Czech Jewish heritage visit

By Jay Grenby, July 29, 2010

A mayoral reception, concert and an art exhibition were features of the programme organised by the Ostrava municipality for an international party of descendants of the Czech city's pre-war 30,000 Jewish community. The visit was arranged through Kingston Synagogue's Ostrava group.

Tour leader David Lawson was astonished by the huge media interest in the trip - it was reported on Czech TV and radio and in the country's leading daily newspaper.

"It was very emotional for the visitors to discover their roots in Ostrava," he said.

"But it was obviously as important for Ostrava to rediscover its rich cultural heritage, destroyed by the Nazis, which it had imagined had disappeared forever."

The party of 45 also included "Ostravaks" from America, Austria, Germany, Israel and Poland.

Visitors viewed the Stolpersteine ("stumbling blocks") - memorial plaques laid on the Kingston group's initiative outside the homes of former Jewish residents. At the City Art Gallery, they browsed a special exhibition of works by Ostrava Jewish artists.

A concert in their honour at the Rothschild Castle included a surprise performance by one of the visitors, US-based concert pianist Evelyn Rixova. She played a piece written for her mother by her father, Otto, who owned the Rix department store, the Ostrava equivalent of Harrods, before fleeing to London in 1939.

The Kingston group was set up five years ago to find out more about the history of Ostrava Jewry after Ostrava's sefer Torah was permanently loaned to the shul by the Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust.

    Last updated: 11:04am, July 29 2010