This afternoon, I visited Prague Jewish Town with a new colleague from school. You can read about all the sites by hitting ‘Explore’ at Prague’s Jewish Museum site.
As a teenager, I wasn’t really interested in history, which seemed nothing more than lists of dates and facts. It felt completely irrelevant to me until 12th grade when one teacher taught us by telling stories. This afternoon, I was immersed in the narrative of the Jewish people of Prague. We visited several synagogues, some dating from the thirteenth century, looked at hundreds of artefacts and photos, and learned about Jewish culture. I’m not going to go into detail about each place except for one, but here are my main take-aways:
1. Jewish people have been legally persecuted throughout history in Europe: contained, controlled, and denied the right to live and work in peace. The abuse didn’t really stop in Prague until 1989, when communist rule ended. It shocked me, even though I’d already learned about it at the Shoah Memorial in Paris a few years ago.
2. So much was lost in the holocaust. 80,000 citizens of Prague were ripped from their regular lives and sent to Terezin, where Jewish people were kept before being sent to concentration camps. 97,000 Czech Jews died in the holocaust, 15,000 of whom were children. The Jewish population was decimated in Prague. One photo of a young bride and groom, smiling and happy, beneath their immigration application almost brought me to tears. A tiny card tells us that they died in Auschwitz, a few years later.
3. Jewish culture is so rich. I saw so much beauty in both artefacts and traditions. I kind of want a Torah pointer.
The site that was the most powerful for me was the simplest: The Pinkas Synagogue. The interior walls are covered in the names of the 80,000 Jewish citizens of Prague who were murdered. It’s difficult not to feel overwhelmed by the vastness, the frankness of it.
Upstairs, you can see pictures drawn by the children of Terezin. If you don’t know the story of Friedl Dicker-Brandels, who secretly taught the children of Terezin art lessons, you must read it. She’s a hero. These drawings and paintings were a glimpse into the minds of those kids who had previously lived ordinary lives: going to school, playing the piano, doing all the things kids do, but who were snatched from the everyday and dropped into a horror story.
The drawings are beautiful and gut-wrenching.