Czechoslovakia, 1389, 3000 Jews are murdered in Prague

The Jerusalem Post's feature "This day in history" reports on March 18, 1389, when 3,000 Jews are murdered by mobs of racist Czechs:

1389: On this date is a Massacre at Prague: A priest was hit with a few grains of sand by small Jewish boys playing in the street. He became insulted and insisted that the Jewish community purposely plotted against him. Thousands were slaughtered, the synagogue and the cemetery were destroyed, and homes were pillaged. King Wenceslaus insisted that the responsibility rested with the Jews for venturing outside during Holy Week.

I copy below an article with more info on the Jewish community of Prague.

Jewish History in Prague

Before the Holocaust and for many centuries, Prague was one of the most important Jewish centers in Europe. Documentary evidence reveals that Jews have lived in Prague since 970 C.E. By the end of the 11th Century, a Jewish community had been fully established. A Jewish quarter was built on the right bank of the Vltava (Moldau) River, close to the old town square.

The Beginning

In the late 11th Century and early 12th Century, the Jews of Prague suffered from persecution: first, in 1096, at the hands of the Crusaders travelling southward from the Rhine and, second, during the siege of the Prague Castle in 1142. During the siege, the oldest synagogue in Prague and the sections of the Jewish quarter near the castle were burned down. Many survivors of the crusades were forced to convert to Christianity. In this period, civil rights granted to Jews were severely limited and they were forced to build their community on the right bank of the Vltava. This limited their movements and identified them as a minority group. This was the origin of the Jewish ghetto.

In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council mandated that Jews must wear distinctive clothes, were prohibited from holding public office and were limited in the amount they could charge for interest on loans. Jews were also considered servants (servi camerae) of the Royal chambers.

During the early to mid 14th Century, Emperor Charles IV and his son/successor, Wenceslas, relinquished some of their power over the Jewish community and allowed others to manage Jewish affairs in return for a large sum of money. Charles IV and Wenceslas allowed estates to renege on loans owned to Jewish lenders. This was the beginning of the power struggle, which lasted into the 15th and 16th Century, between royalty, Burgher landowners and the countryside nobility over the control of Jewish affairs and finances.

During Easter 1389, members of the Prague clergy announced that Jews had desecrated the host (Eucharistic wafer) and the clergy encouraged mobs to pillage, ransack and burn the Jewish quarter. Nearly the entire Jewish population of Prague (3,000 people) perished.

In the 15th Century, the Hussite Wars brought a decline in royal authority. A new political balance existed that favored the nobility and Burgher (middle class residents of the cities) and landowners living in the countryside. Jews were forced to pledge allegiance to various groups and to give them money in return for protection. However, it was unclear which side could offer the best protection, leaving Jews to play one side off the other. During this period, the Burgher populations within the cities began to take jobs once held by Jews, such as banking.

In the second half of the 15th Century, the first Hebrew press was established in Prague. In the beginning it was small, but it began to grow and gain a reputation around Europe, especially for its Passover Haggadah, which became the model in Europe for subsequent haggadot.

The Renaissance

The 16th Century is considered to be the age of the Prague Renaissance. Artists and intellectuals came from all over Europe and congregated in Prague. For the most part, Jews were isolated from the "high" culture outside their community; however, a number of Jews became mathematicians, astronomers, geographers, historians, philosophers and artists and participated in the Renaissance.

In 1501, the landed nobility, called the Bohemian Lantag, reaffirmed the ancient privileges of the Jews of Prague and fostered an open atmosphere for economic activity. From 1522-1541, the Jewish population of Prague almost doubled; many Jewish refugees, who were expelled from Moravia, Germany, Austria and Spain, came to Prague. The Jewish Quarter officially became the ghetto, however, its transition was not marked by any known legislation. During this period the ghetto expanded because Jews were given permission to acquire lands adjacent to the ghetto to be used to build homes.

In 1541, a struggle between Ferdinand I and the Burghers resulted in a Burgher demand that Jews be expelled from Prague. Ferdinand I announced the Jews would have to leave Prague, but lifted the ban four years later (the actual expulsion only lasted two years since the ban only went into effect two years after it was announced). Another temporary expulsion for the Jews of Prague took place in 1557. Following Ferdinand’s death in 1564, the situation improved for Prague Jewry.

During the reign of Maximilian (1564-1576) and Rudolf II (1576-1612), there was a golden age for Jewry in Prague. Rudolph was considered a weak leader and was indifferent to the Catholic Counter-Reformation in the Habsburg empire. This allowed a large number of scientists and intellectuals to assemble in Prague and speak and practice without impediments from the church. Economic freedom was given to the Jews and a flowering of Jewish culture occurred.

In the early 18th Century, more Jews lived in Prague than anywhere else in world. In 1708, Jews accounted for one-quarter of Prague’s population. Unfortunately, the golden age ended with the ascension of Empress Maria Theresa who expelled the Jews from Prague from 1745-1748.

The Jews returned to Prague and conditions improved during the reign of Emperor Josef II (1780-90). Joseph II issued the Edict of Toleration in October 1781, which affirmed the notion of religious tolerance. He allowed Jews to participate in all forms of trade, commerce, agriculture and the arts. Jews were encouraged to build factories and school systems. Jews were even allowed to attend institutions of higher learning. In the chedar (study rooms), a western-style education was encouraged, Jews were not only taught Hebrew and Yiddish, but also basic accounting. The government also required Jews to switch their business records from Hebrew and Yiddish to Czech to facilitate better government monitoring. In fact, the Jews appreciated Joseph II so much that they named the Jewish town, Josefov, after him, and this name still exists today.

The 19th Century

During the 19th Century, Jews gradually became emancipated. Temporary civil equality was granted to Jews under the law in 1849. The ghetto was abolished in 1852 and Josefov became a district of Prague. In the 1800's, Jews became caught up in the culture wars between the Czech-speaking middle class and the German-speaking members of the Austro-Hungarian empire. From the 1830's to the 1870's, Jews began to adopt the German language and assimilated German cultural patterns. Following the 1870's, however, the growth of Czech nationalism increased the level of antagonism felt by the Jews. By the last quarter of the 19th Century, a network of Jewish institutions dedicated to Czech-Jewish acculturation emerged; however, not all Jews supported them, some remained faithful to German language and culture, while others favored Zionism.

In 1899, Zionism began to become popular in Prague among the young professionals and students, who formed their own Zionist organization, Bar Kochba, which published Selbstwelr, a Zionist biweekly publication in Prague from 1907-1938. Conflict between the Zionists and the Czech Jewish nationalists existed; Jewish nationalists (Zionists) did not want to be involved in the national conflict over the usage of German and Czech language, while the Czech-Jewish assimilationists were involved because they resented the German denigration of Czech culture and also wanted to have a rapprochement between Jews and Slavs in Czech lands.

German was spoken widely among many members of the Prague Jewish community and continued to be taught despite the tensions with the Czech-Jewish nationalists. During the first decades of the 20th Century, German-speaking Jews in Prague produced a large body of internationally acclaimed literature. The most famous of these writers were Franz Kafka, Max Brod and Franz Werfel. This is the last generation of writers and intellectuals before World War II.

World War II

At the outbreak of World War II, 55,000 Jews lived in Prague, almost 20 percent of the city’s population. At least two-thirds of the Jewish population of Prague perished in the Holocaust. In the Czech republic, about 26,000 members of the Czech Jewish community escaped and emigrated to Palestine, the U.S., South America and Western Europe.

Not all Czech Jews were so fortunate, 92,000 Jews remained in occupied Czech lands. 74,000 of the Czech Jews were imprisoned in Terezin and 80 percent of those were deported to Auschwitz, Maidanek, Treblinka and Sobibor. Other Czech Jews were sent directly to death camps.

Post-World War II

When the war was over, about 13,000 Czech Jews remained. By 1950, half of them emigrated to Israel.

In May 1945 the Soviet Army entered Prague. A provisional government was ousted in 1948 and the communist party took power. During this period, emigration was impossible and Jewish life was stifled by the Communist regime.
Communist rule was unpopular and ruthless and a movement demanding socialism with a human face gradually emerged in the 1960's. In 1968, Alexander Dubcek, became leader of the communist party and, in a movement called Prague Spring, began to introduce sweeping reforms to make the government more democratic. The Soviet Union disapproved of these changes and, together with the troops of other Soviet-bloc countries, invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968. The subsequent period of so-called normalization wiped out all democratic trends and intensified the stagnation in all spheres of life.

As change began to sweep through Eastern Europe in the late 1980's, Czechs more openly protested and called for reform. Demonstrations resulted in the resignation of the Communist party leadership in November 1989. Alexander DubCek, the Prague Spring reformer, was elected chairman of parliament and dissident playwright Vááclav Havel, the acknowledged opposition leader, was named president.

In June 1990, the country held its first free election since 1946. On January 1, 1993, the country split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The latter chose Prague as its capital.

The Jewish Community Today

Today, only 1,000 people are associated with the Jewish community in Prague, however, a revival of Jewish life is occurring. The average age in Prague’s Jewish community has dropped from 70 (the average age in the 1980's) to about 55 because of increased involvement of younger Jews.

The center of Jewish life is the historic Jewish Town Hall, which houses Jewish cultural, social and religious events. A Jewish kindergarten recently opened in Prague. A new Jewish old age home also opened recently. There is a monthly journal "Rosh Chodesh" and a radio program "Shalom Aleichem."

While Prague has many beautiful historic synagogues, there is sparse synagogue attendance and many synagogues are only open on high holidays. Recently, a reform community, "Beit Praha," was established in Prague and conducts high holiday services in the Spanish Synagogue. The only Rabbi in the Czech republic resides in Prague, other services are lead by community members.

Famous Jews

Rabbi Loew - the Maharal

One of the famous Jewish scholars and educators of the time was Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (c.1525-1609), also known as the Maharal. Rabbi Loew published more than 50 religious and philosophical books and became the center of legends, as the mystical miracle worker who created the Golem. The Golem is an artificial man made of clay that was brought to life through magic and acted as a guardian over the Jews. The Maharal had positive relations with Rudolph II and was even invited to his castle.

David Gans

Famous mathematician, historian and astronomer, 1541-1613.

Jacob Bashevi

Financier and the first Jew to be knighted under the Habsburg empire, 1580-1634.

Mordechai Maisel

A brilliant financier, businessman and philanthropist. Maisel served as the mayor of the Jewish town, sponsored many Jewish organizations, funded the building of a public bathhouse, ritual baths and an almshouse, and donated money to build the Jewish town hall and numerous synagogues. He paid for the paving of the streets of the Jewish quarter, gave money to charities to help feed the poor, clothe the needy and provide doweries for poor women. Not only did Maisel contribute money for local causes, he donated Torah scrolls to Jewish communities around the world, including Jerusalem. Maisel also maintained good relations with Rudolf II; he helped Rudolph finance a war against Turkey and in return was given permission to loan money.

Posted by David Melle
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"Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord" (Romans 12:19).

Posted by: jadore at March 22, 2003 07:23 PM

As a Catholic, I am sorry for this, even though my apology does not change what happened. As I look at a lot of my faith's history, I feel great soroow over it's anti-semitism. I am glad I was raised in a time when I was taught Judaism is the older brother of Catholicism. If only that sort of message was there from the get go.

Posted by: Green Baron at March 27, 2003 05:46 AM

My mother grew up in Boehmish-Kamnitz and Falkenau (Sokolov) just near Prag, and was raised Catholic. But we do not know if her heritage is Jewish or not because her grandparent's sir names sound very Jewish and one set of grand parents were staunch athiests - a good choice for Jews who wanted to step away from persecution. Her other grandfather owned a beauty and barber shop there and they first began to question that something was "amis" when is mostly Jewish clientelle started to trickle off and then not come in for appointments anymore, but they did not know why until after the war was over and the fate of the Jews was announced on the news - many non-Jews who had friendships and good business relationships with the Jewish community were in shock. It was an awful realization.

The only thing we can do now is to protect the Jews from Anti-Semitism. I have made a personal committment to stand against Anti-Semitism in every avenue of life from personal to political, business and any other area. If I hear someone say something against Jews, I say something and I am stearn, even rude about it. I tell them off. I remind Christians that their/our Savior is a Jew and that he would not be very happy about their Anti-Semitism, something that was the cause for his death on the cross, among other things.

Jews are once again facing Anti-Semitism. The only thing you can do is to be verbal, and rude to those who are anti-Semites and warn them that this time, THIS time, the Jews will not go through this because you and many like you will come looking to see what happened to them. I know if I ever discover that any of my jewish friends, neighbors, doctors and so on are "just not there anymore" I am going to begin questioning and searching for them.

My mom said that no one knew about the death camps (the normal population), and that the SS had these large camps set up, but no one knew what was going on inside - they were surrounded by large fences, and five miles inside were heavily forrested with alot of attack dogs running around. On top of that, there were signs at the entry warning people not to enter, and if someone did attempt to go through the gate, they were immediately shot dead in their tracks.

Further, non-Jews were often "forced" to give support to Hitler - my grandfather was forced to shovel snow when the SS officers came door to door on winter evenings, it was "not" optional, even though he hated Hitler and did not want to do anything for his regime. My mom's brother was automatically signed up for the Hitler Youth Program at school and that was not optional either - attendence was mandatory. The really AWFUL thing about the Hitler Youth Program was that children were told that if they hear mom or dad speaking against Hitler's policies in the home, the children were to come and tell their Hitler Youth Teachers so that mom and dad could be "helped". When children reported their parents (innocently, not knowing what was really going on), the SS would go to the family home and take the parent away who disagreed with Hitler. The Children were told that their parents were being "helped", when in reality the parent was sent to a concentration camp! So even if you completely hated Hitler, you "had" to pretend to support him or you could get into real trouble yourself - people were scared to say any thing against Hitler. Hitler also implimented forbidden radio stations, and sent SS officers with specially equipped cars around neighborhoods to detect what families were listening to foreign/enemy radio stations. Those who tuned in to the wrong station were sent to Concentration Camps as well. It was a really awful time there for non-Jews, who were forced to live in fear of Hitler (many of them), and forced into obedience to him.

After the war was no better, for the communist party took over and those non-Jews who did not sign up to be communists were mass-evicted across the German Border into the Russian Zone. My grandmother and my mom /her brother were one such family - they were given a room at the home of a stranger, who the communists forced to share their home with refugees. My mom's family lost all their property, posessions and so on. My grandmother was forced to get a job as a seamstress when before she had been an upper-middle class woman who never worked, and her children became latch key kids - my uncle developed alcoholism and died at age 42 years as a result of all this mess.

It is really helpless to know that your family lives less than 20 miles from a concentration camp where your friends and colleagues are being murdered and you can not help them because you do not find out until AFTER the war is over where they even went! That is the most awful, helpless feeling in the world. These Jews were well liked, trusted and loved. I have lots of Jewish doctors, friends and so on and they are just absolutely terriffic people - if any of them ever "go missing" I'm definately going to make noise about it and not live in fear of "the leader".

This will NOT happen in my life if I can help it - Never. Never again. But we as Christians have to quit laying there as door mats and "pray for everyone", we have to actually take action, and do something, look for people, voice our opinions, stick up for people who are being insulted, and stand with them.

Today we absolutely MUST stand in support of Israel and to keep it as a nation. WE need to demand that Israel NOT have to give more land away. We need to take seriously the threats of modern anti-semites like the leader of Iran, who denies that the holocaust ever occurred (it did, my mom lived there and witnessed the whole event of WWII and all the "after-news"), and we need to support our Jewish friends and neighbors, send Money to the Israeli government on a consistent basis (yes you as an individual CAN send a check to the Israeli government for their national defense budget), and we need to educate Americans to stick up for the Jews.

We have alot of power as Christians. REcently the Houston Museum held an exhibit that was titled, "CHRISTIANITY: A JEWISH RELIGION" - so we Christians ARE Jews, whether the Jews agree with our interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures and our choice of who the Messiah is or not. This means, ultimately, that if Anti-Semitism ever returns, Christians will go through it WITH the Jews, our brothers and sisters in faith. If we do not stand strong against it, it will come for us, because now it is public knowledge to all that Christianity is a "type" of Judaism, we can no longer deceive ourselves that Christianity is a "different religion" from Judaism - it is not, not at the core. Our Messiah is a Jew and the scriptures we use to prove this are Jewish texts - the Torah, and the Tanach. The New Testament is just Jesus' "autobiography" proving that these texts and prophecies were carried out by Him. Christianity is the answer to the question, "What would happen if someone really was the Messiah...?" The answer should have never been "we will divide from our religious family...", but should instead become, "we will remain a religious and spiritual family with the other Jews."

Well, enough ranting, if you personally want to insure that this does not occur to Jews (and to Christians), then you have to make it personal in your daily life - at work, in the market on the bus - if you see anti-semitic grafiti - paint it out; if you hear someone making anti-semitic jokes, discipline them; if there is someone who says anything against Israel, verbally stick up for Israel. You have to be strong in character to do this as you may become unpopular. But I'd rather be unpopular than to say "goodbye forever" to friends who would suffer like they did then.

Posted by: Cynthia Krueger at September 30, 2009 03:43 PM

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