Kaddish in Prague

For our second day in Prague I had set up a meeting with one of the archivists at the Jewish Museum. I was hoping that she might have access to some of the primary source material I was looking for.

According to my great-grandfather’s diary, my grandfather, Heinz, had been told to report for a transport from Theresienstadt to “the east” in October 1944.

During the time span from Sept. 28 till Oct 28, 1944, exactly 30 days, no less than 12 transports with about 25,000 people were deported from here to Poland. During the 3rd transport, Heinz was called up in the evening hours to depart for Poland the following day. We knew that no one could do anything about it and spent a horrible night. The next day Heinz went to the German council, showed them his passport from Paraguay and his name was removed from the list.

One of my goals for this trip was to find out which transport he was supposed to be on and find the list with his name crossed out.

I had some trouble connecting with the archivist when I first arrived at the museum. I was told she was out for the morning because there was a special service at the synagogue to honor the Czech Jews who had been murdered during the Holocaust. This was an opportunity I hadn’t expected, and despite the fact I wasn’t dressed for the occasion, I decided to try to attend the ceremony.

I went to the Pinkus Synagogue with the hope of paying my respects and comparing the service to similar ones I have attended in the U.S. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past the security guard. I told him I was Jewish. I told him my great-grandfather was from Czechoslovakia and had been imprisoned in two concentration camps. I told him that several of my family members had been murdered during the Holocaust. No dice. As I discussed the situation with him, he let several other people through. I noticed that they didn’t have tickets or any special ID and I asked him how he knew he could let them in, but not me. He said that he knew them.

The Jewish community in Prague is so small that everyone knows everyone else. I stuck out like a sore thumb, and they weren’t going to take any chances. Someone they didn’t know might do something to disrupt the Kaddish or endanger the Prague Jews who would be gathered there today.

Some stark statistics* on the population of Czech Jews:

  •             1921        125,083
  •             1930        117,551
  •             1945        18,000 (over 92,000 perished during WWII)
  •             1970        7,000 (about half the Jewish population fled Communism)
  •             2010        3,900

Today there are only about 1,600 Jews who are members of the Prague Jewish Community.

I politely thanked the guard for his time and went on my way, hoping to catch up with the archivist and visit the historic site later in the day.

I did return to the Pinkus Synagogue (please click on this link to see a virtual tour) that afternoon and was surprised by what I found. I had expected a sanctuary with chairs for congregants and a bema up front with an ark for the Torah. Instead, the synagogue was completely empty except for a more traditional bema in the middle. The walls were white stucco and covered floor to ceiling on every surface of every wall with the names of the Jews that perished during the Holocaust. They are divided into sections by town and then listed alphabetically within each town. You can see that entire villages were wiped out and how many members of one family were lost. I found my mother’s maiden name, and I know the people represented there were my distant relatives.IMG_4450

One more stop for the day: to catch up with the archivist. I found her, and we spoke for a while. Unfortunately I had more information to give her than she did to give me. She said that all the documents that they had were already digitalized and on their website. So if I hadn’t found what I was looking for yet, they didn’t have it. She thought I might find it in various archives in Germany.

Before I left, I asked her about the ceremony and why she thought I couldn’t attend. She wasn’t sure. I asked her about current anti-Semitism in the Czech Republic and her answer was telling. “There aren’t enough Jews here for anyone to notice and be anti-Semitic.”

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Jews_in_the_Czech_Republic http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/Prague.html

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