Friday, February 27, 2009

Czeching the Jewish ghetto: Pinkas synagogue

My last day in Prague was spent revisiting Mala Strana and checking out Josefov, the Jewish Quarters of Prague. I walked from my hotel in Stare Mesto (Old Town) to Nove Mesto (New Town) crossing the bridge to Mala Strana and going back to Stare Mesto via Charles Bridge then taking a left turn towards Josefov. I like walking a lot when I am travelling.

Entering Josefov district and I saw this little figure sitting on the wall.

This is the Old-New Synagogue. I visited this as well but quickly.

In this trip I’ve learned that the Jews have been discriminated in Bohemia and Moravia as early as the 10th century. They settled in Prague in the Josefov district and they were not allowed to engage in commercial activities outside the quarters. They were also not permitted to leave the place without wearing a yellow marker on their clothes so people would know they were Jewish. Later on in history, we all know that this yellow marker was improvised and became the Yellow Star of David badge issued by the Nazis during the WWII.

The first thing on my agenda to check out was the Pinkas synagogue that houses, “The Memorial to the Jewish Victims of the Holocaust from Bohemia and Moravia”. It is a museum now.

When I entered the building, I felt the eerie character of the room. I looked around and noticed that everyone inside the room seemed to be tiptoeing as if they were mesmerized and walking on glass floors. The lights were low, the vaulted ceilings high, and on the walls of the interior are letters inscribed on it. A closer look reveals them to be names – names of the 80,000 Jews from Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic and Slovakia) who died during the Holocaust. The names were written with the order of their last name first in red, followed by the first name, then their date of birth and date of death, if known.

I’ll have to say that standing there reading some of the names is a bit overwhelming. I can’t help but imagine the reality behind this; trying to turn back the clock, 60 years ago when the Holocaust happened in Europe. These names, these people died not because of their beliefs but because of hate.

Above the synagogue was a more perplexing exhibit, “The Children’s Drawings from Terezin 1942-1944”. Terezin is a shy away from being a concentration camp. It’s a village created by Hitler where the evicted Jews in Czechoslovakia were sent to temporarily while awaiting for their finally destination, usually to the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau to be annihilated. Many Jews died in Terezin due to malnutrition. It was so sad to see the drawings of the children. They are a poignant reminder of how they lived during the Nazi occupation. Only a few of the children survived, about 100+ from the 15,000+.

I did not take photos inside the synagogue. Well, it was not as well allowed, but even if it was, I just couldn’t. I was so moved, I even forgot to take a photo of the building outside.

Travel Period: December 2008
Destination: Prague, Czech Republic

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