April 15, 2011

Josefov (Jewish Quarter)

Prague is considered one of Europe's great Jewish cities: Jews have been here since the end of the 10th century, and by 1708 more Jews were living here than anywhere else in Europe. Today, Prague's Jewish community numbers less than 3,000.

Maiselova Street is one of the two main streets of the previously walled Jewish quarter. About halfway down the street is the Maisel Synagogue (Maiselova synagóga). The original synagogue was destroyed by fire in 1689 but was rebuilt. During the Nazi occupation of Prague, it was used to store furniture seized from the homes of deported Jews. It is now home to the Jewish Museum's collection of silver ceremonial objects, books, and Torah covers confiscated from Bohemian synagogues by the Nazis during World War II.

Pinkas Synagogue (Pinkasova synagóga) is Prague's second-oldest Jewish house of worship. On its walls are inscribed the names of more than 77,000 Czech Jews who perished in Nazi concentration camps. The upper section of the synagogue houses the permanent exhibition “Childen’s Drawings from Terezin”. Displayed here are the sketches by children who were held at the Terezín concentration camp west of Prague. They provide a moving testimony to the cruel fate that befell the children and the only relics of those who did not survive.

The walls with inscriptions of names

Access to the Old Jewish Cemetery (Starý zidovský hrbitov), Europe's oldest Jewish burial ground, is via the Pinkas Synagogue. The oldest grave dates back to 1439. Because the local government of the time didn't allow Jews to bury their dead elsewhere, as many as 12 bodies were placed vertically, with each new tombstone placed in front of the last. Hence, the crowded little cemetery contains more than 12,000 tombstones, although the number of persons buried there is much greater.

The Ceremonial Hall, where rites for the dead were once held, is located at the exit of the cemetery. It now houses the permanent “Jewish Customs and Traditions” exhibition devoted to illness and medicine in the ghetto and burial rituals for the death.

The Old-New Synagogue (Staronová synagóga), built around 1270, is the oldest Jewish temple in Europe and one of the largest Gothic buildings in Prague. It is among the three Prague synagogues in which religious services are still held.

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