Czech Jewish Life
Prague has one of the oldest recorded histories of Jews in Central Europe, first mentioned by Ibrahim ibn Yaqub in 965. Since then, the community has never ceased to exist despite pogroms, expulsions, the Holocaust, and persecution by the Communist regime.
Beginning in the 12th century, Prague became a great center of Jewish learning. It eventually became the home of celebrated Talmudists and great rabbinic scholars such as the famous Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, known as the Maharal of Prague. He was the most important Talmudist and Kabbalist of his time.
Before World War II, there were at least 350 synagogues in what is today the Czech Republic. According to the 1930 census, there were 117,551 Jews living there.
On Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938, the Nazis destroyed 50 synagogues along with the majority of their contents in the Sudetenland border region. This area had been turned over to Hitler just five weeks before under the terms of the Munich Pact. Under Nazi occupation of the remainder of what is today the Czech Republic, which began on March 15, 1939 and lasted until the end of the war, the remaining 300 synagogues were abandoned.
In 1941, prominent Prague Jews persuaded the Nazis to allow them to bring the artifacts from the abandoned and destroyed synagogues to Prague. Over 100,000 artifacts were brought to their workplace in Prague, including approximately 1,800 Torah scrolls. Each scroll was labeled and an index card created describing the scroll and the synagogue and community from whence it came. (See: How did the Scrolls Survive the Holocaust? ) All of the Jews who participated in this project would be deported to Terezin or Auschwitz. Only two survived.
The Nazis deported 81,000 Czech Jews to camps of whom only about 10,500 Czech Jews survived. The rest managed to flee the country. About 4,000 Jews live in the Czech Republic today.
By the end of the war more than 60 synagogues were destroyed and most of their contents lost. During the Communist regime, 1948 to 1989, the remaining synagogues were demolished or left to decay. Since the fall of the Communist government in 1989, a number of Czech communities have restored their former synagogues, which can be visited today.
The Jewish Museum of Prague was established in 1906 and is one of the oldest Jewish Museums in Europe. Existing in various forms during the Nazi occupation and under the Communist regime, it housed and supported cataloguing of 1800 rescued Torah scrolls (including ours) and thousands and Jewish religious artifacts from destroyed and abandoned synagogues.
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