The Jewish Quarter is a small area of the city known locally as 'Josefov'. It is located between the Old Town Square and the Vltava River. Most of it can be walked through and around in a single day. The Jewish Cemetery, the Old-New Synagogue, Klausen Synagogue and the Pinkas Synagogue are the most worthwhile sights. Be prepared for entrance fees at several of the museums etc.
The history of the area dates back to the 11th Century. Though the Jews of this time prospered and coexisted in relative peace with
their neighbours the crusades of the 11th century were to bring a tidal wave of sorrow. While enroute to the Holy Land the
Crusaders massacred the Czech Jews and plundered their properties. Those who survived were forcibly converted to Christianity.
During this period,several significant changes were imposed on the remaining Jewish communities. Their synagogues were burned to
the ground, their civil rights were severely limited and they were forced to build their community on the right bank of the
Vltava only, thus limiting their movements and clearly identifying their minority status. This was the beginning of what later
came to be known as the 'Jewish Ghetto', the area which today is frequented by tourists.
Amongst the atrocities committed against the Jews, the Nazi 'era' was the most devastating. At this time there were an estimated 56,000 Jews residing in Prague alone. Only 10% of the countrys entire Jewish population survived the German occupation. Most were sent to the prison camp of Terezin (60 km North West of Prague) never to return. Today Terezin is a museum and memorial museum to the Jewish plight during the Second World War and is open to the public.
The size of the Jewish community left in the Czech Republic and Prague today is difficult to estimate. After having been one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe, they are now amongst the smallest. The history of the Czech Jews is both unique and tragic and has historical significance to this part of Europe. Since the collapse of Communism the Synagogues of the Old Town have been reawakened and new activity by the local Jewish community continues to grow. Several Jewish organisations have been formed, buildings renovated and Kosher restaurants reopened.
Note: Avoid this area on Saturdays because of the Sabbath.