Certainly in Prague, taking a walking tour of the Jewish corridor is a must-do. Called Josefov in Czech, it essentially became a ghetto as Jews were restricted from settling anywhere else in the city. Eventually, a good amount of the area was destroyed to make way for broader streets and new buildings. Fortunately, some very historically important buildings survived.
Not to worry, it will not disrupt your gradual beer tour around the city; this area is within the old town, near to the river. The entire walking tour will take you between 1 and 3 hours, depending on your pace. Approximately $30 gets you into 5 major synagogues as well as the Old Jewish Cemetery and Jewish museum. A photography permit costs extra, but not much, if you are looking to get some snaps of the ancient cemetery.
Each synagogue is set up with displays explaining parts of Jewish history and culture; customs, holy days, contributions to literature, music, etc and, of course, the Holocaust. It is an extremely well curated walking exhibit with cards for information in every language available in each location and I highly suggest purchasing the ticket to enter the synagogues.
At the very least, a walk around the area is simply beautiful. We happened to be staying in the district, so we had the fortune of waking through the streets everyday. We found some fabulous looking small bars and restaurants in side streets off of the main shopping drag that houses the biggest names in fashion and couture. As you walk by the sparkling window displays, you will eventually stumble upon the half-sunken Old New Synagogue. Finished in 1270, it is the oldest surviving medieval synagogue of its type. It was originally the New of Great Synagogue, until newer places of worship were erected; hence the odd name Old-New Synagogue.
The highlights of the tour are certainly this small building as well as the Jewish museum -an equally tiny building that is most impressive from the street – and the ancient cemetery behind it. While we were meandering through the skewed headstones, pushed up over centuries of root growth and earth movement, we saw a group of Jewish men praying and pressing their foreheads against one of the larger tombs. It was really cool to watch!
My favorite exhibit of all withing the tour was in the Pinkas Synagogue. It has been made into a memorial for the Holocaust victims of Bohemia and Moravia by the listing of all 77,297 names of victims, accompanied by their birth, deportation and death dates. The names are continuously read out on a loudspeaker (live) throughout the day, interspersed with chanting, to bring their memories to life. I find it a beautiful and moving memorial; you can really get a feel for these people when you picture how old they were when they were taken away, and how long they survived after that.
Upstairs is an equally unsettling but beautiful memorial to a special type of Holocaust victim: the children. A suitcase full of drawings by children in the Terezin ghetto somehow survived. The exhibit highlights their teachers who sacrificed to bring art supplies to the children so that they might use art to escape, process, and deal with the horrors that they experienced. The drawings are titled and depict subject matter that no child should represent- but were everyday realities for the,. There are even some pictures of the artists, accompanied by their stories.
Understanding Jewish culture is a crucial part of this area of Europe- and most of Europe. It is, therefore, important that we acknowledge the atrocities of the Holocaust in order to fully understand the Jewish people and their resilience, as well as our own history.
Terezin Ghetto is a short drive out of Prague, if you are interested in visiting. It was used for propaganda films during the War, and was therefore well kept. It served mainly as a transit camp to the death and work camps of western Europe and tens of thousands of victims passed through this camp.