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YA Eco Mysteries, Memoirs, Novels & Travel

Prague Jewish Museum


History is repeating itself, Abraham thought and he felt the hairs of the back of his neck rise. He was escaping the fearsome menace of Nazism, but what would become of his friends?
The Nine Inheritors, Chap 20, p. 239
In one of the most grotesquely ironic acts of WWII, the Nazis seized control of the area that would eventually become the Prague Jewish Museum. Lonely Planet



History is repeating itself, Abraham thought and he felt the hairs of the back of his neck rise. He was escaping the fearsome menace of Nazism, but what would become of his friends? The Nine Inheritors, Chap 20, p. 239

In one of the most grotesquely ironic acts of WWII, the Nazis seized control of the area that would eventually become the Prague Jewish Museum. Lonely Planet
As we explore the Jewish Museum in Prague, colliding emotions wash through us: admiration, elation, pain, and anguish. The synagogues, the old cemetery, and the Old Jewish Town Hall, charged with mystery and with memories of a thousand years of history, are but fragments of what was once one of the most important Jewish communities on Europe. 

DSC_0195
THE OLD JEWISH CEMETE RY (1439-1787) contains 12,000 tombstones, but the number of persons buried there is about 100,000 as Jews were not allowed to be buried outside the ghetto.

Later, over lunch with travel companions, we could not help wondering: Why had the Nazis not destroy these sites immediately upon occupation? With only six synagogues, the old cemetery, and the Old Jewish Town Hall, they could easily have completed the demolition. After all, they had already systematically destroyed and burned Jewish cities, towns and villages of Bohemia and Moravia. 

Spanish Interior
THE SPANISH SYNAGOGUE (1868). Moorish style interior with rich decorations.

Returning home, I teased out the answer, thereby uncovering a macabre and ironic twist to this story. At the beginning of the 20th century, the old Jewish Ghetto, or Josefov, was demolished for reconstruction of a new town, by decree of the Prague City Council. Only the synagogues , cemetery and town hall remained. In1906, farsighted Jewish community leaders established a museum to preserve valuable artifacts from buildings demolished during the clearance. All seemed well until the Nazi’s marched in. In one of the most grotesquely ironic acts of WWII, the Nazis seized control of the area that would eventually become the Prague Jewish Museum.

Spanish Syn
THE SPANISH SYNAGOGUE (Facade)

After the Nazi occupation of Bohemia and Moravia on 15 March 1939, they closed down the museum. Jewish leaders, after intense “negotiations,” the Nazis agreed to save it. As a result, in 1942, the Nazis established the Central Jewish Museum. Then they began shipping sacred objects and other looted treasure back to Prague, from liquidated Jewish communities and synagogues of Bohemia and Moravia. Why? Because after the Nazi had exterminated the Jewish people they planned to use these treasures as exhibits for a “museum of the extinct Jewish race.”  Granted a temporary stay of execution, Jewish scholars labored to catalogue and classify the collection, laying the foundation for the Jewish Museum—seemingly oblivious to the nefarious intentions of the Nazis.
In the final ironic, triumphant twist of fate the Nazi’s were defeated. Today the Jewish Museum in Prague has one of the most extensive collections of Jewish art, textiles and silver in the world; there are 40,000 exhibits and 100,000 books. The collection is unique, poignantly evoking the rich Jewish history and heritage for the present Czech Republic and visitors from all over the world. For more information visit these links:
Enjoy this short video on our recent visit to Prague:

Prague Jewish Museum
Prague Jewish Museum
Virtual Jewish History Tour Prague
Former Jewish Quarter in Prague