenazi (ca. 1650), and Me’ir Eisenstadt (“Maharam Esh”; 1701–1714). The community fell under the sway of Sabbatianism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Yehudah Leib Prossnitz (ca. 1670–1736), regarded as a Sabbatian prophet, settled there in 1696 (Jews of Prostějov were nicknamed Schäbsen, i.e., followers of Shabetai Tsevi, due to the allegedly widespread adherence to his movement). Frankism also made inroads during Jakub Frank’s sojourn in nearby Brno (Brünn) between 1773 and 1786.

Subsequently Prostějov became a center for Haskalah and religious reform in Moravia. A circle of moderate maskilim gathered around Jacob Steinschneider (1782–1856), including his brother-in-law Gideon Brecher (1797–1873), a medical doctor and Hebrew scholar; and his son, Moritz Steinschneider (1816–1907), the father of Jewish bibliography. In the 1830s and 1840s, Rabbi Löw Schwab (1794–1857) and his successor, Tsevi Hirsh Fassel (1802–1883), introduced religious reforms, challenging the conservative chief rabbinate in Mikulov.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Prostějov’s Jews clashed over the Czech–German conflict, often incurring the wrath of the Czech majority for supporting the schools, cultural organizations, and political parties of the German minority. This contributed to a steady decline in the Jewish population, from 1,825 in 1869 to 1,553 in 1900 and 1,442 in 1930.

Among Prostějov’s Jews, 1,390 died during the Holocaust. After World War II there were only 170 Jews left, mostly refugees from Subcarpathian Rus’. The Jewish community was reconstituted in 1945 and maintained a small prayer room until 1973. In 1997 there were approximately 10 Jews left in Prostějov. The two former synagogues are now a Hussite church and a Russian Orthodox church.

Among the natives of Prostějov were Menaḥem Katz-Wannfried (ca. 1800–1891), rabbi of Deutschkreutz and a leader of Hungarian Orthodoxy; Max Fleischer (1841–1905), a synagogue architect; Edmund Husserl (1859–1938), founder of phenomenology; and Max Zweig (1892–1992), a playwright.

Suggested Reading

Hugo Gold, ed., Die Juden und Judengemeinden Mährens in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart (Brno, Czech., 1929), pp. 491–504; Hugo Gold, ed., Gedenkbuch der untergegangenen Judengemeinden Mährens (Tel Aviv, 1974), pp. 103–105; Jaroslav Klenovský, Židovské město v Prostějově (Brno and Prostějov, Cz., 1997).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 44, Genealogy and Family History (Vilna Archives), Collection, 1811-1939.