Day 6 – Prague

This morning we headed out to explore the Jewish Quarter located just off the main Market Square not far from our hotel.  Mr. Barmore said that if he was taken to any city in Europe that he had never been in before, within ten minutes he would be able to find the Jewish Quarter – it would always be close to the main Market Square but “off center,”

 

Because the Jews were central to the commerce of any major city, they were given certain privileges by the king, one of which was to form a community and to build synagogue.  Our  first stop was the Old New Synagogue, built in 1270, and is the oldest functioning synagogue in the world.  Standing outside, Mr. Barmore asked, “Why were the Jews so hated? They were such a small percentage of any population.”  His answer gave us pause:  “You don’t have to have large numbers to have a large presence.”  Jews were not liked, but not always hated.  They were needed and as such, tolerated.  Yet they chose not to assimilate over time to the point of disappearing within the larger population group, as had most groups in history.  With Jews, most of the time, there was no mixing as in marriage or in getting together over meals, so that there was always a societal ‘wall’ between the groups limiting their interaction to commerce, which led to feelings of ambivalence about the presence of Jews.  
Eventually, in the 19th century, modern antisemitism developed in the face of nationalism.   Jews were asked, “Can you be part of the nation?”  Jews answered “Yes, of course.”  Then they were asked,         “Will you consider your neighbor in Prague closer than your cousin in Warsaw?  Will you be more loyal to the nation than to Jews in other lands?”   Many said yes; many said no.  Jews are both insiders and outsiders at the same time.  It was easier for Jews in the Middle Ages when they were different because everybody was different:  nobility, serfs, Jews, etc. —there was no society.  But with modernity, are we all the same?  Jews, too?  Mr. Barmore reminded us that Jews for many years had been living in their own inner world [the ‘open account with God’].  Jews in the diaspora always believed that wherever they were living, it was a temporary state.  They believed they needed to behave, praise God living in accordance with God’s law as stated in the Torah, and that in time, God would be appeased and would return them to Zion.  “But,” said Mr. Barmore, “What does it mean to behave?”
Judaism is not really a religion we were told.. It’s about keeping the law as it is expressed in the Torah. This law was written 2,500 years ago.. So how is it relevant today?.. Mr. Barmore compared the Torah to the U.S. Constitution, written 231 years ago.. To adapt the principles of the Constitution to a changing society, there were amendments added and then there is also a Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution and the amendments.  The Torah was written 2,500 years ago and to update it there were scholars who wrote the Talmud.  After the Talmud was closed in the 5th century, there are rabbis, learned in both the Torah and Talmud who can guide Jews in how to live. 

 

The first synagogue we visited was the Starnova Synagogue also known as the Old New Synagogue.  The name itself, we were told, tells us it was not the first synagogue in Prague.  At some point a synagogue was built.  Then another synagogue was built and the first became the old, the second became the new.  When a third synagogue was built, the second became the old newsynagogue.    An example of Gothic architecture, Mr. Barmore pointed out that there had been changes to the structure – adding a section outside the original structure to accommodate women once they were included in prayer services, though they remained separate from the men.  Inside the synagogue Mr.. Barmore showed us the necessary components of any synagogue, including the ark, which held the Torah, and the bima from which the Torah was read.



 

 
Mr. Barmore pointed out a flag hanging in the synagogue on which was a Star of David with a hat inside.  People would ride on horseback in public celebrations, proudly carrying a flag that identified their family or group.  The king awarded the Jewish community a flag in appreciation for their services so they could also participate in the celebrations.  But they had no flag.  The ancient symbol of Judaism was the menorah, but the Jewish community in Prague chose the Star of David as their new general identification symbol.  Previously, the Star of David was only seen on graves to identify members of the Cohen family, a prominent family in the congregation.  The Star of David became the symbol of Judaism only in the 17th century.  The flag also displays the yellow hat, which was a derogatory symbol because the king made the Jews of Prague wear the yellow hat whenever they left the ghetto. Although it was originally meant to be disrespectful–it was the color yellow because that was a symbolic color of the plague–it later becomes a symbol of pride for the Jews, as they chose to take a negative and turn it into something positive that connected the community.
.

 

 

It was also in the Old-New Synagogue that Mr. Barmore told us the story of the fabled Golom and Rabbi Loew.
Next we went to the Maisel Synagogue, a place of significance during the Holocaust, because after the Jews of Prague are sent to Theresienstadt, the Jewish Museum asked the Nazis if they could collect personal and communal artifacts of the Jewish community. During the war, the Maisel Synagogue was a warehouse where Jewish curators catalogued and stored religious artifacts from synagogues, as well as personal religious items. The Nazis even allowed five special exhibitions of the artifacts during the war. Once their task was completed, the Nazis sent the curators of the museum to Auschwitz on the last transport, and only one of them survived. The synagogue has been remodeled as a museum and visitors can view many artifacts important in Czech Jewish history.  Mr. Barmore also told us that though families and synagogues had sent their property to the museum curators to be secure until they could come back and much of it is upstairs in the attack in long rows, and carefully catalogued as to its provenance, the museum does not consider the property the personal property of Jewish families.  He told us the story of a man who survived the Holocaust and finding out the museum still had his family’s belongings, came to the museum.  He was shown his family’s property including letters that had been sent between himself and his father.  He was ready to take his property with him and the museum said he could not.  They would be happy to make him copies of the letters and take photos of the items, but they no longer belonged to him.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 In the Maisel synagogue there was also a model of the city of Prague, made by Antonin Langwell in the period of 1826-1837.    This model was digitized in 2006-2009 and cameras take a flight over the city of Prague.  

 

At the Pinkas Synagogue, we saw the memorial to the Jews of Prague and the surrounding towns who the Nazis murdered during the Holocaust. On the walls of the synagogue, painstakingly painted by hand are the names of almost 80,000 Jews of Bohemia and Moravia who were victims of the Nazis.  They are organized alphabetically by town (in yellow), followed by the first and last name (in red) and the date of the last transport. 

 

 

 
 
Outside the Pinkas Synagogue is the Jewish cemetery with more than 12,000 tombstones.  The original cemetery, when full, could not be expanded, and Jewish graves cannot be moved, so another cemetery layer was put on top.  It is important in Jewish culture that the names not be forgotten, so the tombstone of the original grave was removed and placed with the tombstone of the individual on the second layer.  Over the centuries, additional layers were added.  Because of hygiene concerns, no additional layers could be added after 1787.  There are up to fourteen layers of graves in the cemetery, which explains the tombstones as they are seen today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our next synagogue in the Jewish quarter was the Spanish synagogue.  This was an ornate synagogue in the Moorish style.  Many Jews were apparently embarrassed by its opulence.  Mr. Barmore said some Jews felt it was less a place to pray than a place to be seen.  He pointed out the massive organ which might equally be found in a large cathedral and represented an attempt by the Jewish community to rival the Catholic churches. 
Mr. Barmore also told us about Thomas Masaryk, who, after WWI, would go to the United States to fight for the creation of a Czech nation. The biggest loser in terms of territory, from WWI was Germany.  The biggest winner was the new nation of Czechoslovakia..  
When Masaryk returned to what would become Czechoslovakia he was hailed as a hero.  He demanded a constitution in which the nation embraced the Jew. This nation would be the only liberal state.  Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, all become antisemitic, fascist states.  Masaryk became Czechoslovakia’s first president and  presided over the nation during the interwar period and this is when many Jews become Czech.  They had been assimilated before but this is the only nation with which they identified.  He also told us that as many Czech Jews were taken to the gas chambers in Auschwitz, they walked, singing the Czech national anthem.  This year, 2018,  the Czech Republic is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the creation of the nation. After the war, many Czech Jews returned to Czechoslovakia.  The nation of Czechoslovakia was also extremely supportive of the new nation of Israel established in 1948. 
After lunch at a nearby pizza restaurant,  we headed to the Market Square where there was a little time to shop for souvenirs before heading back to the hotel to get ready for dinner at the Wine Food Market. 
 
We had a lovely dinner with our dear friends Eva and Tony Vavrecka! Eva is the niece of Otto Wolf, the diary we all read in preparation for the trip as part of a collection in Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust.  Tomorrow after our long day in Terezin, Eva and Tony will be speaking to our students. Eva will talk about her family Holocaust story and Tony will speak about growing up under communism. 
 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Read student comments on Padlet at the following link:
 

43 comments

  1. Wow, I can hardly hold back the tears reading and seeing all that you are learning and experiencing. What an amazing education you are all having at such a young age. You already were outstanding students to be chosen to go on this trip and now you are so much more worldly and knowledgeable about real life and the real world. I believe this experience will truly change your lives forever in the way you treat others and yourself. Stay positive in knowing what good and caring people all of you are! Can't wait to learn even more when you get home and share all of your notes and pictures.Love, Diane

    Like

  2. I am so moved by what Pavel Stransky had to say. Even though it was only a sample of what he had said it also sounded very true. Everyone in that room is so blessed to be able to talk to a survivor, to hear his hardships, to embrace his emotions and truly understand what it was like. As he said, \”keep the story alive\”, i'm sure anyone who experienced a one in a lifetime opportunity to talk to a survivor like this will never forget it. This is also important because they are very old as is and who knows how long there will be survivors for.I'm sure that they will pass on the story and it will be told for years to come so no one will ever forget special stories such as this.

    Like

  3. When I heard you would be meeting Pavel I was very excited. I had read and article about him last year when the group went on the trip. What an wonderful man…what an amazing life! I wish we all could have been as fortunate to be in the audience to have heard everything he had to share with you. Thoughout your lives, no matter how tough things may seem, please recall Pavel and all his struggles…\”You must have hope. Without hope things die.\”

    Like

  4. Reading all of your comments and listening to Pavel this evening has moved me to tears. I can not help but think of my fathers entire family that was wiped out in the concentration camps. You are all so lucky to have this experience, especially with the benefit of the guides and interactions that most people who make this kind of trip do not have the opportunity to experience. Mrs T, I'm sure I speak for all of the parents when I say that I hope you realize how grateful all of us as parents are, that you have made this truly one of a kind experience a reality for our children. You will truly have changed their lives forever. Because of this I have pledged to myself that I MUST make this trip myself. I would also love to give back upon your return by producing some of the artifacts I had promised to you previously for yours and the students review and would be glad to share with you some of the first hand experiences my father had told me, so that I \”would NEVER forget.\”

    Like

  5. A powerful yet tearful message was sent not just to the students but to myself as well. The memories of the events that took place which was told by Pavel really made an impression on how lucky we all are in our lives. Nothing should be taken for granted and \”Remember and Never Forget\”.Thank You Again,Delia

    Like

  6. We as a family are grateful for this opportunity to be able to follow the trip on the blog. The learning and emotional experience is one that every youth should encounter. Holocaust Survivors are a tremendous educational resource about the atrocities of Jews in World War II. Though they endured the Holocaust, most are not free from the pain and memories of the event. Their stories allow us a better understanding of this part of history. Continue learning and exercise your right for a thirst for knowledge of past events. Enjoy the rest of your trip and as always be safe. God Bless! Saidie continue taking lots and lots of pictures.

    Like

  7. What an amazing man Pavel is! you are so fortunate to meet and learn from him. The memorial of the children is both beautiful and heart-wrenching. To think that things such as that could happen to innocent children..On a lighter note, I love the group photo. Your trip is teaching me so much!

    Like

  8. Celina's comment. . .\”The Terezin Ghetto motto of \”I'm alive as long as I am creating\” struck me as a clear echo of what really transpired in the ghetto.\”..struck me as well. I know people who are ill sometimes use art therapy to help them cope. It is clear that in The Terezin Ghetto that was the case. I am enjoying your BLOG. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  9. I think this story is very moving and interesting. It makes me sad to hear about what these people went through. I don't think I could ever I handle going through the struggles that these people did. I bet this was an amazing experience. Have a safe trip, Susannah

    Like

  10. Thanks to all for your insightful and meaningful comments. We look forward to them every morning and discuss them at breakfast. Tomorrow we are moving on to Olomouc-Trsice which will be a very important part of the trip as we meet Milos Dobry, a Holocaust survivor, observe a Passover seder in the Jewish community and meet with the rescuers of the Wolf family. Please read our upcoming post on Day 6 – Part Two about our meeting with Eva, the daughter of Lici who was the sister of Otto Wolf.

    Like

  11. When Pavel said love is the most important thing, it really struck me. Last week, my mom went to a day convention where she heard a Holocaust survivor share his story. He talked about how he witnessed mothers and their babies being forced apart from each other and since the mothers wouldn't back down from trying to protect their children, they were shot. That is true love; laying down your life in order to save someone you love. I can't even imagine having to go through that. Thanks for sharing that with us!Natalie

    Like

  12. I'm a little behind in posting… I have kept up daily though…. tonight I was getting ready for dinner, and stopped to read yesterday with Pavel. I cried for a long time listening to his love lost… his hope for life.. his unforgettable past, and the reasons for life now. I can't even pretend to understand or know what he told all of you in full…. but Frankie — YOU will tell me everything.. I hope you are keeping copious notes. I am sitting, waiting to hear it all from you, and to learn through you. All of you will keep Pavel's history alive in recounting his life. The best way to honor his life, is to retell it to everyone you meet going forward. This horrible, horrific past cannot repeat itself. You are all courageous young adults. I am proud of all of you. Do Pavel proud, and never forget. Francesca and all of you make me so proud. I will continue to read on. I cannot wait to continue…..And Frankie… we will swim.. in pools of life together… I love you so very much, heart and soul.I continue to smile through your good times there and smile with you all.With admiration for each of you, and much love Francesca,CelesteMom

    Like

  13. Seeing what you are seeing woul dbe incredible. I can't imagine how moving it would be to actually witness the site of the horrible things the Nazis did, because it is totally different than learning it in class. LB- our class misses you, Mullen tells us to be quiet every 5 seconds. Have fun guys and learn a lot!Lauren

    Like

  14. First of all you are all doing an AMAZING job by keeping us updated, thank YOU for that. it's just incredible how you are giving us the opportunity to learn through your experiences. You are all being missed a lot. Specially Brenton in my Spanish class. Look forward to hear more from all of you.

    Like

  15. Walking through the tunnels at the Theresienstadt work camp had to be scary. When you think about how prisoners were shot or electrocuted right after they left the tunnel it really makes you think. I wonder if they knew as they walked through the tunnel if they were going to be shot or electrocuted at the end. That would be so scary. I'm sure it was very interesting to hear Pavel's story. It's nice even though he is very old that he speaks to groups to tell his story. It's is much better to hear a story like that from a real person than a story in a book.-Dashawn Harden

    Like

  16. Prague looks like such a beautiful and entertaining city, and it looks like y'all are having a great time in the Jewish Quarter. It's interesting that y'all had pizza in another country besides America and Italy, and I thought it was really cool that there were street performers including the bubble blower. It is also really neat that one of the things that Jews were allowed to do was build synagogues and there are so many fantastic ones. It was new knowledge to me when Mr. Barmore said that the Star of David originated in Prague. Finally, the 12,000 tombstones are interesting because they are all unique in their appearance.

    Like

  17. That's amazing that you guys had the opportunity to visit Starnova Synagogue. It must have been awesome to visit the Old-New Synagogue the oldest functioning synagogue in the world, built in 1270. Also, It's interesting that the color yellow was a symbolic color of the plague and would later becomes a symbol of pride for the Jewish people. It's encouraging to learn from the boldness and positivity that the Jewish people carried with them during difficult times. They overcame the hatred, public humiliation and discrimination by taking the negativity and turning it into something positive that connected the community.

    Like

  18. How amazing. I did not know where the star of David had originated from. To think that it was originally a family symbol and then grew to be the overall symbol of Judaism is incredible. 12 layers of graves in that one cemetery? That's insane and amazing to think that the Jewish held their religion so near to their hearts, that they would not replace the old graves with the new. It also must have been interesting to talk to Tony and Eva Vavrecka, the niece of Otto Wolf. It must have been fascinating to talk to them.

    Like

  19. When i watched the video this morning, I didn't realize at first that they were names on the wall, after wall, after wall. I was horrified. The cemetery with all of the headstones brought me to tears. Learning so much. Keep up the fantastic job you all are doing.

    Like

  20. Can't believe it's already been a year since I was there! Take im every moment of this trip! Listen to every word from Shalmi because you will never meet someone who can tell you what he can! Prague was my favorite city! Enjoy it!

    Like

  21. I found it so interesting that the oldest synagogue built in 1270 was comprised of Gothic Architecture. Most people think of evil and dark things when they hear the word \”Gothic\”, but in reality Gothic Architecture was comprised of light-colored stones and big windows that allowed beautiful rays of sunshine to enter the building. This made me think about the negative things ignorant people make think of Jews when they hear a reference to Jewish culture. So many people during the Holocaust saw Jews as being evil and greedy figures in society, when in reality they were just like anyone else in the community-happy, goal-oriented people. I just found it so interesting to think about false perceptions versus the reality of a situation.

    Like

  22. We continue to be amazed by the depth and power of the history you are learning and sharing. We are very grateful to the teachers and guides for bringing it to life and to the students for embracing it!Diane and Kathy

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s