A memorial to the Jews of Dvur Kralove murdered during the Holocaust was dedicated in the Czech town on Feb. 16, while a group from Temple Sholom of West Essex was visiting. The synagogue has a longstanding relationship with the town, stemming from the synagogue’s acquisition of a Holocaust Torah scroll from the town’s synagogue in 1975. Photos courtesy Larry Plaxe
February 28, 2008
On Feb. 16, 17-year-old Jared Laxer watched as a simple granite magen David sculpture was dedicated at the site of the synagogue that had stood in the town of Dvur Kralove nad Labem. Located in the region of Bohemia, the town is now in the Czech Republic.
Jared’s thoughts kept turning to his bar mitzva, when he read from his congregation’s Holocaust Torah scroll. Like everyone else at Temple Sholom of West Essex in Cedar Grove, he had heard the tale of the Dvur Kralove Torah scroll — and the destruction of the Jewish community there — dozens of times.
“To actually be there in the town, to see the dedication and the monument — there’s nothing like it,” said Jared. “It was a life-changing experience.”
Jared, of North Caldwell, was one of 14 teenage members of the congregation’s confirmation class who, along with their parents, took part in one of the synagogue’s nearly annual trips to Amsterdam and to Prague, which is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Dvur Kralove.
Coinciding with this year’s trip was the dedication of the Monument to the Murdered Jewish Citizens of Dvur Kralove nad Labem, erected on the site where the town’s progressive synagogue had stood.
The event was more than 30 years in the making.
Upon acquiring the Dvur Kralove Torah scroll for Temple Sholom in 1975, Rabbi Norman Patz, then religious leader of the congregation, and his wife, Naomi, took a passionate interest in the town’s history. The scroll was restored in 1977, and ever since, every bar and bat mitzva in the congregation has read from it and heard the tale of the destruction of the Jewish community in its town of origin.
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of receiving the scroll, the Patzes published a heavily researched monograph about the town and the synagogue, abandoned after the Holocaust and torn down in 1966. It includes the names of the Jews who were deported during the Holocaust. Patz became so involved with researching the area that he served as president of the Society for the History of Czechoslovak Jews (see sidebar).
When the Patzes traveled to Dvur Kralove three years ago to present the mayor with a copy of the monograph, he took them to the site and expressed his interest in erecting a monument there. The two communities — Dvur Kralove and Temple Sholom — shared the expense.
But even as they delved into the town’s past, the Patzes were unsure about its present — and how its current residents would respond to the monument.
Even Eva Noskova, the only remaining Jew in the town, was uncertain.
Eva Noskova — the only Jew still living in Dvur Kralove — spoke during the monument’s dedication. Her family escaped to England at the beginning of the war and returned in 1945.
On the bitter cold morning of the dedication, riding on the bus from Prague to Kralove, Patz told the group that he wasn’t sure who, indeed, if anyone, from the local population would be there. Approaching the site, then, and seeing 50 people waiting for the ceremony along with plenty of reporters and news photographers was a highlight of the day for many of the participants.
“It was just seeing all the people there and knowing that they genuinely cared,” said Amy Janett, 15, of Verona.
Just as poignant was what happened just after the sculpture, by Ota Cerny, was installed last November. On the 60th anniversary of Kristallnacht, Noskova later told Patz, she was surprised to discover 50 lighted candles and bouquets placed on the monument.
“‘I was afraid it would be swastikas,’” Patz said she told him.
The Feb. 16 dedication was, according to the participants, a solemn affair, with dignitaries, area clergy, and scouts in uniform. It began with local children leading the singing of the national anthems of the Czech Republic, the United States, and Israel.
The three Christian clergy members who attended represented for Patz a potent symbol. “The very fact that all three were there, standing together with a rabbi, was overwhelming. It was probably a first in the history of the town,” he said.
Amy said she “couldn’t really imagine a synagogue there and all these Jewish people going there, and that there’s no one left now.” But, she said, the dedication “made the trip complete. The Jewish history in Europe and its destruction was made way more personal — now I have a connection to it in my own life.”
Patz, who retired from Temple Sholom in 2006 after 37 years at its religious leader and is now rabbi emeritus, said the trip was an emotional high point.
“It was overwhelming,” he said. “There was a sense of closing a circle and filling in a hole in the history of the town.”
DVUR KRALOVE nad Labem was founded in 1139; Jews received permission to settle there in 1848, and the earliest known Jewish community existed in the town in 1862. The synagogue was built in 1890.
Rabbi Norman Patz with the simple granite sculpture of the Monument to the Murdered Jewish Citizens of Dvur Kralove nad Labem after the dedication ceremony.
By 1930, the Jewish population was 182. By the end of the Holocaust, there were no Jews left in Dvur Kralove; in 1945, Eva Noskova’s family returned from England, where they had fled when the war broke out. The town is most famous for its zoo, which began as a zoological garden in the private park owned by Richard Neumann, a Jewish factory owner. His land was seized by the Nazis and eventually nationalized by the communists. The park was opened to the public in 1946.
The synagogue in Dvur Kralove survived the Holocaust but not the communists. In 1966, they tore it down to make way for a four-lane highway. Until now there was no marker indicating a synagogue had ever stood there.
The Torah scroll acquired by Temple Sholom is one of 1,564 Czech scrolls taken by the Nazis from synagogues in Bohemia and Moravia that were later rescued and distributed by the Czech Memorial Scrolls Centre in London. Among the places that house the scrolls is the White House.
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