Former Jewish Institutions in Laa an der Thaya

Balcony of the former synagogue (photo taken 2016)

Anywhere in any land or time, no congregation can survive without a religious infrastructure. A Jewish community needs:
1) A
synagogue or a prayer room
2) A rabbi and cantor
3) Religious education
4) A kosher butcher
5) A graveyard, where stones can remain forever

1) Synagogue

You can read an extensive
article about it on this website. Furthermore you can read the translation of a clipping from a standard reference on synagogues by Pierre Genee from 1992 and about the last remaining interior of Laa’s synagogue.

2 - 4) Rabbi, Cantor, Religious Teacher and Kosher Butcher

All these functions were combined in one man in the little community of Laa/Thaya: Rabbi Fischhof. He was the last rabbi who lived in Laa. Afterwards non-resident rabbis from bigger towns maintained the community. The survivors, whom I corresponded with, remembered their religious education quite well. I want to translate as literally as possible what they wrote to me in their old mother tongue German.

“Religious education took place on Sunday mornings in the elementary school. We were children of school age when we went to religion class.”
(Letter by
Hilda White, October 27th 1992)

“We were religiously educated by Mr. Fischhof. We learned some Hebrew and facts from the Old Testament.”
(Letter by
Kurt Maneles, November 25th 1993)

“My religious education at the “Bundesrealgymnasium” (= high school) started in the first year. It was obligatory by the Austrian state and most likely paid for by the school. I was the only Jew in my class and so it was one-to-one tuition.”
(Letter by
Felix Yokel, PhD, November 8th 1993)

“There were boys and girls together with Mr. Fischhof. Those were:
Erika Maneles, Blau Heini, my cousin Elisabeth who lived with us for 3 years and me. Only when Mr. Gelbard came from Mistelbach – I was about 10 years old – I liked to go to religious class. I think we got a classroom at school. It wasn’t at synagogue because there was a black blackboard and chalk on which we drew Mr. Gelbard and made fun of him: Sometimes with 2 heads and sometimes with huge emargination at his hand, which he really had.”
“We learned Hebrew and the Bible as well as the meaning of the holidays. I think twice a week.”
(Letters by
Karola Zucker, October 27th 1992, January 6th 1993)

The observance of the dietary laws lessened in many families during the First World War. People were rather glad to have anything to eat – kosher or not was not as important as before. I want to quote some survivors from Laa again:

“The religion teacher was also the kosher butcher of the animals, as needed by the pious Jews. It is a special ritual and he also had to examine the animal – if all the insides were healthy.
My mother stopped the dietary laws during the 1
st World War, but actually only with the kosher meat. She always said that she was glad to be able to get meat, no matter if it was kosher or not. But milk and meat were not mixed. For Passover we changed the dishes and did not eat bread, but Mazzot only.”
(Letter by
Hilda White, April 23rd 1993)

“My parents were very religious and had a kosher household. Also the holidays were strictly obeyed! Only during the 1
st World War from 19914 to 1918 it was almost impossible to keep kosher, but the tradition remained.”
(Letter by
Joseph Kolb, nephew of Moritz Drill from Laa, April 23rd 1993)

“Before the war we had a kosher household. I do not know if the meat was butchered kosher. The dietary rules were kept and we had extra dishes for Passover. During the years it loosened. But my father did not eat pork. My own daughter separates milky and meaty foods and does not cook pork. I do cook less pork in the last years (also because of cholesterol and calories), but I do mix milk and meat. At Passover we keep the dietary rules, but we use our regular dishes.”
(Letter by
Kitty Drill, April 5th 1993)

“The dietary rules were not kept in my family. I think that the Hauser family did not keep them since Josef Hauser, but that the Jokel family kept them. It is worth mentioning that many “emancipated” Jews did not keep the dietary rules. But that did not mean an alienation from Judaism in a cultural sense.”
(Letter by
Felix Yokel, PhD, November 8th 1993)

5) Graveyard

A separate Jewish graveyard is important since a Jewish grave has to remain for all times in order to insure the resurrection of the dead. This is not necessary for Christians. So graves are returned to the town if nobody keeps paying for them. That’s why most Jewish communities had their own graveyards. They remained as a memorial for the former Jewish communities – in
Bad Pirawarth, Duernkrut, Gaenserndorf, Gross Enzersdorf, Hohenau, Hollabrunn, Mistelbach and Stockerau. Further information on where the Jewish inhabitants of Laa were buried can be found at “Graveyards”.