A glimpse into the past: Life in the ghettos of Europe

The Ticho house in Boskovice was an enlightened Orthodox Jewish home. The kitchen was kosher, the Sabbath was strictly observed.

 Boskovice, a town of respectable size and standing: The former Jewish ghetto (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Boskovice, a town of respectable size and standing: The former Jewish ghetto
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

‘Your grandfather limped.” I was completely surprised by this bit of startling information that I heard one day from my Aunt Gisella while sitting in her apartment at 3600 North Lake Shore Drive in Chicago.

It was around 1998 and Aunt Gisella (my mother’s oldest sister) was in her late 90s. As usual, she was seated in front of the picture window of her apartment on the 17th floor overlooking Chicago’s Lincoln Park and Lake Michigan. And, as usual, her hands were busy. She could no longer create wonders with her knitting needles, crochet hook or scissors and thread as she had done all her life. Her hands and fingers were now twisted from arthritis, and her eyesight was poor.

But this did not stop her. She just switched to larger needles, thicker thread, and to designs that enabled her to create beautiful afghan bed covers and blankets which she gave away to family members and which, today, are still prized possessions in the various households.

In all the years that I had spoken to my parents and to other family members about my grandfather, the fact that he had a pronounced limp was never mentioned. “Yes, father did limp,” Uncle Alfred, his youngest son, confirmed to me years later when I asked him. To my surprise Alfred could not tell me why.

 Alfred 'Aharon' Ticho - the youngest of 11 boys born to the writer's grandfather Itzchak Zvi Ticho (credit: Ticho family archive) Alfred 'Aharon' Ticho - the youngest of 11 boys born to the writer's grandfather Itzchak Zvi Ticho (credit: Ticho family archive)

Alfred continued: “We had too much respect for our father to ever question him on this subject. He limped, and that was that. It might have been a childhood deformity, an injury (don’t forget, a broken bone in those days without X rays was a major problem) or, for that matter, it could have been a self-inflicted wound to avoid service in the Austrian army during the war of 1866. We just never spoke about it or even mentioned it.”

Ignatz Zvi Ticho, my paternal grandfather, born in 1846, was 20 when the war between Prussia and Austria broke out and was, certainly, a candidate for the army. A limp would excuse him from serving. Besides, many Jews opposed the German military forces in this war.

At one point, Ignaz’s friend, a Mr. Vogel, the secretary of the Jewish community in Boskovice, was asked by a German army officer: “Which road is the way to Kunstat?” Vogel proudly responded: “I will not aid our enemy. Find your own way.”

“Very well,” commanded the officer, “you will now ride with us till we get there, and then you can walk back home.” Vogel stubbornly stuck to his position and spent three days walking back home. Thereafter the Czechs, as well as the Jews of Boskovice, considered Vogel a patriot and a hero.

THE 13 living children of Ignatz Ticho treated their father and mother with the greatest respect. At home they spoke German and, when addressing their parents, they would never use the familiar du form, but always addressed them in the honorific third person sie manner.

Even Dr. Isidor Reiniger, who had married Sarah, the oldest of the children, and who was familiar with the cause of his father-in-law’s limp, never discussed it. He would not even discuss it when I asked him, decades after Ignaz had passed away.

The children also respected their father’s wish not to be photographed. Nevertheless, during a visit to a spa with his sister Nettie, he sat on a park bench and rested his eyes while reading and wearing, as usual, a skull cap. Aunt Nettie got a street photographer to take his picture while he was in this pose.

Years later, the family engaged artist Gustave Boehm to make a drawing of Ignatz based on this photograph. Boehm selected Victor, from among Ignatz’s 11 sons, as best suited model to sit for him, so he could replace the closed eyes with open ones. This portrait, and a matching one of his wife Laura (Esther), and the many copies are in the hands of family members; they are the only pictures ever made of my paternal grandparents.

The Ticho house in Boskovice was an enlightened Orthodox Jewish home. The kitchen was kosher, the Sabbath was strictly observed, Ignatz always had his head covered, and the holidays were major events in the life of the family. (My father, Nathan, could readily recite by heart all the daily Hebrew prayers.)

Ignaz’s father, Abraham, (my great-grandfather) was the dayan (assistant rabbi) of the congregation, and Laura Baer’s father was the rabbi of Holesov. The children were brought up in this atmosphere of Jewish traditions and learning while, at the same time, being exposed to the outside world in their relations with non-Jews in trade and everyday contacts.

The life of the Ticho family was centered in house number #56 and in house #18 on the U Templu (“near the temple”) Street 10, which the Ticho family shared with the Fuchs family. The Fuchs family lived in that house when my great-grandfather Abraham Ticho first married Esther (Rezi) Fuchs.

Mr. Fuchs was the shames (caretaker) of the synagogue. One of his tasks was to visit the Jewish families and offer for “sale” the aliyot (Torah recitations) for each service. The income from these donations paid for the upkeep of the synagogue as well as Fuchs’ salary and the salaries of the rabbi and cantor.

The contributions were voluntary, but certain minimums were usually suggested. These often changed depending on the economic level of the individual approached, as well as on the current needs of the congregation. The price of these honors would rise from time to time, and when Fuchs was questioned as to who decided on the price increases, his brief answer often was: “I conducted a meeting with myself.”

BOSKOVICE, a town of respectable size and standing in the Czech Republic, took great pride in the manner religious services were conducted. Nevertheless, after an addition to the synagogue was completed, the community invited the cantor from the Brno synagogue, the second largest city in the country, to come to Boskovice and officiate during the festive and joyful opening of the completed and enlarged temple.

After the services, a large crowd remained around the building with many commenting on the beautiful presentation and voice of the imported cantor from Brno.

These comments, overheard by the local cantor, became a major irritation that finally caused the injured local cantor to burst out saying, “Do you have an idea how much we paid the Brno cantor to sing here this evening? If I would get such a salary, I too could sing as well as he does!”