This is continuation from my earlier blog which you will find here: https://restlessquirk.wordpress.com/2017/11/04/day-1-contd-journey-to-the-dreamland
Prague once witnessed large settlements of Jewish community, it was also a world renowned center of education which attracted scholars from all over the world.
The next on my explorations was the Old Jewish Cemetery. After a short metro ride and a walk through the narrow cobbled streets lined with typical European buildings on either side, I was at the doorstep of my destination for the day.
The weather was perfect for a stroll and exploration, light drizzle with the sun peeking joyously.
After getting the ticket, I stepped into this sacred place. The atmosphere turned somber. I first went through to the Pinkas Synagogue. The synagogue is a bloodcurdling reminder of the Holocaust with the names of more than 77,000 victims mentioned on the walls of the synagogue. As I took each step, the realization that these were not mere names, these were individuals, alive, with a future, dreams and hopes which was crudely snatched from them during one of the worst man made tragedies we know of. As I was paying obeisance a lump formed in my throat.
In the attached building is the exhibition of the drawings made by children imprisoned at Terezin, which served as the transit camp. Most of the children from here were taken to Auschwitz. An art teacher, Friedl Dicker conducted art classes for the children. these art classes were aimed at being therapeutic in nature, helping the children with emotional expression, establishing channels of communication. As a psychotherapist, her methods resonate deeply. The drawings feature their happy memories, desire to go back home or to Palestine. Vast majority of the children did not survive the World War and these are probably the only reminders of their lives! My deepest regards to the teacher who even in gravest tragedy served others in helping them find some release, some meaning in the chaos, some solace in the suffering…
With a heavy heart I climbed down the stairs to enter into the Cemetery. According to Jeiwsh faith, in death all are equal. This can be experienced first hand in the Cemetery, where the common persons lie next to history carvers. The oldest grave marked here belongs to Rabbi Avignor Kara made in 1439 and the last known burial here was in 1737. Since, the Cemetery fell within the city limits and therefore burials were stopped on the orders of the Enlightened Sovereign Josef II on account of reasons of hygiene. Around the same time a mass sanitation of this part of the town was also underway.
But by this time, this Cemetery was already overcrowded. Jews do not believe in exhuming the bodies or abolishing their ancestors which is why very few expansions were made, hence to make space the older graves were buried under layers of soil and new graves were made atop those. 12 such layers have been discovered here. This explains why the area is on a higher elevation than the streets surrounding.
The headstones represented symbols denoting either the person’s name or profession, like Gans (meaning goose in German) was denoted with the picture of a goose. Interesting to note is that the graves around the 17th Century, known as a prosperous time, were decorated more elaborately.
As you walk through the maze of headstones, a strange eerie gloom sets in. I paused several times to pray for the departed placing small gravel on the headstones. At some turns it almost feels like they are walking alongside you. Some visitors had also placed their prayers and wishes atop headstones, an elderly Jewish couple was reciting prayers at one of the biggest headstone.
The attached museum details the process of death and dying according to the Jewish customs which provides some valuable insights into the culture.
An interesting piece I happened to read somewhere detailed that the this part of the town was protected during the World War since Nazis wanted to create a museum of the Extinct Race, which was never to be but helped in preserving this important history.
So when in Prague, visiting the Jewish Cemetery is a must, there are also guided tours around the Jewish town too.
On Day 2 I traveled to Germany, I will share the link to my next blog for a easier continuous reading!