I. A name emerges

Bohemia 1680 - 1868

During the Seventeenth Century, bad news and the plague travel slowly. In 1679, more than 76 000 persons die in Vienna, in 1681, 83 000 in Prague and 4 397 out of Halle's population of 10 000. The small district town of Tyn nad Vltavou near the confluence of the rivers Vltava and Luznice is visited by the plague on its way from Vienna in 1680. Soon its inhabitants revive a centuries old remedy for various kinds of problems.

Since many years, Jews live in the town. May be, they settled there, because, when their ancestors left Jerusalem, the high council Synedrium decreed that divorces can only be legalized where two or more rivers meet. Rivers keep their names longer than towns! The Jews trade and own property. They maintain close contact with friends and relatives in Prague, Vienna and beyond. After prolonged deliberations, Tyn's inhabitants decide that the Jews have brought the plague to their town. They seek the advice of the local authorities who agree and promptly impose heavy fines. Al1 Jews must leave as quickly as possible whether they can sell their property or not.

Sunday in Tyn nad Vltavou 1958

At this time, many people all over Europe die from the plague. At Tabor, not far from Tyn, whole families die out. The servant Drazicky, condemned to die for an unreported crime, is given a reprieve so that he may assist with the burial of the dead. One year later, when the plague has ceased, his original sentence is executed and he is beheaded in public. So merciless are the times after the Thirty Years War which devastated and depopulated Central Europe.

Along the River Luznice 1958

Tyn's Rabbi hastens through the dense forest along the River to nearby Kolodeje nad Luznice to negotiate for a place where his flock can resettle. Count Johann Brandenstein Jr., residing in the castle near the ford offers them land at high prices. He is always short of money and cannot resist such an opportunity. Already on the next day, the Jews pull carts loaded with their invalids, children and movable property along the river. Their migration dös not involve the uncertainties of the eviction which is to send Prague's Jews abroad a few years later.

Kolodeje nad Luznice 1958

Kolodeje is the site of a river crossing which was probably used since the dawn of history by the Amber Trade Route from the Samland on the Baltic Sea, north of Königsberg, to the Mediterranean.When the Jews arrive, the castle with a moat which can be flooded from the Luznice in times of need, an inn, a dairy and a few cottages of peasants working for the Count are the only signs of habitation for miles around. By 1695, when the Count has died and his father has returned, a magnificent synagogue has been erected, to meet the needs of the growing community. It has ample accommodation for rabbis. Soon the rabbi of Kolodeje supervises all the Jewish communities of South Bohemia. Later on, a poorhouse and a hospital are built

In 1726, the concept of Patres Familias reduces the number of Bohemia's Jewish families to 8 600. Jews must stay where they resided in 1725, their houses are given Roman, those of Gentiles Arabic numerals. In each family, only one son may marry. Secret marriages are punished by beatings and banishment. The only exceptions occur in cases of years of military service or of a minimum of 3 year's work as a peasant. However, even then bride and bridegroom must prove ownership of at least 300 Gulden, a sum beyond most people's means. This law breaks up many Jewish families. Younger sons leave Bohemia. There is great unhappiness in almost every Jewish household.

In 1740, Prague's Jewish women are told to wear a patch of yellow material on their clothes to distinguish them from Christian women. When their petition to wear yellow head bands instead is successful, they celebrate. Since many years, Jewish men have had to wear beards. Fashion causes the beards to become ever shorter. In order to forestall difficulties, the rabbi specifies the minimum length of beards. Alas, too late, the law steps in and demands that also Jewish men must wear pieces of yellow material sewn to their clothes. Hoping to save material, the Jewish men of Prague launch a petition to be permitted to wear a transferable patch. They are unsuccessful, and from then on bits of yellow material are sewn on to each garment. There is no report of how many garments make up the average wardrobe.

The Jewish cemetery at Kolodeje lies uphill from the river crossing, on the same side as the castle. It grows fast, as monthly up to 5 Jews die. During epidemics, as many as 25 Jews may be carried monthly on the black, locally built carriage to their graves under three ancient oak trees. One Ash Wednesday, the greedy chairman of the Jewish community has sold the oaks to a local fisherman. The whole village listens to the noise of the saw and axe. They sigh as the trees crash down on to the snow covered ground.

Life being as short as it is and there always being enough worries around, religious festivities and weddings are most welcome diversions. Such rejoicings last days and engage the entire village. Processions with illumination of all houses, colourful banners, a Turkish band, dressing up in biblical garments, reenactment of biblical and historical events are special pastimes at these occasions. All Jewish customs are observed painstakingly. For example, at weddings, a cup is broken for the sake of luck and its fragments are distributed among the closest relatives. A band marches through the village to play at homes where weddings are expected in the near future. All but immediate relatives congregate at the inn and dance through the night. On her wedding day, the bride is placed in a special armchair to have her pigtail cut off and replaced by an embroidered cap. Married women take her to the synagogue accompanied by the band. The men and the band then collect the husband who throws small coins to the poorer members of the Jewish community waiting in front of the synagogue. In return, they wish him good luck.

The houses of the Jews have no courtyards. The largest room is called the magazine. The father of the family spends there most of his life. Al1 possessions are in this room which is vaulted and well guarded against thieves by grates over the windows. Each night, the house is carefully locked.

In 1787, Kolodeje has 85 houses with Roman numerals. Jews must take surnames from an official list. Kaiser Joseph wishes to establish the motto One realm, one language, and this language is German. All official books and records are now to be kept in German.

A few Jews in Kolodeje manage to take other names, perhaps evading punishment by bribes. One such name might be Radok; it is neither of German nor Czech, it could be of Hungarian origin. Or was the name Rodocus, which is hardly German, from the official list changed into Radok? ( as claimed by Zdenek Hedbavny in Prague, the author of the book about my cousin, the film and theatre producer Alfred Radok)

Aron Radok and his son Elias, Kolodeye around 1863

The first bearer of the name Radok is Habakuk in House LXX, glazier and business man. His son Aron is born in 1808 in House XXXII. Aron marries Anna Mautner, daughter of Jakob and Regina Mautner, also born in Kolodeje in 1808. Their first son Elias is born on l6th November, 1840. The year 1848 brings big changes to many parts of Europe, including Bohemia. Jews emerge from the bondage of repressive laws which have enslaved them for centuries. Now they are allowed to change their place of residence, to marry, to study and to enter professions previously closed to them. In 1857, among Kolodeje's 1327 inhabitants live 141 Jewish families with altogether 679 heads. A few years later, most Jewish families have departed for other parts of Europe or overseas. By 1920, when Czechoslovakia is born, only three Jewish families reside in the village, including one branch of the Radok family with relatives in Prague and Königsberg.

For Elias Radok, these changes have come just in time. In his early years, like all other boys of the village, he roams through the local woods collecting firewood, berries and mushrooms. After having received his primary education at the synagogue, he is sent to schools in Ceske Bujedovice and Linz. In 1858, he enters the Polytechnicum at Prague to study mechanical engineering. He excels in all subjects, especially mathematics, and receives on graduation a cherished travel grant as the best student of the year. In 1863, he decides to go to Berlin where he enters the engineering firm, founded 1837 by August Borsig.

August Borsig 1804 - 1854

In the benign atmosphere of Nineteenth Century Prussia, where the concept of Protected Jew has proved itself for hundred years, he is quickly noted by his superiors for his ability, drive and enthusiasm. He designs and supervises the construction of the Prussian Navy's first drydock and is presented to the Crownprince of Prussia.

Gottfried Ostendorff 1812 - 1876

In 1868, he is recommended by Borzig to his friend Gottfried Ostendorff in Königsberg in the Province of Prussia. He becomes chief engineer of the rapidly expanding Union-Foundry which constructs locomotives, steam engines, other machinery and bridges. Königsberg's bridges across the River Pregel, which yielded the origin of a basic problem in topology, raised and solved by the famous Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler in 1735, are rebuilt under Ostendorff's direction

First drydock of the Prussian Navy, Stettin 1868