Sunday, November 8, 2009

Jewish Prague

The perverse desire of the Nazis to establish a museum of the Jews after wiping them out is responsible for the remarkable remnants of the Jewish community still to be found in Prague.  Although more than 100,000 Jews died in the camps and ghettos, Torah scrolls and hundreds of religious and historical articles were preserved in the several synagogues also preserved in Josefov, the old Jewish area, and are now on display as part of the Jewish Museum established by those who returned.


Easily the most moving sight is the Old Jewish Cemetery, which holds the remains and tombstones of those buried here between the 12th and 18th centuries.  Given the small size of the cemetery the dead were buried in layers, the newer dead atop the older.  Finally another cemetery was established outside the central city, where Franz Kafka, perhaps Prague's most famous Jew, was laid to rest.

The tomb of Rabbi Loëw, who legend says conjured the monstrous Golem to protect the Jewish community of Prague from their oppressors, is marked by the traditional stones left on graves in remembrance of the dead, along with small bits of folded papers holding prayers left by the faithful.  A French couple near us left their bits of paper before moving on.

The old cemetery is a small forest of tombstones, some fallen, some leaning against each other for support, some entirely effaced, all dripping in the rain and covered with fallen leaves.  A more melancholy sight is hard to imagine, until you remember that the descendants of these buried Jews have no burial places of their own, having been scattered to Theresienstadt, to Auschwitz, to smoke.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There's something about the Star of David photo with the fallen leaves that is just very striking - outside of the color and clarity of the photo. Maybe it's the symbolism: the fallen leaves represents the Jews lost in the camps and the hard surface of the Jewish star represents the resilience and perseverance of the Jews. And guess what my word verification is? Goysecuf. Ha.