The  Old Jewish Quarter in Prague

The Jewish quarter is a small quaint neighborhood that is a short walk from old town square. There are walking tours available  or  you can buy tickets to see the cemetery and synagogues on your own. The Jews of Prague have a rich history dating back to 970 AD.  The " Jewish ghetto" as it was called had an extensive history ranging from  a full on "Jewish Renaaisance" where the neighborhood became a center for Jewish mysticism, to near expulsion  in the 11th century, and complete annexation and removal of all Jews by the Nazi regime during World War II.

The Jewish quarter has six synagogues, one of which is the oldest in Europe and a massive collection of Jewish artifacts, from Kiddish cups, to Torah crowns.  During Nazi occupation Hitler had decided to create a "museum of an extinct race"  in Prague, therefore many of the articles of faith from syagogues all over Bohemia and Moravia were stored in the Jewish Museum. These are now displayed in the Spanish Synagogue.

There were many moving moments during our walking tour of the old Jewish quarter, but for me the Pinkas Synagogue was the place that touched deepest.  The Pinkas Synagogue was first turned into a memorial to the Czech Holocaust victims in 1958.   The names of 77,297 Jews from Bohemia and Moravia who died in the holocaust were written on the walls inside of the synagogue.  Ten years later, following the Six Day War in Israel in 1967, the Communist government of Czechoslovakia closed the memorial and removed the names from the wall. After the fall of Communism in 1989, the names were painstakingly rewritten on the walls of the synagogue between 1992 and 1996.  As you walk and read the endless stream of names, there is a recording, not intrusive, very softly saying every name on the wall.  As you look closer at the names on the walls you begin to realize there are entire families listed, mother, father, and every last child.  The surnames are in bright red lettering and where they have the ability the date of birth and date last seen alive are also written.  This is a solemn place, I tried so hard to send a silent prayer for each name, how is this done with so many names, finally I realized that to never forget is the answer, never forget.

On the top floor of the synagogue is a collection of children's drawings done between 1942-1944, these were done by orphans taken to a nearby concentration camp called Terezin.  Terezin was a work camp and stop over before transportation to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.  All but one of the 10,000 children that were at Terezin survived.  When the camp was shut down the art was preserved and holds a permanent display in the synagogue.

The Old Jewish Cemetery

There is not an exact count of how many are buried in the cemetery but it is estimated over 100,000 burials have taken place here since what is believed to have been the fifteen century.  Jews are forbidden to remove graves or head stones , so  once the cemetery was full the practice was to layer more soil for the next burial and put the tombstone back into the ground.  I wished so much that I could read Hebrew, to read what was written on the stones, who they were, what year were they laid to rest.  Brian and I have always had a quirky sort of interest in places of rest and this by far was the most exotic one we have ever seen.

Prayers written on pieces of paper and left on head stones.

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