Remembering Mikulov's Jewish past with unique cultural festival
A unique festival of Jewish culture was held last weekend in the South Moravian town of Mikulov, part of the Year of Jewish Culture in the Czech Republic. Mikulov was once a major centre of Jewish religious and cultural life - but today all that's left is a handful of historic monuments.
"People, they live in history. It's important for them, and everything continues from history. I think in Mikulov it's most important."
Those pieces of music you played by Ernest Bloch were very Jewish - minor tones, sadness - what goes through your mind when you play music like that?
The festival included exhibitions of photographs and unique Jewish artefacts and even the country's first kosher wine-tasting. It's the labour of love of local historian Jan Richter, head of the Jewish department at Mikulov's regional museum:
"I'm not from here. I was born in a small village outside Brno, which is a major city about 50 km from here. I got here about five years ago to work in the museum. And I like the place very much."
In what way is this exhibition unique?
You say Jewish culture in Mikulov is dead. Why go to such lengths to bring the history of the Jews in Mikulov to a town where there are no Jews left?
"Well it's an important part of the people alive today. Everybody should realise that where they live now was a different place 60 or 80 years ago. It's a synagogue, and we're happy that we have some Jewish monuments. Rather than just exhibiting silver plates, we thought it might be interesting for people to see what life is like for Jewish people today."
"Right before the war, this was already a small-town community. You see, the whole Jewish history of Mikulov was so colourful and so rich because of the position of the town. In times when Jews couldn't settle in certain towns or cities like Vienna and Brno, this was the ideal location because they could go to Vienna in one day and come back, so trade was very good. So the Jewish community prospered and thrived, and then after they were allowed to move freely and decide where they wanted to live, most of them went to Vienna or larger cities like Brno."
So there was a gradual exodus to Brno and Vienna even before the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933.
"Today - there are some Jewish people here. There are actually two descendants of pre-war families, and some new Jewish people. But it would take a much longer time and also probably much more effort to build a community again."
Why do you do this? Why do you spend so much time and effort on it?
"I think it would be a shame just not to do it. There's so much to show people, and so much to share with other people. When I see something interesting or funny, I have this urge to share it with other people."
"My name is William Teltscher. I am here because it was my father who produced the initiative and was the chairman of the Central Jewish Museum for Moravia and Silesia."
Were you born in Mikulov?
"Well I was born in the nearest maternity home, which was Vienna, but I lived in Mikulov til the age of 15."
So it must be an extraordinary feeling for you to come back here so many years later.
The unique artefacts in William Teltscher's father's museum were packed up in 1938 and sent to Prague, where they languished for decades. Now, for the first time since before the war, they're once again on display. As for the people who made up the Jewish community, few of them are left alive. Those who are feel a deep personal obligation to pay tribute to Mikulov's Jewish past.
"The recognition of the tremendous part played by the community is something that must be appreciated greatly. It is something that is owed to posterity. And if I can - nilly willy - become a symbol of continuity, it's a good thing."