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The statue of the Golem of Prague at the entrance of the Municipality, Prague, Czech Republic, 1990

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The statue of the Golem of Prague at the entrance of the Municipality, Prague, Czech Republic, 1990
Photo: Dani Ophir, Israel
The Oster Visual Documentation Center, ANU – Museum of the Jewish People,
Courtesy of Dani Ophir, Israel

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120910
Image Purchase: For more details about image purchasing Click here, make sure you have the photo ID number (as appear above)
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Prague

Capital of the Czech Republic. Formerly the capital of Czechoslovakia.

It has the oldest Jewish community in Bohemia and one of the oldest communities in Europe, for some time the largest and most revered. Jews may have arrived in Prague in late roman times, but the first document mentioning them is a report by Ibrahim Ibn Ya'qub from about 970. The first definite evidence for the existence of a Jewish community in Prague dates to 1091. Jews arrived in Prague from both the east and west around the same time. It is probably for this reason that two Jewish districts came into being there right at the beginning.

The relatively favorable conditions in which the Jews at first lived in Prague were disrupted at the time of the first crusade in 1096. The crusaders murdered many of the Jews in Prague, looted Jewish property, and forced many to accept baptism. During the siege of Prague castle in 1142, the oldest synagogue in Prague and the Jewish quarter below the castle were burned down and the Jews moved to the right bank of the river Moldau (vltava), which was to become the future Jewish quarter, and founded the "Altschul" ("old synagogue") there.

The importance of Jewish culture in Prague is evidenced by the works of the halakhists there in the 11th to 13th centuries. The most celebrated was Isaac B. Moses of Vienna (d. C. 1250) author of "Or Zaru'a". Since the Czech language was spoken by the Jews of Prague in the early middle ages, the halakhic writings of that period also contain annotations in Czech. From the 13th to 16th centuries the Jews of Prague increasingly spoke German. At the time of persecutions which began at the end of the 11th century, the Jews of Prague, together with all the other Jews of Europe, lost their status as free people. From the 13th century on, the Jews of Bohemia were considered servants of the royal chamber (servi camerae regis). Their residence in Prague was subject to the most humiliating conditions (the wearing of special dress, segregation in the ghetto, etc.). The only occupation that Jews were allowed to adopt was moneylending, since this was forbidden to Christians and considered dishonest. Socially the Jews were in an inferior position.

The community suffered from persecutions accompanied by bloodshed in the 13th and 14th centuries, particularly in 1298 and 1338. Charles IV (1346- 1378) protected the Jews, but after his death the worst attack occurred in 1389, when nearly all the Jews of Prague fell victims. The rabbi of Prague and noted kabbalist Avigdor Kara, who witnessed and survived the outbreak, described it in a selichah. Under Wenceslaus IV the Jews of Prague suffered heavy material losses following an order by the king in 1411 canceling all debts owed to Jews.

At the beginning of the 15th century the Jews of Prague found themselves at the center of the Hussite wars (1419- 1436). The Jews of Prague also suffered from mob violence (1422) in this period. The unstable conditions in Prague compelled many Jews to emigrate.

Following the legalization, at the end of the 15th century, of moneylending by non-Jews in Prague, the Jews of Prague lost the economic significance which they had held in the medieval city, and had to look for other occupations in commerce and crafts. The position of the Jews began to improve at the beginning of the 16th century, mainly owing to the assistance of the king and the nobility. The Jews found greater opportunities in trading commodities and monetary transactions with the nobility. As a consequence, their economic position improved. In 1522 there were about 600 Jews in Prague, but by 1541 they numbered about 1,200. At the same time the Jewish quarters were extended. At the end of the 15th century the Jews of Prague founded new communities.

Under pressure of the citizens, king Ferdinand I was compelled in 1541 to approve the expulsion of the Jews. The Jews had to leave Prague by 1543, but were allowed to return in 1545. In 1557 Ferdinand I once again, this time upon his own initiative, ordered the expulsion of the Jews from Prague. They had to leave the city by 1559. Only after the retirement of Ferdinand I from the government of Bohemia were the Jews allowed to return to Prague in 1562.

The favorable position of the Jewish community of Prague during the reign of Rudolf II is reflected also in the flourishing Jewish culture. Among illustrious rabbis who taught in Prague at that time were Judah Loew B. Bezalel (the "maharal"); Ephraim Solomon B. Aaron of Luntschitz; Isaiah B. Abraham ha-levi Horowitz, who taught in Prague from 1614 to 1621; and Yom Tov Lipmann Heller, who became chief rabbi in 1627 but was forced to leave in 1631. The chronicler and astronomer David Gans also lived there in this period. At the beginning of the 17th century about 6,000 Jews were living in Prague.

In 1648 the Jews of Prague distinguished themselves in the defense of the city against the invading swedes. In recognition of their acts of heroism the Emperor presented them with a special flag which is still preserved in the Altneuschul. Its design with a Swedish cap in the center of the Shield of David became the official emblem of the Prague Jewish community.

After the thirty years' war, government policy was influenced by the church counter-reformation, and measures were taken to limit the Jews' means of earning a livelihood. A number of anti-Semitic resolutions and decrees were promulgated. Only the eldest son of every family was allowed to marry and found a family, the others having to remain single or leave Bohemia.

In 1680, more than 3,000 Jews in Prague died of the plague. Shortly afterward, in 1689, the Jewish quarter burned down, and over 300 Jewish houses and 11 synagogues were destroyed. The authorities initiated and partially implemented a project to transfer all the surviving Jews to the village of Lieben (Liben) north of Prague. Great excitement was aroused in 1694 by the murder trial of the father of Simon Abeles, a 12-year-old boy, who, it was alleged, had desired to be baptized and had been killed by his father. Simon was buried in the Tyn (Thein) church, the greatest and most celebrated cathedral of the old town of Prague. Concurrently with the religious incitement against the Jews an economic struggle was waged against them.

The anti-Jewish official policy reached its climax after the accession to the throne of Maria Theresa (1740-1780), who in 1744 issued an order expelling the Jews from Bohemia and Moravia. Jews were banished but were subsequently allowed to return after they promised to pay high taxes. In the baroque period noted rabbis were Simon Spira; Elias Spira; David Oppenheim; and Ezekiel Landau, chief rabbi and rosh yeshivah (1755-93(.

The position of the Jews greatly improved under Joseph II (1780-1790), who issued the Toleranzpatent of 1782. The new policy in regard to the Jews aimed at gradual abolition of the limitations imposed upon them, so that they could become more useful to the state in a modernized economic system. At the same time, the new regulations were part of the systematic policy of germanization pursued by Joseph II. Jews were compelled to adopt family names and to establish schools for secular studies; they became subject to military service, and were required to cease using Hebrew and Yiddish in business transactions. Wealthy and enterprising Jews made good use of the advantages of Joseph's reforms. Jews who founded manufacturing enterprises were allowed to settle outside the Jewish quarter of Prague.

Subsequently the limitations imposed upon Jews were gradually removed. In 1841 the prohibition on Jews owning land was rescinded. In 1846 the Jewish tax was abolished. In 1848 Jews were granted equal rights, and by 1867 the process of legal emancipation had been completed. In 1852 the ghetto of Prague was abolished. Because of the unhygienic conditions in the former Jewish quarter the Prague municipality decided in 1896 to pull down the old quarter, with the exception of important historical sites. Thus the Altneuschul, the Pinkas and Klaus, Meisel and Hoch synagogues, and some other places of historical and artistic interest remained intact.

In 1848 the community of Prague, numbering over 10,000, was still one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe (Vienna then numbered only 4,000 Jews). In the following period of the emancipation and the post- emancipation era the Prague community increased considerably in numbers, but did not keep pace with the rapidly expanding new Jewish metropolitan centers in western, central, and Eastern Europe.

After emancipation had been achieved in 1867, emigration from Prague abroad ceased as a mass phenomenon; movement to Vienna, Germany, and Western Europe continued. Jews were now represented in industry, especially the textile, clothing, leather, shoe, and food industries, in wholesale and retail trade, and in increasing numbers in the professions and as white-collar employees. Some Jewish bankers, industrialists and merchants achieved considerable wealth. The majority of Jews in Prague belonged to the middle class, but there also remained a substantial number of poor Jews.

Emancipation brought in its wake a quiet process of secularization and assimilation. In the first decades of the 19th century Prague Jewry, which then still led its traditionalist orthodox way of life, had been disturbed by the activities of the followers of Jacob Frank. The situation changed in the second half of the century. The chief rabbinate was still occupied by outstanding scholars, like Solomon Judah Rapoport, the leader of the Haskalah movement; Markus Hirsch (1880-1889) helped to weaken the religious influence in the community. Many synagogues introduced modernized services, a shortened liturgy, the organ and mixed choir, but did not necessarily embrace the principles of the reform movement.

Jews availed themselves eagerly of the opportunities to give their children a higher secular education. Jews formed a considerable part of the German minority in Prague, and the majority adhered to liberal movements. David Kuh founded the "German liberal party of Bohemia and represented it in the Bohemian diet (1862-1873). Despite strong Germanizing factors, many Jews adhered to the Czech language, and in the last two decades of the 19th century a Czech assimilationist movement developed which gained support from the continuing influx of Jews from the rural areas. Through the influence of German nationalists from the Sudeten districts anti-Semitism developed within the German population and opposed Jewish assimilation. At the end of the 19th century Zionism struck roots among the Jews of Bohemia, especially in Prague.

Growing secularization and assimilation led to an increase of mixed marriages and abandonment of Judaism. At the time of the Czechoslovak republic, established in 1918, many more people registered their dissociation of affiliation to the Jewish faith without adopting another. The proportion of mixed marriages in Bohemia was one of the highest in Europe. The seven communities of Prague were federated in the union of Jewish religious communities of greater Prague and cooperated on many issues. They established joint institutions; among these the most important was the institute for social welfare, established in 1935. The "Afike Jehuda society for the Advancement of Jewish Studies" was founded in 1869. There were also the Jewish museum and "The Jewish historical society of Czechoslovakia". A five-grade elementary school was established with Czech as the language of instruction. The many philanthropic institutions and associations included the Jewish care for the sick, the center for social welfare, the aid committee for refugees, the aid committee for Jews from Carpatho- Russia, orphanages, hostels for apprentices, old-age homes, a home for abandoned children, free-meal associations, associations for children's vacation centers, and funds to aid students. Zionist organizations were also well represented. There were three B'nai B'rith lodges, women's organizations, youth movements, student clubs, sports organizations, and a community center. Four Jewish weeklies were published in Prague (three Zionist; one Czech- assimilationist), and several monthlies and quarterlies. Most Jewish organizations in Czechoslovakia had their headquarters in Prague.

Jews first became politically active, and some of them prominent, within the German orbit. David Kuh and the president of the Jewish community, Arnold Rosenbacher, were among the leaders of the German Liberal party in the 19th century. Bruno Kafka and Ludwig Spiegel represented its successor in the Czechoslovak republic, the German Democratic Party, in the chamber of deputies and the senate respectively. Emil Strauss represented that party in the 1930s on the Prague Municipal Council and in the Bohemian diet. From the end of the 19th century an increasing number of Jews joined Czech parties, especially T. G. Masaryk's realists and the social democratic party. Among the latter Alfred Meissner, Lev Winter, and Robert Klein rose to prominence, the first two as ministers of justice and social welfare respectively.

Zionists, though a minority, soon became the most active element among the Jews of Prague. "Barissia" - Jewish Academic Corporation, was founded in Prague in 1903, it was one of the leading academic organizations for the advancement of Zionism in Bohemia. Before World War I the students' organization "Bar Kochba", under the leadership of Samuel Hugo Bergman, became one of the centers of cultural Zionism. The Prague Zionist Arthur Mahler was elected to the Austrian parliament in 1907, though as representative of an electoral district in Galicia. Under the leadership of Ludvik Singer the "Jewish National Council" was formed in 1918. Singer was elected in 1929 to the Czechoslovak parliament, and was succeeded after his death in 1931 by Angelo Goldstein. Singer, Goldstein, Frantisek Friedmann, and Jacob Reiss represented the Zionists on the Prague municipal council also. Some important Zionist conferences took place in Prague, among them the founding conference of hitachadut in 1920, and the
18th Zionist congress in 1933.

The group of Prague German-Jewish authors which emerged in the 1880s, known as the "Prague Circle" ('der Prager Kreis'), achieved international recognition and included Franz Kafka, Max Brod, Franz Werfel, Oskar Baum, Ludwig Winder, Leo Perutz, Egon Erwin Kisch, Otto Klepetar, and Willy Haas.

During the Holocaust period, the measures e.g., deprivation of property rights, prohibition against religious, cultural, or any other form of public activity, expulsion from the professions and from schools, a ban on the use of public transportation and the telephone, affected Prague Jews much more than those still living in the provinces. Jewish organizations provided social welfare and clandestinely continued the education of the youth and the training in languages and new vocations in preparation for emigration. The Palestine office in Prague, directed by Jacob Edelstein, enabled about 19,000 Jews to emigrate legally or otherwise until the end of 1939.

In March 1940, the Prague zentralstelle extended the area of its jurisdiction to include all of Bohemia and Moravia. In an attempt to obviate the deportation of the Jews to "the east", Jewish leaders, headed by Jacob Edelstein, proposed to the zentralstelle the establishment of a self- administered concentrated Jewish communal body; the Nazis eventually exploited this proposal in the establishment of a ghetto at Theresienstadt (Terezin). The Prague Jewish community was forced to provide the Nazis with lists of candidates for deportation and to ensure that they showed up at the assembly point and boarded deportation trains. In the period from October 6, 1941, to March 16, 1945, 46,067 Jews were deported from Prague to "the east" or to Theresienstadt. Two leading officials of the Jewish community, H. Bonn and Emil Kafka were dispatched to Mauthausen concentration camp and put to death after trying to slow down the pace of the deportations. The Nazis set up a treuhandstelle ("trustee Office") over evacuated Jewish apartments, furnishings, and possessions. This office sold these goods and forwarded the proceeds to the German winterhilfe ("winter aid"). The treuhandstelle ran as many as 54 warehouses, including 11 synagogues (as a result, none of the synagogues was destroyed). The zentralstelle brought Jewish religious articles from 153 Jewish communities to Prague on a proposal by Jewish scholars. This collection, including 5,400 religious objects, 24,500 prayer books, and 6,070 items of historical value the Nazis intended to utilize for a "central museum of the defunct Jewish race". Jewish historians engaged in the creation of the museum were deported to extermination camps just before the end of the war. Thus the Jewish museum had acquired at the end of the war one of the richest collections of Judaica in the world.


Prague had a Jewish population of 10,338 in 1946, of whom 1,396 Jews had not been deported (mostly of mixed Jewish and Christian parentage); 227 Jews had gone underground; 4,986 returned from prisons, concentration camps, or Theresienstadt; 883 returned from Czechoslovak army units abroad; 613 were Czechoslovak Jewish emigres who returned; and 2,233 were Jews from Ruthenia (Carpatho-Ukraine), which had been ceded to the U.S.S.R. who decided to move to Czechoslovakia. The communist takeover of 1948 put an end to any attempt to revive the Jewish community and marked the beginning of a period of stagnation. By 1950 about half of the Jewish population had gone to Israel or immigrated to other countries. The Slansky trials and the officially promoted anti-Semitism had a destructive effect upon Jewish life. Nazi racism of the previous era was replaced by political and social discrimination. Most of the Jews of Prague were branded as "class enemies of the working people". During this
Period (1951-1964) there was no possibility of Jewish emigration from the country. The assets belonging to the Jewish community had to be relinquished to the state. The charitable organizations were disbanded, and the budget of the community, provided by the state, was drastically reduced. The general anti-religious policy of the regime resulted in the cessation, for all practical purposes, of such Jewish religious activities as bar-mitzvah religious instruction and wedding ceremonies. In 1964 only two cantors and two ritual slaughterers were left. The liberalization of the regime during 1965-1968 held out new hope for a renewal of Jewish life in Prague.

At the end of March 1967 the president of "The World Jewish Congress", Nahum Goldmann, was able to visit Prague and give a lecture in the Jewish town hall. Among the Jewish youth many tended to identify with Judaism. Following the soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 there was an attempt to put an end to this trend, however the Jewish youth, organized since 1965, carried on with their Jewish cultural activities until 1972. In the late 6os the Jewish population of Prague numbered about 2,000.

On the walls of the Pinkas synagogue, which is part of the central Jewish museum in Prague, are engraved the names of 77,297 Jews from Bohemia and Moravia who were murdered by the Nazis in 1939-1945.

In 1997 some 6,000 Jews were living in the Czech Republic, most of them in Prague. The majority of the Jews of Prague were indeed elderly, but the Jewish community's strengthened in 1990's by many Jews, mainly American, who had come to work in the republic, settled in Prague, and joined the community.

In April 2000 the central square of Prague was named Franz Kafka square. This was done thanks to the unflinching efforts and after years of straggle with the authorities, of Professor Eduard Goldstucker, a Jew born in Prague, the initiator of the idea.
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The statue of the Golem of Prague at the entrance of the Municipality, Prague, Czech Republic, 1990

The statue of the Golem of Prague at the entrance of the Municipality, Prague, Czech Republic, 1990
Photo: Dani Ophir, Israel
The Oster Visual Documentation Center, ANU – Museum of the Jewish People,
Courtesy of Dani Ophir, Israel

Image Purchase: For more details about image purchasing Click here, make sure you have the photo ID number (as appear above)

Prague
Prague

Capital of the Czech Republic. Formerly the capital of Czechoslovakia.

It has the oldest Jewish community in Bohemia and one of the oldest communities in Europe, for some time the largest and most revered. Jews may have arrived in Prague in late roman times, but the first document mentioning them is a report by Ibrahim Ibn Ya'qub from about 970. The first definite evidence for the existence of a Jewish community in Prague dates to 1091. Jews arrived in Prague from both the east and west around the same time. It is probably for this reason that two Jewish districts came into being there right at the beginning.

The relatively favorable conditions in which the Jews at first lived in Prague were disrupted at the time of the first crusade in 1096. The crusaders murdered many of the Jews in Prague, looted Jewish property, and forced many to accept baptism. During the siege of Prague castle in 1142, the oldest synagogue in Prague and the Jewish quarter below the castle were burned down and the Jews moved to the right bank of the river Moldau (vltava), which was to become the future Jewish quarter, and founded the "Altschul" ("old synagogue") there.

The importance of Jewish culture in Prague is evidenced by the works of the halakhists there in the 11th to 13th centuries. The most celebrated was Isaac B. Moses of Vienna (d. C. 1250) author of "Or Zaru'a". Since the Czech language was spoken by the Jews of Prague in the early middle ages, the halakhic writings of that period also contain annotations in Czech. From the 13th to 16th centuries the Jews of Prague increasingly spoke German. At the time of persecutions which began at the end of the 11th century, the Jews of Prague, together with all the other Jews of Europe, lost their status as free people. From the 13th century on, the Jews of Bohemia were considered servants of the royal chamber (servi camerae regis). Their residence in Prague was subject to the most humiliating conditions (the wearing of special dress, segregation in the ghetto, etc.). The only occupation that Jews were allowed to adopt was moneylending, since this was forbidden to Christians and considered dishonest. Socially the Jews were in an inferior position.

The community suffered from persecutions accompanied by bloodshed in the 13th and 14th centuries, particularly in 1298 and 1338. Charles IV (1346- 1378) protected the Jews, but after his death the worst attack occurred in 1389, when nearly all the Jews of Prague fell victims. The rabbi of Prague and noted kabbalist Avigdor Kara, who witnessed and survived the outbreak, described it in a selichah. Under Wenceslaus IV the Jews of Prague suffered heavy material losses following an order by the king in 1411 canceling all debts owed to Jews.

At the beginning of the 15th century the Jews of Prague found themselves at the center of the Hussite wars (1419- 1436). The Jews of Prague also suffered from mob violence (1422) in this period. The unstable conditions in Prague compelled many Jews to emigrate.

Following the legalization, at the end of the 15th century, of moneylending by non-Jews in Prague, the Jews of Prague lost the economic significance which they had held in the medieval city, and had to look for other occupations in commerce and crafts. The position of the Jews began to improve at the beginning of the 16th century, mainly owing to the assistance of the king and the nobility. The Jews found greater opportunities in trading commodities and monetary transactions with the nobility. As a consequence, their economic position improved. In 1522 there were about 600 Jews in Prague, but by 1541 they numbered about 1,200. At the same time the Jewish quarters were extended. At the end of the 15th century the Jews of Prague founded new communities.

Under pressure of the citizens, king Ferdinand I was compelled in 1541 to approve the expulsion of the Jews. The Jews had to leave Prague by 1543, but were allowed to return in 1545. In 1557 Ferdinand I once again, this time upon his own initiative, ordered the expulsion of the Jews from Prague. They had to leave the city by 1559. Only after the retirement of Ferdinand I from the government of Bohemia were the Jews allowed to return to Prague in 1562.

The favorable position of the Jewish community of Prague during the reign of Rudolf II is reflected also in the flourishing Jewish culture. Among illustrious rabbis who taught in Prague at that time were Judah Loew B. Bezalel (the "maharal"); Ephraim Solomon B. Aaron of Luntschitz; Isaiah B. Abraham ha-levi Horowitz, who taught in Prague from 1614 to 1621; and Yom Tov Lipmann Heller, who became chief rabbi in 1627 but was forced to leave in 1631. The chronicler and astronomer David Gans also lived there in this period. At the beginning of the 17th century about 6,000 Jews were living in Prague.

In 1648 the Jews of Prague distinguished themselves in the defense of the city against the invading swedes. In recognition of their acts of heroism the Emperor presented them with a special flag which is still preserved in the Altneuschul. Its design with a Swedish cap in the center of the Shield of David became the official emblem of the Prague Jewish community.

After the thirty years' war, government policy was influenced by the church counter-reformation, and measures were taken to limit the Jews' means of earning a livelihood. A number of anti-Semitic resolutions and decrees were promulgated. Only the eldest son of every family was allowed to marry and found a family, the others having to remain single or leave Bohemia.

In 1680, more than 3,000 Jews in Prague died of the plague. Shortly afterward, in 1689, the Jewish quarter burned down, and over 300 Jewish houses and 11 synagogues were destroyed. The authorities initiated and partially implemented a project to transfer all the surviving Jews to the village of Lieben (Liben) north of Prague. Great excitement was aroused in 1694 by the murder trial of the father of Simon Abeles, a 12-year-old boy, who, it was alleged, had desired to be baptized and had been killed by his father. Simon was buried in the Tyn (Thein) church, the greatest and most celebrated cathedral of the old town of Prague. Concurrently with the religious incitement against the Jews an economic struggle was waged against them.

The anti-Jewish official policy reached its climax after the accession to the throne of Maria Theresa (1740-1780), who in 1744 issued an order expelling the Jews from Bohemia and Moravia. Jews were banished but were subsequently allowed to return after they promised to pay high taxes. In the baroque period noted rabbis were Simon Spira; Elias Spira; David Oppenheim; and Ezekiel Landau, chief rabbi and rosh yeshivah (1755-93(.

The position of the Jews greatly improved under Joseph II (1780-1790), who issued the Toleranzpatent of 1782. The new policy in regard to the Jews aimed at gradual abolition of the limitations imposed upon them, so that they could become more useful to the state in a modernized economic system. At the same time, the new regulations were part of the systematic policy of germanization pursued by Joseph II. Jews were compelled to adopt family names and to establish schools for secular studies; they became subject to military service, and were required to cease using Hebrew and Yiddish in business transactions. Wealthy and enterprising Jews made good use of the advantages of Joseph's reforms. Jews who founded manufacturing enterprises were allowed to settle outside the Jewish quarter of Prague.

Subsequently the limitations imposed upon Jews were gradually removed. In 1841 the prohibition on Jews owning land was rescinded. In 1846 the Jewish tax was abolished. In 1848 Jews were granted equal rights, and by 1867 the process of legal emancipation had been completed. In 1852 the ghetto of Prague was abolished. Because of the unhygienic conditions in the former Jewish quarter the Prague municipality decided in 1896 to pull down the old quarter, with the exception of important historical sites. Thus the Altneuschul, the Pinkas and Klaus, Meisel and Hoch synagogues, and some other places of historical and artistic interest remained intact.

In 1848 the community of Prague, numbering over 10,000, was still one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe (Vienna then numbered only 4,000 Jews). In the following period of the emancipation and the post- emancipation era the Prague community increased considerably in numbers, but did not keep pace with the rapidly expanding new Jewish metropolitan centers in western, central, and Eastern Europe.

After emancipation had been achieved in 1867, emigration from Prague abroad ceased as a mass phenomenon; movement to Vienna, Germany, and Western Europe continued. Jews were now represented in industry, especially the textile, clothing, leather, shoe, and food industries, in wholesale and retail trade, and in increasing numbers in the professions and as white-collar employees. Some Jewish bankers, industrialists and merchants achieved considerable wealth. The majority of Jews in Prague belonged to the middle class, but there also remained a substantial number of poor Jews.

Emancipation brought in its wake a quiet process of secularization and assimilation. In the first decades of the 19th century Prague Jewry, which then still led its traditionalist orthodox way of life, had been disturbed by the activities of the followers of Jacob Frank. The situation changed in the second half of the century. The chief rabbinate was still occupied by outstanding scholars, like Solomon Judah Rapoport, the leader of the Haskalah movement; Markus Hirsch (1880-1889) helped to weaken the religious influence in the community. Many synagogues introduced modernized services, a shortened liturgy, the organ and mixed choir, but did not necessarily embrace the principles of the reform movement.

Jews availed themselves eagerly of the opportunities to give their children a higher secular education. Jews formed a considerable part of the German minority in Prague, and the majority adhered to liberal movements. David Kuh founded the "German liberal party of Bohemia and represented it in the Bohemian diet (1862-1873). Despite strong Germanizing factors, many Jews adhered to the Czech language, and in the last two decades of the 19th century a Czech assimilationist movement developed which gained support from the continuing influx of Jews from the rural areas. Through the influence of German nationalists from the Sudeten districts anti-Semitism developed within the German population and opposed Jewish assimilation. At the end of the 19th century Zionism struck roots among the Jews of Bohemia, especially in Prague.

Growing secularization and assimilation led to an increase of mixed marriages and abandonment of Judaism. At the time of the Czechoslovak republic, established in 1918, many more people registered their dissociation of affiliation to the Jewish faith without adopting another. The proportion of mixed marriages in Bohemia was one of the highest in Europe. The seven communities of Prague were federated in the union of Jewish religious communities of greater Prague and cooperated on many issues. They established joint institutions; among these the most important was the institute for social welfare, established in 1935. The "Afike Jehuda society for the Advancement of Jewish Studies" was founded in 1869. There were also the Jewish museum and "The Jewish historical society of Czechoslovakia". A five-grade elementary school was established with Czech as the language of instruction. The many philanthropic institutions and associations included the Jewish care for the sick, the center for social welfare, the aid committee for refugees, the aid committee for Jews from Carpatho- Russia, orphanages, hostels for apprentices, old-age homes, a home for abandoned children, free-meal associations, associations for children's vacation centers, and funds to aid students. Zionist organizations were also well represented. There were three B'nai B'rith lodges, women's organizations, youth movements, student clubs, sports organizations, and a community center. Four Jewish weeklies were published in Prague (three Zionist; one Czech- assimilationist), and several monthlies and quarterlies. Most Jewish organizations in Czechoslovakia had their headquarters in Prague.

Jews first became politically active, and some of them prominent, within the German orbit. David Kuh and the president of the Jewish community, Arnold Rosenbacher, were among the leaders of the German Liberal party in the 19th century. Bruno Kafka and Ludwig Spiegel represented its successor in the Czechoslovak republic, the German Democratic Party, in the chamber of deputies and the senate respectively. Emil Strauss represented that party in the 1930s on the Prague Municipal Council and in the Bohemian diet. From the end of the 19th century an increasing number of Jews joined Czech parties, especially T. G. Masaryk's realists and the social democratic party. Among the latter Alfred Meissner, Lev Winter, and Robert Klein rose to prominence, the first two as ministers of justice and social welfare respectively.

Zionists, though a minority, soon became the most active element among the Jews of Prague. "Barissia" - Jewish Academic Corporation, was founded in Prague in 1903, it was one of the leading academic organizations for the advancement of Zionism in Bohemia. Before World War I the students' organization "Bar Kochba", under the leadership of Samuel Hugo Bergman, became one of the centers of cultural Zionism. The Prague Zionist Arthur Mahler was elected to the Austrian parliament in 1907, though as representative of an electoral district in Galicia. Under the leadership of Ludvik Singer the "Jewish National Council" was formed in 1918. Singer was elected in 1929 to the Czechoslovak parliament, and was succeeded after his death in 1931 by Angelo Goldstein. Singer, Goldstein, Frantisek Friedmann, and Jacob Reiss represented the Zionists on the Prague municipal council also. Some important Zionist conferences took place in Prague, among them the founding conference of hitachadut in 1920, and the
18th Zionist congress in 1933.

The group of Prague German-Jewish authors which emerged in the 1880s, known as the "Prague Circle" ('der Prager Kreis'), achieved international recognition and included Franz Kafka, Max Brod, Franz Werfel, Oskar Baum, Ludwig Winder, Leo Perutz, Egon Erwin Kisch, Otto Klepetar, and Willy Haas.

During the Holocaust period, the measures e.g., deprivation of property rights, prohibition against religious, cultural, or any other form of public activity, expulsion from the professions and from schools, a ban on the use of public transportation and the telephone, affected Prague Jews much more than those still living in the provinces. Jewish organizations provided social welfare and clandestinely continued the education of the youth and the training in languages and new vocations in preparation for emigration. The Palestine office in Prague, directed by Jacob Edelstein, enabled about 19,000 Jews to emigrate legally or otherwise until the end of 1939.

In March 1940, the Prague zentralstelle extended the area of its jurisdiction to include all of Bohemia and Moravia. In an attempt to obviate the deportation of the Jews to "the east", Jewish leaders, headed by Jacob Edelstein, proposed to the zentralstelle the establishment of a self- administered concentrated Jewish communal body; the Nazis eventually exploited this proposal in the establishment of a ghetto at Theresienstadt (Terezin). The Prague Jewish community was forced to provide the Nazis with lists of candidates for deportation and to ensure that they showed up at the assembly point and boarded deportation trains. In the period from October 6, 1941, to March 16, 1945, 46,067 Jews were deported from Prague to "the east" or to Theresienstadt. Two leading officials of the Jewish community, H. Bonn and Emil Kafka were dispatched to Mauthausen concentration camp and put to death after trying to slow down the pace of the deportations. The Nazis set up a treuhandstelle ("trustee Office") over evacuated Jewish apartments, furnishings, and possessions. This office sold these goods and forwarded the proceeds to the German winterhilfe ("winter aid"). The treuhandstelle ran as many as 54 warehouses, including 11 synagogues (as a result, none of the synagogues was destroyed). The zentralstelle brought Jewish religious articles from 153 Jewish communities to Prague on a proposal by Jewish scholars. This collection, including 5,400 religious objects, 24,500 prayer books, and 6,070 items of historical value the Nazis intended to utilize for a "central museum of the defunct Jewish race". Jewish historians engaged in the creation of the museum were deported to extermination camps just before the end of the war. Thus the Jewish museum had acquired at the end of the war one of the richest collections of Judaica in the world.


Prague had a Jewish population of 10,338 in 1946, of whom 1,396 Jews had not been deported (mostly of mixed Jewish and Christian parentage); 227 Jews had gone underground; 4,986 returned from prisons, concentration camps, or Theresienstadt; 883 returned from Czechoslovak army units abroad; 613 were Czechoslovak Jewish emigres who returned; and 2,233 were Jews from Ruthenia (Carpatho-Ukraine), which had been ceded to the U.S.S.R. who decided to move to Czechoslovakia. The communist takeover of 1948 put an end to any attempt to revive the Jewish community and marked the beginning of a period of stagnation. By 1950 about half of the Jewish population had gone to Israel or immigrated to other countries. The Slansky trials and the officially promoted anti-Semitism had a destructive effect upon Jewish life. Nazi racism of the previous era was replaced by political and social discrimination. Most of the Jews of Prague were branded as "class enemies of the working people". During this
Period (1951-1964) there was no possibility of Jewish emigration from the country. The assets belonging to the Jewish community had to be relinquished to the state. The charitable organizations were disbanded, and the budget of the community, provided by the state, was drastically reduced. The general anti-religious policy of the regime resulted in the cessation, for all practical purposes, of such Jewish religious activities as bar-mitzvah religious instruction and wedding ceremonies. In 1964 only two cantors and two ritual slaughterers were left. The liberalization of the regime during 1965-1968 held out new hope for a renewal of Jewish life in Prague.

At the end of March 1967 the president of "The World Jewish Congress", Nahum Goldmann, was able to visit Prague and give a lecture in the Jewish town hall. Among the Jewish youth many tended to identify with Judaism. Following the soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 there was an attempt to put an end to this trend, however the Jewish youth, organized since 1965, carried on with their Jewish cultural activities until 1972. In the late 6os the Jewish population of Prague numbered about 2,000.

On the walls of the Pinkas synagogue, which is part of the central Jewish museum in Prague, are engraved the names of 77,297 Jews from Bohemia and Moravia who were murdered by the Nazis in 1939-1945.

In 1997 some 6,000 Jews were living in the Czech Republic, most of them in Prague. The majority of the Jews of Prague were indeed elderly, but the Jewish community's strengthened in 1990's by many Jews, mainly American, who had come to work in the republic, settled in Prague, and joined the community.

In April 2000 the central square of Prague was named Franz Kafka square. This was done thanks to the unflinching efforts and after years of straggle with the authorities, of Professor Eduard Goldstucker, a Jew born in Prague, the initiator of the idea.