Historie židovské komunity

Usov: History of Jewish Community

usov_synagogaIndividual families begun to settle in Usov probably throughout the 14th century, but Jewish community was not established here before 1454. Based on a royal decree in that year, which expelled Jews from Olomouc, Unicov and other Moravian towns owned by the king, the Jews sought shelter and protection in small towns, which belonged to feudal landowners. At that time the town of Usov was the center of a large feudal estate and the first Jewish community was most likely formed by refugees from the nearby royal towns of Unicov and Olomouc.

The first written record of a Jewish settlement in Usov is mentioned in 1564 in a register titled, “Registra Sprawny Panstwy Aussowskeho”. In the second half of the 16th century there were eight Jewish families living in Úsov. As was customary for Jews in other towns, in Usov they too were only permitted a few selected trades, that of merchants and moneylenders. They had to live in a separate quarter of town and pay high taxes. However, members of the Jewish community were important contributors to the economical growth of the feudal estate and therefore they gradually received more recognition, rights and privileges. For instance, in 1571 the Emperor Maxmillian II gave permission to transfer the weekly markets in Usov from Saturday to Wednesday so that Jews could have their day of rest - Sabbath. By the beginning of the 16th century, the Jewish community and the synagogue with a rabbi were already in existence.

During the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) the town was burnt down and many Christian and Jewish inhabitants lost their lives. After the war the Jewish community started to grow again as refugees from Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine, fleeing from the persecution caused by the Chmelnicki uprising (1648-1656), settled in Usov. The original wooden synagogue was destroyed during the war and was replaced in 1688 by a new synagogue built of masonry. The community was managed according to Jewish law by a self-run government headed by a bailiff.
Further development of the community was influenced by a distressing event in 1721. A provocation, caused by Samuel Jelinek from Dubicko, a Catholic chaplain who disturbed a Jewish service in the synagogue, resulted in an unjust court decision that did not punish the real culprit but the Jews. At the financial expense of the Jewish community the synagogue had to be dismantled and Jews were not allowed to gather for common prayers in large groups. It was not until 1753 that permission was given by the Empress Maria Theresa to establish three prayer rooms.

usov_synagogaAt the forefront of a new era of freedom and hope for the Jews were the reforms declared by the Emperor Joseph II between 1781-1788. During that period the most discriminatory laws were removed, resulting in a different political environment, which was soon felt also in Usov. Construction of a new synagogue was allowed by Emperor's decree in 1783, and a Jewish school was established in Usov during the next year. Revolutionary events of 1848 caused a major reorganization of the state administration and removed official discrimination. Jews attained civil rights with a final amendment in 1867. From then on they could relocate freely, choose any profession and marry without restrictions. About 780 citizens of Jewish faith lived in Usov around 1850, which represented a third of the town's total population. Their number gradually declined during the second half of the 19th century as families and individuals moved to bigger towns in search of better economic opportunities. In spite of this decline the Jewish community survived and after state reorganization in 1890, the community for some time even oversaw the Jewish activities of the surrounding towns of Unicov, Zabreh and Sumperk. Around the turn of the century there were about 100 Jews in Usov and by 1930 only 20 of them still resided there.

Usov was incorporated into Sudetenland and therefore the German army occupied the town in October 1938. Unfortunately, the infamous anti Jewish pogrom, "The Crystal Night" , also reached Usov. Local Nazis marched into the Jewish quarter on October 10, 1938 where, among other things, they caused damage and burned down the furnishing of the synagogue. Only a few Jews from Usov survived the tragedy of German occupation, one of them was a poet and prose writer named Vlastimil Artur Polak. The Jewish congregation was not renewed after the war. The synagogue was restored during the1990s and is presently used for educational and cultural purposes.

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