Home' Get Up and Go : Spring 2016 Contents R
ain pours down upon the Jewish
Cemetery. Gravestones huddle
against the hillside, an ancient
library taking shelter from the
storm. Water drips from pine needles and
oak leaves, erasing the stories that have
been etched upon these stones. So tiny
and broken and old are they, they’ve been
swallowed by the encroaching foliage.
This is where the story of Trebic’s
Jewish community ends. Eleven-thousand
Jews lie buried here, felled by the plague
or accident, old age or childbirth. Implicit
in this peaceful space, too, is the absence
of those souls not buried here, the people
of Trebic destroyed by that most swift and
callous of brutalities, the Holocaust.
In the far corner is the cemetery’s oldest
grave, marked by a timeworn stone dated
1631. Close to the gate is the newest:
unsullied by moss or those suffocating
creepers, its consecration date – 2013 – is
clearly visible. The man commemorated
here somehow survived the holocaust. He
lived out his life abroad and, upon his death,
was cremated; his ashes were returned to
Trebic and buried with his family.
It’s a poignant tale of ostracism and
belonging, one that comes to life upon
this sacred plot of land, for a community's
story is best told through the stones
embedded upon its graves. Here lie
members of the family Subak, who
operated a tannery on the banks of the
Jihlava River; there are the Cohens, the
most revered of Jewish tribes, whose name
is illustrated with the imprint of hands;
and upon this tombstone is engraved a
picture of a broken palm tree, a sign that
this man’s death signalled the end of his
family’s male lineage.
Down the hill from here lies the centre
of this once-vibrant, now silenced, Jewish
Quarter, the largest and best-preserved
such site outside of Israel. In 2003 it was
listed, together with the Jewish Cemetery
and nearby St Procopius Basilica, as a
UNESCO World Heritage site. It is the
only Jewish monument outside of Israel
represented on such a list.
And it’s here that the story of Trebic’s
Jewish community begins. In 1723, an
order was passed forcing the city’s Jewish
population to move into this ghetto.
Fifteen-hundred people crammed into
the scattering of row houses lined up
beside the steel-grey Jihlava River. They
worshipped in one of two synagogues, the
‘new’ temple, built in 1669, or the ‘old’
one, built thirty years earlier.
The older of the two synagogues was
used until the outbreak of World War II,
when the invading Germans turned it
into a storehouse. It operates today as a
Protestant Church; nothing inside its low-
roofed, altar-facing interior suggests it was
once a gathering place for Jews.
The new synagogue has a marginally
happier story to tell: though
deconsecrated in 1926 and used first as a
tannery storehouse and then as a potato
depot, it has since been reclaimed and
restored. The hand-painted Torah prayers,
the flower motifs and mirrors symbolising
the night sky and the sunset are originals
dating back to the 18th century.
The building adjacent to the synagogue
represents a typical Jewish household:
here is a spiked rolling pin, used to make
matza (unleavened bread), a kosher
slaughtering knife, biscuits baked for
Purim. Only in the imagination is there
that unspeakable event that came after,
the expulsion of all these people to the
death camps during World War II. When
the killing was done, a handful of Jews
returned; they weren't welcome, and so
moved on. Today, only one Jewish family
remains in Trebic.
But the city upholds the memory of
its Jewish population. One of the town’s
historic mikvahs – a ritual bath used
by Orthodox Jews – is preserved at
Hotel Joseph 1699. Trebic native Linda
Navrátilová shares the city’s Jewish
history with tourists through her newly
launched immersion experiences. And
wine-lover Szabo Tibo presents a liquid
degustation featuring kosher wines. Every
step of the kosher winemaking process,
from the picking of the grapes to the
insertion of the cork, he says, is handled
by Orthodox Jewish men.
Tibo’s degustation culminates with a
sweet wine, typically used for Shabbat. It’s
poured into a pitcher, blessed, and shared.
What a peaceful tribute to a people long
gone from here.
Catherine Marshall travelled as a guest of
r Getting There
Qantas and oneworld partner
Emirates fly to Prague via
Dubai daily from Sydney and
Melbourne. Visit: [@] www.
qantas.com.au or [@] www.
0 Touring There
Beyond Travel offers Jewish
culture and sightseeing
packages throughout the
Czech Republic and Eastern
Europe. The Trebic package
includes bed and breakfast at
Hotel Joseph 1699, located
in the historic Jewish Quarter,
and a walking tour of the
town’s main Jewish cultural
and historical sites. Prices
start at $175 per person
per night, twin share. Visit:
com.au or [@] www.
Jewish Experience offers a
variety of immersive packages
in Trebic. Visit: [@] http://
STORIES OF TRAGEDY AND HOPE HAVE BEEN PRESERVED IN THE CZECH
CITY OF TREBIC, WHICH LIES 160KM SOUTH-EAST OF PRAGUE AND IS HOME
TO THE LARGEST JEWISH GHETTO OUTSIDE OF ISRAEL.
WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHS CATHERINE MARSHALL
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