Coal-mining and industrial town in northern Moravia (near the Polish border) in today’s Czech Republic. Ostrava (Ger., Mährisch-Ostrau; known as Moravská Ostrava until 1918) was one of the youngest Jewish communities in Moravia. Like most mining towns in the Habsburg lands, Ostrava was off-limits to Jews until the late eighteenth century. One of its first Jewish inhabitants in modern times, a distiller, arrived in 1792, and the first regular prayer service took place in 1832. Jews began arriving in larger numbers after 1848, when Habsburg Jews were granted freedom of movement, and again after 1860, when residential restrictions were finally lifted.
In 1860, a Jewish religious society comprising Moravská Ostrava and neighboring Polská Ostrava (Polnisch-Ostrau) was set up; in 1875 a separate Jewish community was authorized for Moravská Ostrava. A Jewish school was built in 1863, a cemetery in 1872, and a large Moorish-style synagogue (with an organ) functioned from 1879. At this time there were over 700 Jews from Ostrava. By the end of the nineteenth century, Ostrava had come to be known as the “Moravian Manchester” because of the concentration of heavy industry, particularly in Vítkovice (Witkowitz), a suburb with important coal mines and ironworks owned by the Rothschild and Gutmann families. Ostrava’s rapid growth attracted Jews from the region and from Galicia; the town’s Jewish population reached 1,356 in 1890 and 3,272 in 1900.
To accommodate growth, new synagogues were built in four of Ostrava’s suburbs: Zabřeh (1891), Přivoz (1904), Vítkovice (1911), and Hrušov (1914). Ostrava’s first rabbi, Bernhard Zimmels, served from 1890 until 1893. A summer colony for Jewish children was built in 1912. Jewish refugees came from Galicia during World War I, and were followed by a large influx from Slovakia, Subcarpathian Rus’, and Bohemia after the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1918. With 4,969 Jews in 1921 and 6,865 in 1931, Ostrava had the third-largest Jewish population (after Prague and Brno) in interwar Czechoslovakia. A Jewish technical school was founded in 1919, followed by a residence for Jewish apprentices in 1924. An Orthodox synagogue was built in 1926. During this period Zionism flourished in Ostrava, and the town served as regional headquarters for the World Zionist Organization, He-Ḥaluts, and most Zionist youth groups. The presidium of the Jewish Party for Czechoslovakia was also located in Ostrava.
Following the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939, Ostrava’s six synagogues were torched. In October of that year, 1,290 Jewish males were sent to Nisko nad Sanem, a forced-labor camp; an additional 3,558 Jews were deported to Terezín mostly in September 1942. After World War II, approximately 250 Jews returned to Ostrava and a Jewish community—covering northern Moravia and Silesia—was reestablished. A new cemetery was set up in 1965 (and a ceremonial hall was built in 1986–1988). The old cemetery was destroyed in 1980 and is now a public park. In 1997, the Jewish community had approximately 80 members.
Hugo Gold, ed., Die Juden und Judengemeinden Mährens in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart (Brno, Czech., 1929), pp. 372–378; Hugo Gold, ed., Gedenkbuch der untergegangenen Judengemeinden Mährens (Tel Aviv, 1974), pp. 82–84; Jaroslav Klenovský, Židovské památky Ostravy (Brno and Ostrava, Czech., 1997–1998); Joseph Wechsberg, The Vienna I Knew (Garden City, N.Y., 1979).