Czech Out Those Jews: Judaism in the Czech Republic
By Kayla Green
How is it possible to judge the attitude toward Jews in the Czech Republic, a country where Jews have in recent history suffered not only from the devastating Shoah, but from stifling Communism, as well? Many westerners are quick to associate the country with anti-Semitism, and can cite the fact that between the beginning of the Prague Shoah, which began in 1938 (the longest Shoah in Europe due to appeasement in Munich), and Communism, which ended in 1989, Czech Jewry only had two and a half years of freedom. However, in only focusing on the past, one completely misses all the events and sentiments that paint a much rosier picture of Czech and Jewish relations.
The Czech Republic is home to ten Jewish communities, 350 Jewish cemeteries and boasts the second largest synagogue in Europe (the third largest in the world). It is now experiencing a huge revival of Jewish life, supported by the Czech Union of Jewish Youth. While Jews in the Czech Republic are slowly feeling more and more attached to their religion, the prospering of Jewish life is also heavily dependent on the surrounding ambivalent Czech community. It is almost impossible to depict overall sentiment towards Jews in a country so varied that locals joke anti-Semitism “depends on the Pub you are sitting in” however, one event stands out that aptly displays the dichotomy of hatred and acceptance which Czech Jews often face.
The significant incident took place on November 10, 2007, the 69th anniversary of Kristallnacht, when nearly 400 neo-Nazi’s gathered in Prague’s Jewish Quarter for a purported reenactment of the horrific event. While this act of hatred is horrifying and unacceptable, the Czech reaction was uplifting. Prague’s Mayor and the Czech police thwarted the march, along with a group of anti-fascists that far outnumbered the neo-Nazis. Onlookers remember seeing a diverse group of Czechs, from war-veterans to Czech citizens wearing full suits of armor, banding together to support their Jewish community. Ordinary Czechs proudly donned stickers of yellow stars to show their support and kinship with the Jewish community, recalling Denmark’s King Christian X famous show of support for Jews during the invasion of his country, in which he wore a Star of David on his arm during his scheduled afternoon ride.
Jewish sentiment in the Czech Republic is not always positive, but many individuals and communities remain loyal to the Jewish community and are willing to help support and honor them. Of course, the true path to acceptance and understanding is readily available in the Czech Republic: Education. Classes to instruct teachers about how to teach the Holocaust offered by Terezin, once a concentration camp, are overbooked through 2050, giving hope that Czech/Jewish relations are heading towards a better future.