History is inescapable in Prague, its citizens having emerged from communism some 22 years ago. And World War II, though it’s somewhat more distant on the calendar, is vividly remembered in the well-preserved Jewish Quarter. It’s chilling to consider as you wander this sacred territory that it owes its preservation to Hitler, who wanted the ghetto preserved as a museum to an extinct race.
Old New Synagogue
Europe’s oldest active synagogue may get its unusual name from the fact that it was originally built in the 12th century and called the Great or New Synagogue. Later, as new synagogues arose, it became known as the Old New Synagogue.
After WWII, Pinkas Synagogue (above) was turned into a memorial to the 80,000 Jews of Bohemia and Moravia murdered by the Nazis, their names inscribed on the walls. Perhaps most haunting is an upstairs exhibit of children’s drawings from Terezin, a transit camp where prisoners were held before shipment to extermination camps.
Old Jewish Cemetery
The oldest tombstone dates from the year 1439. The cemetery today contains some 12,000 tombstones though the actual number buried here is far greater. When you tour, note the small stones (not flowers) on top of markers, sometimes holding a paper with a wish or prayer on it.
Jewish Quarter buildings are closed to tourists on Saturday to observe the Sabbath.