Inside Prague's Jewish Quarter
Story and photos by Tom Weber
band of normally merry media and I journalists, social media
experts, bloggers and photographers invited by Insight Vacations (Insight)
to sample a portion of its Bohemian Rhapsody itinerary through
Prague, Vienna and Budapest are about to do a complete, out-of-character
about-face as we leave the upbeat, festive confines of Praha's Old Town
Square and enter the darkest period in the Golden City's recent past
as we go inside the Jewish Quarter.
With roots dating all the way back to the
10th century when Jews first arrived in Prague following the First Crusade,
the Jewish Quarter was renamed Josefov (Joseph's City) in 1850 in honor
of Joseph II, the Holy Roman Emperor who emancipated the Jews under
the Toleration Edict of 1781.
A tiny borough tucked inside and surrounded
by Prague's Old Town district, Josefov serves as a grim reminder of
man's inhumanity to man the Nazi occupation of the city during
World War II.
As Jaroslav, Insight's local art-historian
guide, explained, "The Nazi's spared the Jewish Quarter, not so
its residents, as it envisioned to use the space to showcase its planned
museum of an extinct race." He added, "The Third Reich was
gathering Jewish artifacts from across Nazi-occupied Europe to eventually
be put on display in Josefov."
Once home to more Jewish people than any
other place in the world, today's Jewish Quarter consists of only six
synagogues, the Old Jewish Cemetery and the Old Jewish Town Hall. Collectively,
they are known as the Jewish Museum of Prague.
Donning a yarmulke, the traditional
Jewish skullcap worn by men, I join the rest of my group as we begin
our tour of Josefov inside the 500-year-old Pinkas Synagogue and its
quiet tribute to Czech Jews who perished during the Holocaust.
Known as Memorial 77,297, the number of
Czech Jews who fell victim to Adolf Hitler's mass-scale genocide program,
the walls in the main maze and adjoining rooms are inscribed with the
names of the deceased.
Arranged by villages and last names, this
silent roll call leaves us all speechless as we quietly pass in review.
We take leave of Pinkas Synagogue and enter
the small, adjacent Old Jewish Cemetery containing 12,000 gravestones
laid down between 1439 and 1787, but tens of thousands more unmarked
souls are believed to be resting in peace well below the markers.
Of the six synagogues still standing in
Josefov, most impressive is the 13th-century Old-New Synagogue. It's
the oldest, active Jewish house of worship outside Israel.
Not to be missed is the gilded Spanish
Synagogue, so named because of its Moorish Revival style.
We visit both and are impressed by the
priceless and precious religious artifacts on display, all reclaimed
following Nazi Germany's defeat.
Despite what you may think, a visit to
Prague is not complete until you've spent time in Josefov, the Jewish
Quarter. It does much to explain why the Golden City of today is so
very much alive.
For complete information on Insight Vacations'
premium and luxury-escorted itineraries, including the Bohemian Rhapsody
and 100 other journeys throughout Europe, just click HERE,
or call toll free 1-888-680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
If you'll join me at 7:00 p.m. in the lobby
of the Art Nouveau Palace Hotel, we'll hop back on the motor coach and
glide on over to one of Prague's popular landmarks: a 500-year-old brewery
with lots of oom-pah-pah. It'll be an all-you-can-guzzle dinner on Insight's
Rhapsody: Prague's Old Town Square; Bohemian
Rhapsody: Glassblowing 101; Bohemian
Rhapsody: Crossing the Charles Bridge; Bohemian
Rhapsody: Storming the Prague Castle; Bohemian
Rhapsody: Na Zdraví! (A Brewery and A Wine Cellar); Czeching
Out A Bohemian Rhapsody; The
Czech Republic A Little Jewel, Part 2