PRAGUE – This April 1st , forty two Jewish sites will be opened in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, across the entire Czech Republic. Visitors will be able to visit cemeteries, synagogues, ritual baths, Jewish schools and other historic monuments that are otherwise not completely accessible, or have undergone a major reconstruction in the more recent years.
The Jewish Monuments Day was organized by the Jewish communities in Prague, Brno and Teplice in cooperation with the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic and the Matana Building and Cemeteries Administration. They will also showcase 15 recently renovated objects from the 10 Stars Revitalization of Jewish Monuments program that will be opened from 10 AM to 5 PM for a symbolic entrance fee. A map with an overview of the Jewish objects involved will be found on a special site devoted to this project. At some places local enthusiasts and guides will be available to give an overview of the location.
“This is an absolutely unique project, not only in the Czech Republic, but probably in all of Europe. As we know, the Czech Republic has one of the highest number of Jewish sites in Europe and – which is not that known – also one of the largest number of both professional and amateur historians, researches and pure enthusiasts who truly love the Czech Jewish history and its culture. We are sort of very lucky in this, this is certainly not the standard elseweher in Europe,” says Tomas Kraus, Executive Director of the Czech Jewish Federation.
A century ago, there were about 400 synagogues in what is now the Czech Republic. From the beginning of the Nazi occupation in 1938, to the end of WWII, about 70 synagogues – many of them prominent, ornate buildings – were destroyed.
“Some of Europe’s largest, most ornate and strikingly tall and visible synagogues were built by rich Jewish communities in the former Sudetenland part of Czechoslovakia, on the Czech-German borderline–in places like Karlsbad, Teplice, Liberec or Opava. They were not built solely as a prayer houses, but it was a message. These synagogues were symbols of Jewish emancipation from the medieval ghetto. And because this part of Czechoslovakia was taken over by Nazi Germany already in 1938, these, too, were part of the infamous Kristallnacht. And as such, these were also targeted,” adds Kraus.
Under the post-war communist regime, about another hundred synagogues in the remaining towns were also demolished. Most of the remaining structures were converted for other use (about 40 were turned into churches and an additional 48 converted into residences). Many were used as warehouses or stood empty and neglected throughout the communist period.
Today, approximately 200 synagogue buildings stand in cities, towns and villages in all parts of the Czech Republic. Only a few are active houses of worship, but dozens have been beautifully restored and serve as museums or other cultural venues. In addition, there are more than 340 Jewish cemeteries. Many date back centuries, and some have been designated as cultural landmarks. Traces of former Jewish quarters still exist in 180 cities, towns and villages across the country.
Most Jewish communities have disappeared due to the Holocaust and then by post-war emigration waves. The cemeteries were systematically destroyed and they could only be saved after 1989. To this date, there are still some 370 Jewish cemeteries that have been preserved. These monuments are owned by ten existing Jewish communities in the Czech Republic, as well as churches, towns and private owners.
Among the most important investors in the reparation and revitalization of Jewish monuments in the Czech Republic is the Jewish community in Prague, which has 30 synagogues and 175 cemeteries in Central, Eastern and Southern Bohemia. Fifteen significant Jewish buildings at ten sites in the Czech Republic were saved thanks to a 10-star project, which has been awarded by the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic until now the largest grant to save Jewish monuments in the post-war period in all of Europe. Of the total 280 million crowns, 85% comes from the European Regional Development Fund and 15% from the Czech state.
“We were in fact very lucky to be able to pursuit in this never-ending project and we are also very thankful for the support of many Czech non-Jewish organizations, movements and individuals. Without their help, many of these would not have been done so easily,” says Kraus, “We want to share back with the wider Czech society. Already now we have signals that the Czech Jewish Monuments Day will be a big thing and that many visitors will come.”
For those interested in a kosher tour to the Czech Republic during the Jewish Monuments Day or want more info, feel free to contact us at www.kosherrivercruise.com.