Jews began to settle in Jičín, Czech Republic, during the fourteenth century, but an official Jewish community was not established there for another 300 years. In the 1620s, when Duke Albrecht of Wallenstein began rebuilding the town of Jičín, seat of the duchy, a Jewish ghetto was cordoned off for a small community of some 40 Jews. Jičín Synagogue was built between 1781 and 1784, and served as the anchor of the district’s narrow streets lined with houses, along with its school. A fire in 1840 severely damaged the sanctuary, and it was restored and modeled after late Baroque architecture. It remained in active use until World War II, when Jičín’s Jewish citizens were deported to Nazi concentration camps. Jičín Synagogue was not revived after the war, converted instead to a warehouse for the storage of dried medicinal plants in the 1940s, and later completely abandoned. All that survives today of Jičín’s ghetto, where once 400 Jews had lived and worked, is a single street, Židovská Street, a few homes, the school building, and the synagogue.
The Synagogue Becomes a Star
The city of Jičín purchased the synagogue in 1982. Through the Jewish Heritage Program, WMF became involved in the conservation of the historic synagogue in 2002, with the work centering on the interior of the building. WMF restored the aron kodesh (Torah ark), a stunning painted receptacle rendered in high Baroque and the holiest place in the synagogue. WMF later assisted with the conservation of the interior ornamental painting, located on the walls of the synagogue and on its high arched ceiling. After years of work, the entire project was completed in 2008.
In 2014, Jičín Synagogue became part of 10 Stars, an ambitious project of the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities to preserve the historic and cultural history of the Jewish people. The project is comprised of ten historic synagogues located across the Czech Republic. Today, as part of the network, Jičín Synagogue is a public venue for cultural and educational programs about Jewish history, religion, and traditions. It stands as a living symbol of resilience.