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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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Famous mathematician, historian and astronomer, 1541-1613.
Financier and the first Jew to be knighted under the Habsburg empire, 1580-1634.
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.
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(According to digits.com)