What Was Lost?

The Czech Jewish Community

in European Judaism
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The Czech Jewish community exercised an influence on modern European culture quite disproportionate to its tiny size. Franz Kafka has become emblematic for a vanished world, but he was by no means the only Jew from the Czech lands who helped to shape modernity. Others included Gustav Mahler, Karl Kraus and Sigmund Freud, who unlike Kafka left their homeland, and grew to prominence in Vienna, the capital of the Habsburg Monarchy. At the turn of the century, Prague fostered a unique and complex symbiosis comprising Czech, German and Jewish culture, in which values promoted by one group, such as the protestant Jan Hus's belief in the power of Truth, still echoed by Václav Havel in 1989, came to be shared by others. The pluralist symbiosis that produced this achievement has been decimated. The destruction began in 1939–45 when the Germans destroyed the Jews, and was completed after 1945 when the Czechs expelled the Germans. What was lost? Before the Shoah, in 1936, the Prague Jewish community boasted 35,425 members. Today, that number has dwindled to around fifteen hundred souls. In other words, Prague Jewry has shrunk to under 5 percent of its pre-war total. The city now has four Orthodox Rabbis, who minister to about twenty devout Jews. The larger liberal reform movement does not even own a synagogue.

European Judaism

A Journal for the New Europe

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