Prague’s Old Jewish Cemetery has a mystic atmosphere all its own. The tombstones, dating from 1439 to the late 1700s, sit nestled in crowded, lopsided clumps. The inscriptions are worn or long gone. As you wind around the tree-lined paths of the tranquil cemetery, you’ll want to know that about 100,000 people are buried here. How is that possible? The Jews were restricted to burying their dead only within the ghetto walls, so for centuries, this was the only place for graves. When one layer of ground was full, dirt was added and another layer was made. It’s estimated that 12 layers of graves lie here. The resulting tangle of headstones is at once picturesque and absolutely haunting.
You may also wonder how this plot of Jewish history survived WWII, when Jews living here were deported to camps. It’s said that Adolf Hitler kept the Old Jewish Cemetery as it is because he wanted it to be a museum of a race he would extinguish from the world.
The names are arranged by family, in red letters, and include birthdates and dates of death or deportation. The sheer volume of names is overwhelming, and add to that the sound of the names being read over the speakers while music is played in the background.
In one wing of the synagogue you’ll find a display of children’s art coming out of Terezin. Very few lived through the war, but their art survived to depict their view of life. This picture shows a city park closed to Jewish children.
As you leave the Jewish Quarter and walk around Prague, you’ll see memorial plaques in the sidewalks, known as stolperstein. The inscriptions contain names and dates of Jews deported during WWII. These are another reminder – never forget.