A variety of historic monuments in Bohemia and Moravia, the two principal regions of the Czech Republic, still bear witness to an earlier multicultural society of Czechs, Germans and Jews. Even though the front lines of WW II avoided this part of Europe, Czechoslovakia was one of the countries hardest hit by the Holocaust. After the war, the few survivors of the unspeakable horrors of the "final solution" emigrated to the U.S. or Israel, the once thriving shtetls were re-settled with misplaced families and refugees from eastern Europe, and there was no one left to care for the synagogues, chevra kadishas, cemeteries...
The ensuing Communist takeover of this country in 1948 was yet another trial the Czechs had to endure. According to Stalin`s calculation, the newly founded state of Israel was supposed to become a Communist country. For that reason, Czechoslovakia was encouraged to support the Jewish state and supply it with weapons and military personnel who would train Israeli officers and fighter pilots. This policy came to an abrupt end when it became clear that Israel would pursue a western-style democracy. The Communist governments of the Soviet Bloc countries shifted their position and became openly anti-Semitic and hostile toward Israel. One consequence was further neglect of the Jewish heritage monuments in Czechoslovakia and elsewhere. But the collapse of Communism in 1989 yet again changed the political landscape of eastern Europe. For the first time since the end of WWII, some of the remaining synagogues and cemeteries have been restored with the financial help of The Prague Jewish Museum and foreign donors.
THE PRAGUE JEWISH QUARTER
Duration: 3 hrs.
Before the Holocaust, Prague was one of the most important centers of the European Diaspora. That's why the world`s largest museum of Jewish ritual articles and culture is here, even though the fate of Prague's Jewish community became grim and tragic. This walking tour takes you past the Jewish Quarter`s six synagogues, including the Old-New Synagogue (one of the oldest monuments of the European Jewish heritage), the Old Cemetery and its Ceremonial Hall, and the birthplace of Franz Kafka. You can visit the interiors of the monuments if you wish to do so, because your guide is licensed by the Prague Jewish Museum.
Please note: an optional visit to The Jewish Museum (four synagogues plus the cemetery) requires a separate entrance fee of CZK 300 (18 U.S. dollars) per person. Visiting just the Old-New Synagogue requires a separate entrance fee of CZK 200 ( 12 U.S. dollars) per person.
FRANZ KAFKA`S PRAGUE
Duration 3 hrs.
"Prague is not mentioned in any of Franz Kafka`s major stories, yet it is the clearly implied location of most of them. Kafka was Prague and Prague was Kafka. Never had it been Prague so perfectly, so typically, as during Kafka`s lifetime, and never would it be so again. And we, his friends, `the happy few`..., we knew that the smallest elements of this Prague were distilled everywhere in Kafka`s work".
Johannes Urzidil in The World of Franz Kafka
If you – like myself – have read the brooding, unsettling, but at times absurdly hilarious stories and prose poems, you should pay homage to this great writer by taking this tour to see the places where he lived and the literary cafeshe frequented. Optional visit to Franz Kafka`s Muzeum at the end of the tour.
Duration: full day
Terezin, one of the most bizarre sites of World War II, was deceptively showcased by the Nazis as an autonomous Jewish district. Built as a fortress in the 18th century to protect Bohemia from Prussian expansion, the town of Terezin was turned into a Gestapo prison and a Jewish ghetto (which the inmates called "the waiting room to hell"). Even though Terezin was only a holding camp with no gas chambers or mass executions, nevertheless about 25% of the Jewish prisoners died due to terrible living conditions, starvation, disease, and despair. The rest were sent to Auschwitz and other extermination camps in Poland.
On the way back from our visit to Terezin--in an effort to shake off the numbing sense of horror--we`ll stop for lunch in Melnik, a cheerful medieval town situated above the confluence of the Labe and the Vltava rivers. We can sample wine from the local cellars while enjoying the view from the gallery of the castle.
UNDER THE STAR OF DAVID
This 3day tour covers four UNESCO listed World Heritage Sites:
Kutna Hora, Lednice – Valtice area, Trebic, Telc
and is designed for visitors interested in exploring the very best this country has to offer in terms of both Jewish and non-Jewish heritage, and the beautiful scenery of the typical Czech countryside.
Day 1 One hour drive to Kolin, a town on the banks of the Labe River, once the second largest Jewish settlement in Bohemia. Even though its medieval center around the town square is well preserved and its 16th century synagogue was recently renovated and opened to the public, Kolin is unjustly not on the itinerary of most visitors to this country.
A short drive to Kutna Hora, a charming Gothic town. Even though there is no Jewish heritage in Kutna Hora, stopping there is definitely worth our while. Also a convenient place to have lunch before a 3hr. freeway drive to the south-east corner of the country.
Sometimes called the ”Garden of Europe”, the Lednice - Valtice area stretches between two noble residences set in beautiful parkland, dotted with manmade lakes and follies. Famous European architects worked on the huge Baroque komplex. The Lednice - Valtice area is situated in a region also known for its wine. For centuries, wine from the area has found its way onto the tables of Czech kings and Holy Roman Emperors. Overnight at the 16th century Valtice Chateau.
Day 2 Short drive to Mikulov. This town was one of the most important spiritual centers of Judaism in Eastern Europe and also the seat of a prestigeous yeshiva. The picturesque town founded in 14th cent. originally Gothic, rebuilt as Renaissance in 16.cent, has a well preserved medieval core & Jewish quarter including a sensitively restored synagogues. Mikulov is dominated by a huge castle used by the Nazis during WW2 as an archive. In the last days of the war, they set it on fire but it was completely restored in the1950s. The southern slopes of the hills are covered by vineyards, so lots of wine cellars in the area.
2hr. scenic drive to Trebic. This town has one of the best preserved Jewish quarters in Europe: 123 residential houses, 2 synagogues and the cemetery. After lunch, 30min. drive to Telc. Spectacular setting and architecture, old Jewish cemetery on the outskirts.
Short drive to the small town of Slavonice, a true jewel of Renaissance architecture. The synagogue (no entry) and several cemeteries in the vicinity. Located approximately half way between Prague and Vienna, Slavonice once was an important stage coach stop. Until the fall of Communism in 1989, the Iron Curtain (border between Czechoslovakia & Austria) was only 1 mile away and consequently the town was spared of insensitive renovation that many other historical sites suffered. After the Velvet Revolution in 1990, Slavonice was discovered by Czech artists for its unique ambiance with several galleries and pottery shops. Slavonice is definitely the highlight of this tour!
Evening at leisure. Overnight at hotel Besidka, a beautiful 16 century Renaissance house renovated by a renown Czech architect. The Besidka has its own excellent restaurant.
Day 3 Morning visit to Jindrichuv Hradec. In the 16th century, Jindrichuv Hradec was the second largest town of the Czech Kingdom (after Prague) and the Renaissance architecture and castle still testify to that.
A one hour drive brings us to Trebon, another Renaissance town surrounded by ponds from all sides. The ponds were built in the 16th cent. and have supplied the country with fresh fish ever since. The town has remarkable architecture, castle and park.
Our last stop on the way to Prague is Tabor , the 15th cent. spiritual center of the Hussite uprising, the only medieval town in the region where the Jewish population was not segregated from their Christian neighbors. Arrival in Prague at 6 p.m.