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Franz Kafka and Trest

The town, where Franz Kafka stayed at the uncle Siegfried Löwy, that inspired "The Country Doctor"

Order Tour Code: C SEE10
Tour availability: Tour available in summer season Tour available in winter season

The town Trest is the place, where Franz Kafka spend several holidays in the years 1900 - 1907, at his uncle Siegfried Löwy, that inspired him to write the book "Country Doctor", published like one of a very few books still during the life of Franz Kafka.

A combination with Trebic Jewish Quarter protected by UNESCO , PolnaJewish Quarter are verz much recommended.
It is also possible to combine the visit with seeing Jindrichuv Hradec medieval town and castle , Telc medieval town and castle , Velke Popovice brewery , Brno town , Knights Templar wine cellars , Moravsky Krumlov castle with the Slav Epic paitings or Coloured Modern Artistic Glass trip .
There is the exhibition in the local Synagogue devoted to the history of the Jewish Community and the stays of Franz Kafka. It is possible to stop also in the Jewish cemetery by the town Humpolec, where is burried the grandmother of Franz Kafka.
It is an 8-9 hour round trip.

A combination with Telc medieval town and castle , Trebic medieval ghetto protected by UNESCO and basilica , Jindrichuv Hradec medieval town and castle , Velke Popovice brewery , Brno town , Knights Templar wine cellars , Moravsky Krumlov castle with the Slav Epic paitings or Coloured Modern Artistic Glass trip .

In the Trest gallery of significant names, Siegfried Löwy, M.D. and Franz Kafka both occupy solid places, even though each has a different position of importance. The former was a Trest doctor and humanitarian, the latter a student and novice writer, who eventually placed himself among the elite of world literature.
The student Franz Kafka during his holiday stays in Trest from 1900 - 1907 could repeatedly see how difficult the life of a country doctor is. That is why he suggested to his uncle to buy a PUCH bicycle equipped with a combustion gas engine. These motor bicycles were very popular, especially in Prague. He therefore persuaded his uncle how to make his work easier and at the same time how to speed up help to more remote patients. Progress came to Třešť and with it also many annoyances – people were afraid their doctor was riding a “fetid devil”. His uncle’s medical practice provided the material for his short story “A Country Doctor”, which should be understood, however, as a scene into which he managed to set a story of his typical bizarre world. Interestingly, this short story is one of the few works that the writer decided to publish during his lifetime and did not request to be destroyed.
The student Kafka spent idyllic holidays in Trest, found a respite from his studies, drew from the wisdom of his uncle, and experienced his first loves. Fleeting moments of happiness are recorded in his letters to friends, especially to Max Brod. This friend saved a larger part of his writings.
Yes, the world famous Franz Kafka and Trest. It penetrated his soul as well as life as a balsam. Despite our locality’s immense debt to him, there is a small payment. In 1929, the publisher J. Florian from Stará Říše published Kafka’s miraculous book “The Metamorphosis” with illustrations by Otto Coester, the excellent graphic artist.
The following is an extract from Kafka’s letter to Max Brod during his holiday stay in Trest in 1907:
...... For now I am allowed to live here until August 25th. I ride the motorcycle a lot, I swim a lot, lie naked in the grass by the pond for long time, spend time in a park with a girl who is problematically in love until midnight, I was already flipping the hay, building a merry-go-round, repairing the trees after a storm, grazing cows and goats and hurrying them home in the evening, playing a lot of pool, taking long walks, drinking a lot of beer, and I also already visited the temple. However, I’ve spent most of my time – I have been here for six days – with two girls, very smart girls, students, oriented very much in the social democratic direction, who have to bite their tongue if they want to suppress their urge to say on any occasion some conviction or principle. One is named Agatha, the second one Hedwig. Agatha is very ugly, Hedwig too. H. is little and fat, her cheeks are constantly and unconfinedly red, she has huge front teeth that do not allow her mouth to close and her bottom jaw is small; she is very short-sighted, and not only because of a cute gesture with which she puts a monocle on her nose – its tip is really pretty, assembled of small little spots; last night I had a dream about her short fat legs and through such detours I am becoming familiar with feminine beauty and falling in love. Tomorrow I am going to read to them aloud from “Experiments”, which I have on me along with Stendhal and “Opals”.
Yes, if I had “Amethysts” here too, I would copy the poems for you, but I have them at home in my library and I have the key from it on me, so my savings book is not discovered, about which nobody at home knows and which in my eyes determines my position in the family. So, if you do not have time until August 25th, I will send you the key.
And now, the only thing remaining, my poor boy, is to thank you for the effort that you had to exercise to persuade the publisher about the quality of my drawing.
It is hot and I am supposed to dance in the woods in the afternoon.
Please say hello to your family from me.
Yours, Franz

Another little payment is the publication To Dance in the Woods ..., which was compiled by Přemysl Fučík, M.D. from Kostelec u Jihlavy in March 1999 and Eternal Wanderer from František Bukvaj, M.A. which will be first introduced during the unveiling of the bust of Franz Kafka at the house of doctor Löwy in Trest at Male Namesti No. 131.
Not many people know that Franz Kafka not only wrote in German, but was also a master of the Czech language, as can be seen from the fragments of several letters that are part of various collections and whose photocopies are stored at the F.K. Center in Prague.
In one of his letters to his friend Milena Jesenska he writes, "... I have never lived among the German nation. German language is my mother tongue and therefore natural for me, but Czech is close to my heart ..."
“If angles tell jokes, they would tell them in the language of Franz Kafka”. Precise description, perfection of language, simplicity of style, clairvoyance, as well as a poetic soul give his prose an excellence that always and again addresses the sensitive reader.

Sources: Přátelství, korespondence, Kafka – Brod, tr. by Hana Žantovská. Hynek, 1998

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Siegfried Löwy was one of the most educated members of the branched mischpoche family of Franz Kafka. Kafka’s other, adventurous uncles participated in the construction of the Panama Canal, Congo or Peking railway, and lived and worked as entrepreneurs in the United States, Canada, or Spain. This uncle, the brother of Franz’s mother, however, stayed at home and operated a medical practice in Trest and became the closest relative to Franz Kafka.
He was born in 1867 in Podebrady to a well-situated family. He graduated from a gymnasium in Prague and later studied medicine there too. From 1887 until his graduation, he was a member of “Lese und Redehalle der deutschen Studenten in Prag“ (Reading and Rhetorical Association of German Students in Prague), an association of which Franz Kafka was later also a member. He performed his medical practice in Trest for almost 25 years and became one of the longest practicing doctors of his era. Outwardly, he appeared reserved, but at the same time he loved nature, was educated, well read, and witty. Although he was a loner and bachelor, he was a very kind man, willing to help people anytime in their pain or distress. He facilitated work for single mothers as wet nurses in wealthy Jewish families. As a doctor, he was dutiful and popular. Thanks to the well-organized and wealthy Jewish Community, he received a fixed income from the factory hospital cash offices of the three largest factories in Trest (Stern and Knapp, Adolf Münch and Son, and Moritz Meissner and Sons). He also provided dental treatment in his surgery and was the first person in Trest to do tooth fillings.
Neither in transportation did he flee from progress. Under the insistence of his nephew Franz, he rejected a carriage with horses, instead purchasing a motor bicycle and therefore becoming a pioneer of motorism in the Vysocina region. He did not even mind that the jovial country people nicknamed his new means of transportation the “fetid devil”. After all, a doctor is a doctor, and when he was called to a serious case, it did not matter how he got to his patient. To the contrary, doctor Löwy was zealous about his modern device and boasted of it everywhere.
Then once, while coming home early one evening from his patients in Stonařov, an unexpected surprise was waiting for him on the edge of town. A small log was lying across the road sloping down to the town and the doctor ran into this log and definitely destroyed his machine, while injuring himself slightly as well. However, when someone gets excited about motorism once, no obstacles discourage him. So, the year following the accident, he became the owner of a Laurin and Klement motorcycle.
He ended his medical practice in 1924 and retired in Trest until 1932, when he moved to Prague. He was a good example and advisor to Franz Kafka in the years of his adolescence and later also a health advisor when he became fatefully ill. It was here, in Třešť, where doctor Siegfried Löwy and Franz Kafka, connected by the bond of family kinship, also found a great mutual spiritual affinity. Doctor Löwy lived through the death of both Franz’s parents and lived to see the inauspicious moments of World War II. The night before he was supposed to join a transport to an extermination camp in 1942, he took his own life voluntarily.
The nieces of Franz Kafka, the daughters of Ottla, Vera and Helena, found the uncle Siegfried in the morning, before the ambulance came, he died.

The oldest traces of a Jewish ethnic group in the Highlands Vysocina region have to be logically expected in one of the most important contemporary seats of the state, in the royal upper town of Jihlava (mentioned in a charter from the 1270’s, in which King Wenceslas and Margrave Premysl confirm the town’s rights). Almost one century later, Margrave Charles, in order to help the town after the silver mines were closed down and to support drapery and trade, called on Jihlava residents in a charter from August 25th, 1345, to accept Jews from Brno who wanted to settle there. The Jews attended then to trade, especially trade with wool, and money loans with interest (usury). And it was the great debts that the townsmen had with the Jews that proved to be fateful for them. Under pretence of their support of heretics (the Hussites), the Moravian margrave, Duke Albrecht, banished Jews from Jihlava in 1426. It was the first case in Moravia, and it became a trend, because in the following years (especially in 1454), Jews were gradually banished from other Moravian royal towns.
Jews from Jihlava left especially to the surrounding subject villages and towns of Batelov, Trest, Puklice, Brtnice, and probably also Polná, by which a foundation for the existence of the local Jewish communities was established (the only exception to this could have been Trest, where rabbi Jakub from Třešť is mentioned already in the second half of the 13th century). The Jewish community in Trest was not established until the first half of the 17th century; reports about Jewish communities in Střítež and Větrný Jeníkov date even to the 18th century.
Citizens professing Judaism could fully develop their abilities only in the second half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century. At that time, they significantly participated in the economic, social, and cultural rise of our country. This fact is attested to in the Jihlava region by the existence of several companies, such as the Böhm, Klinenberger, and Hamlisch textile factories in Batelov, the Münchov textile factory in Třešť, and the match factory and wood processing factories of Meissner, Knapp, and Weissberger.

The Synagogue and the Jewish Quarter in Trest
The Jewish quarter was located in the northwest part of town. It was later enclosed and separated from the Christian part by its own small wall with three little gates. Starting in the 19th century, streets (eruv) were separated by chains. The northern edge of the ghetto had chains by house No. 434, the south part had them on the Small Square near the beginning of K. H. Mácha Street, and the east part was enclosed in Roosvelt Street near the synagogue.
The longitudinal shape of the Jewish quarter is determined by the direction of the main trade road. It is defined by the city walls from one side, and the meanders of the pond on the other. The houses with approximately the same medieval plots are free standing next to each other. The backbone of the quarter was Židovská Street, today Nádražní Street, with houses that have mostly more than one story. Later, the development of perpendicular small streets with one-story houses that were often stretched by arches added to that scenic picturesqueness of the Jewish quarters (Nerudova, Ztracená, and Sv. Čecha streets, originally Zážidovská Street).
Because the Jewish quarter did not have an opportunity for extensive growth, its building density was increasing, which led to very bad hygienic conditions and the threat of frequent fires. In 1824 the entire ghetto burned down, and a large-scale fire also occurred in 1920. Most buildings were therefore rebuilt after the fire. As of 1834, there were 77 buildings; this number remained approximately the same for years.
The most important building of the ghetto was always the synagogue. It is first mentioned in 1693. Very interesting is the close proximity of the synagogue to the affiliate church of St. Catherine of Sienna, which testifies to a certain amount of tolerance of secular and religious authorities. After the fire in 1824, the synagogue was newly built in the Empire style. Its noble facade with five fields of bowers (the only synagogue with this architectural element in the Czech countries) faces Svoboda Square. It is a free standing, relatively extensive building with a rectangular ground plan and an added winter chapel on its northern side. The interior arched hall is decorated with plaster. The interior was destroyed during World War II by the Nazis. In 1947, the temple building was sold to the contemporary people’s committee in exchange for the duty of maintaining the Jewish cemetery. In 1955, the building was adapted for the congregation of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church (historical monument, register number 5339) according to the project of B. J. Máčel.
There is a one-story building standing on the small street across from the synagogue, the former two-class Jewish school abolished after World War I. Until 1848, there was also a prestigious Jeshiva (higher religious school) in Třešť, which was headed by the learned rabbi Josef Frankfurter. The picture of the ghetto was also complemented by other necessary buildings and institutions - ritual bath (mikve), communal house, rabbi’s house, hospital, alms-house, butcher’s shop, guard house, pub, and of course the many small stores and shops that put the final touch on the typical color of a Jewish quarter. Besides the mentioned structures, there were also several foundation houses in the local ghetto (for example houses No. 427 and 442). Due to the amount of foundations and the erudition of the local population, Třešť was called in Jewish circles “Little Berlin”.
The scenic cemetery on the southern edge of town by the road to Hodice, in Korečník on the descent above the Čenkovský stream and swimming pool, became the place of the last rest of entire generations of the Třešť Jews. It is originally a rectangular field cemetery defined by a stone wall. The cemetery was accessible through the mortuary located in the corner by the road, and through two small gates for pedestrians in the northern enclosure wall. The burial ground probably dates to the same era as the Jewish quarter. It was extended in 1736 and in the second half of the 19th century, with the oldest preserved gravestones dating from the beginning of the 18th century (1705 Rachel, the daughter of Geršon). The gravestones, totaling approximately 1,000 pieces, are made mostly of the local granite and are richly articulated and decorated in Baroque style. The newer gravestones are made of marble and sandstone and decorated with flat symbols, showing a pronounced influence of Moravian folklore. The cemetery covers an area of 3,499 square meters and on its grounds are buried several erudite rabbis and important people of the local community (for example, Samuel de Mayo, the founder of the first Třešť match factory). The cemetery is a historic monument, protected under registry number 7109.
The period of World War II became a tragic epilogue of the continuous co-existence of the Jewish ethnic group. The German Nazis at first stripped the citizens of Jewish origin, in the sense of the Nuremberg Laws, of their rights, then of their properties, and in the end even of their bare lives. The transports Av from May 18th, 1942 and Aw from May 22nd, 1942 that were dispatched from the collection center in Třebíč deported Jews from the Vysočina region to the Terezin concentration camp and from there eventually to the Nazi extermination camps in the East. The Třešť transport of Jews to the collection center left on May 14th, 1942. Only a small fragment of them survived the horrors of the war.
One of them was Mr. Walter Isternitz, who was born on August 13th, 1912 in Třešť, where he lived with his parents and siblings and where he learned the trade of business clerk. In the beginning of the occupation of our country by Nazi Germany, he managed via an illegal transport and after significant hardships to flee to Palestine on April 4th, 1939. In May 1942, he voluntarily joined the Czechoslovak army abroad, where he participated in battles on all fronts in Northern Africa as an anti-aircraft gunner.
After his transfer to Europe, he fought on all battlefields, with the hardest battle being at Ardens. In the end, he penetrated with General Patton’s army in the beginning of May 1945 to Pilsen and further all the way to Holoubkov. After the war ended, his unit took part in the solemn military parade in Prague. He then arrived in Třešť, where he discovered with sorrow that all of his close ones had died in the Nazi extermination camps. Mr. Isternitz received 14 important military decorations. Until his death on July 25th, 2001, he lived in the town of Ramat Gan in Israel.
The victims of the Holocaust in Třešť are commemorated by a memorial that was officially unveiled in 1992, on which occasion Walter Isternitz was named a Honorary Citizen of his hometown.
Jewish religious communities were abolished in the beginning of the 1940’s.

There is also possible to visit the museum of Christmas Cribs and the house, where was born J.A. Schumpeter, later a professor in Bonn and at Harvard University, the prominent economist of the 20th centurz and the first Austrian Minister of Finance, especially known as a creator of teh Japanese economic miracle. At the present the building houses the exposition of Trest Nativity scenes.
There is also the Jewish cemtery behind the town, there are 1200 gravestones, the oldest from 1705. The last funeral took place there in 2003.
It is an 8-9 hour round trip.

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Last updated on Jun 13, 2018