Exploring the tumultuous history of Judaism in Prague before and during the Holocaust

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By Laura Nicoll

Ransacked houses stand like monuments of oppression. Their existence is a sobering testament to anti-Semitism and social unrest. Inside, the inhabitants hide from attempts to suppress their identity. Life for a Jew, in nineteenth and twentieth century Prague was a constant struggle of unrelenting anarchy and tenacious struggles for equality.

The history of Jews living in Prague’s Josefov (Jewish Quarter) is both turbulent and revolutionary to put it simply. Their presence can be traced back to the tenth century. During these embryonic years of settlement, amidst persecution and growing public fear, Jews were banished to live behind the large fortified walls of the ghetto.

This decision was orchestrated to serve one critical anti-sematic function. That was to minimise Jewish interaction with Christians. In the centuries preceding the Holocaust, the continuous dichotomy of religious persecution in culmination with years of discrimination led to frequent clashes between Jews and the wider Prague population. So what was to come for this secluded community?

In 1848, the struggle for universal civic rights came to a head. The awe-inspiring, revolutionary actions during this time led to the emancipation of the Jewish Quarter. This decision enabled the community to start living outside the ghetto and begin economic and social interaction with the wider population.

Later, the ghetto was abolished and became a district of Prague in 1852, where it was then given the name of Josefstat (Joseph’s City) after Joseph 2nd, the Holy Roman Emperor who permitted religious tolerance to Jews more than a century before.

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The granting of full equality to Jews was not always met with a positive response from the rest of the population. Traditional anti-Jewish prejudices were linked to the fear of Jewish economic competition and impromptu acts of hate were common at the end of the nineteenth century.

As the Jewish community strengthened their position to capitalise in wider society, economic competition was a common trend. During the turn of the twentieth century, only 360,000 Jews where living in Czechoslovakia however their contribution to economic and cultural life in Prague proved to be highly influential.

The Jewish Quarter produced noted mathematicians, artists, writers and philosophers who revolutionised their fields of study.  Most notable, was Frans Kafka a German language writer of novels and short stories, who is widely regarded to be one of the major figures of twentieth century literature.

This time gave rise to a new manner of political thinking which led to an increase in Jewish nationalism known as the Czechoslovak Zionism movement. In the 1925 & 1935 Jews became more present in the political sphere, when the Jewish Party won two parliamentary seats and a handful of Jews were granted the role of government ministers.

Sadly, the revolutionary sentiments were short-lived, no one could have prepared for the scale of carnage the Holocaust would bring to the Jewish population in Prague. In mid-July 1939 the Gestapo entered Prague and a tale of horrors ensued.

The Nazis began their occupation in Prague by devising ingenious methods of manipulation to pacify any possibilities of Jewish resistance. By setting up Jewish Councils, led by well-respected Jews to govern the Quarter, the occupiers were able to use the leaders as marionettes to enforce anti-Jewish regulations.

This proved to be a highly successful strategy of control however many of the Jews involved in operating the councils were executed along with family members or for those who survived, of conspiring with Nazi forces. By the beginning of October 1941, the first transport of 1,000 Jews left Prague for the ghetto in Lodz.

Just over a month later, a further six thousand victims were moved a few hours North of Prague to the garrison town of Terezín. It was here that the SS held Czech and Moravian Jews before they were transported to their deaths at Auschwitz-Birkenau and Treblinka extermination camps.

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Terezín as it stands today, is a brightly coloured tourist attraction that brings in thousands of visitors every year. The German words ‘Arbeit Mach Frei’ or ‘Work sets you free’ are painted on a large banner overlooking the main entrance.

This haunting reminder, is only a subtle indicator of the camps sinister, alternative purpose which was to reduce the number of people necessary to transport to the extermination camps. Over 25% of prisoners who entered Terezín died under horrendous circumstances attributed to hunger, infection and terrible living conditions.

Perhaps, the most distasteful aspect of Terezín history is that it was exploited for the purposes of propaganda. The Nazis understood the concept of using propaganda as a weapon in spreading their anti-sematic ideals. Through this medium a cult was orchestrated which created moral panic and portrayed Jews as a community to be feared.

Although these particular events involving the persecution of the Jewish minority in Prague occurred many years ago, they are not a part of history. Even today minorities are persecuted.

A realist would attempt to explain this behaviour by saying the world is naturally anarchic and that the way we behave towards one another is fuelled by self-interest and desire for power. It is these two elements that are at the core of human nature. However are these events so easily explained?

For many years now, we have systematically persecuted those who are perceived as ‘others’, those who look and behave differently from us. We cannot, at the expense of tolerance and diversity, allow ethnic and religious persecution to continue unfolding within our societies. We live our lives taking the love of our friends and families for granted and ignore those who need compassion the most. As Kafka once said “Believing in progress does not mean believing that any progress has yet been made”.

 

Prague: A Cinema Experience

BY JACK BAINES

Whenever in a new country the first thing you are going to do is look for things to do, most of the time it evolves sight seeing, drinking, shopping or looking for somewhere to eat all which are great. The cinema isn’t something you really consider when your abroad but why not?

As a journalism and film student I am a massive fan of seeing films of any kind and anywhere so I looked up the best possible cinema in and around the city of Prague and discovered Cinema city in Atrium Flora, Praha 3 zizkov. Now this was the biggest cinema I could find and the only one with an Imax screen.

It was inside of a shopping mall so I was a little skeptical at first as to how big it could actually be but when I got to the top floor it had a whole quarter to its self and looked very impressive, it drew me in a lot more than the cinemas in Leicester. I decided to go with best available option, the latest blockbuster suicide squad (2016) Imax 3D which only cost an incredible 204 koruna (about £6.50) if you compare that with my local cinema in Leicester where it costs £13 (390 koruna) it really is the cheapest I’ve seen and makes going to the cinema worth it even if your not a massive fan of films.

One thing I always do is buy popcorn because I’m a sucker for it; it’s my favourite treat to indulge in whilst at the cinema, so I was ready to get my custom sweet popcorn only to be told my choices were salted or ham and cheese, yes that’s right ham and cheese flavor, now I did try some and its safe to say I didn’t really like it so I went with salted but I’m sure the flavor some people will enjoy and it obviously sells other wise they wouldn’t keep selling it. If popcorn isn’t your thing then don’t worry they have your custom hot dogs and sweets to accompany you to the film.

 

Onto the actual room itself and it wasn’t as big as the cinemas in Leicester but that only added to the atmosphere because it gave you that personal experience and the Imax screen was incredibly big, the film itself wasn’t particularly great but that’s a story for another day. If you fancy some food before or after your film the shopping mall has multiple food places open until 11 at night so that’s something to bare in mind if your feeling hungry.

The whole experience was very good and very affordable and I would highly recommend it to anybody in Prague if you’re looking for something to do or just wanting to pass some time of an evening.  

If you aren’t a fan of big cinemas there are a phew other choices around Prague that could be more suited to you, there is another much smaller Cinema city right in the Centre of town if you don’t want to venture out to far and there is also a quite small independent cinema in town called Lucerna that is over 100 years old that shows old films and films from other countries, so you have plenty of options.

So next time your on holiday and stuck for an idea, looking for something affordable or just fancy a film why not pop into one of the cinemas and take a load off sit back and enjoy the ride.

 

The Alternative Guide to Prague #2: Žižkov district

BY ZOFIA FILIPOWICZ

When admiring the striking panorama of Prague from the top of Hradčany castle, you, dear tourist, may have spotted an incredibly high television transmitter, rising above the city of magnificent churches and Art Nouveau facades like an unwanted weed.

This high-tech, futuristic tower, decorated with disturbing sculptures of black babies, crawling up and down its length, and named the second ugliest building in the world, marks the entrance to the ‘different’ part of Prague – the hilly neighbourhood of Žižkov.

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The district, or, as it is usually referred as – ‘the republic’, filled to the brim with pubs, weird shops and taverns, beckons at all of those, who may not want to look at the apostles, poking their heads out of the Clock Tower any longer.

Instead, you get incense smelling shops with completely useless, yet nice to look at knick-knacks, loads of bars serving cheap Chinese and traditional Czech food, as well as (I could not believe my eyes) a dog cafe, where pets can have a good old chin wag with their friends over cake.

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However stripped of the grandeur and beauty that the beaten paths of central Prague offer, Žižkov tempts with a working-class, slightly rougher character and a bit more personality. Serving as a home to many students due to the reasonable costs of living, it is a great area for the young and creative. Should I also say poor? Let’s not fool ourselves – budget friendly food, beverages and accommodation all deserve a big ‘thumbs up’ from students.

If you ever find yourself in Žižkov, either on purpose or simply because you got your trams wrong, head down Husitská street to the legendary tavern U Vystřelenýho oka (‘At the Shot Out Eye’) for a massive tankard of Pilsner and delicious 99 Kč fried cheese. It’s one of those rare places in Prague, where you can meet the real crème de la crème of all the locals, being themselves and having a laugh on a Friday night.

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Only a few steps further, you can find and very student-friendly hotel Prokopka, which offers affordable rooms and has a great breakfast buffet included in the price. The whole Žižkov area can be easily reached from Florenc metro station by any form of public transport, as it isn’t far from the city centre at all – you can always go back if you suddenly feel like you’ve missed the crowds.

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That would be it on my part. Now, it’s your turn – to explore, walk a bit further, discover your own hidden spots and places that the pocket city guide may have missed. Maybe you’ll be able to find your Prague?

Trust me, there is nothing like it.

A Day At The Botanická Zahrada

By Connor Watson

A day in the sun, surrounded by colour is what awaits anyone going to visit the Prague Botanical Gardens. The open air park stretches on for hours of walking and exploring. The park also includes some amazing attractions from historical Vineyards, Rare Mexican cacti, to forests of North American Trees.

With the closest bus stop the stop for the Prague Zoo it is no wonder that this little gem had more locals than tourists but that shouldn’t dissuade anyone from taking a walk around the gardens. For a quiet afternoon away from the hectic areas like Charles Bridge or Old Town Square this little corner of Prague offers stunning views as well as a bit of history and science with every exhibit.

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For those who are more interested in the Vineyards, wine tasting sessions, a bar and a small café are on offer for you to sample some of what is growing. So as well as being able to sit out on a small terrace and sip away your afternoon with wine the views over Prague from the gardens are some of the best.

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For an additional fee visitor can also visit the Fata Morgana a tropical greenhouse embedded into the rocks of the hill the garden is built on. The greenhouse splits into three temperature controlled sections and allows visitors to sample plants and vegetation from all over the world and every climate.

 

 

Coffee, Work, Treat, Repeat: study cafés in Prague

BY ZOFIA FILIPOWICZ

They say plenty is no plague, but when it comes to trying out cafés, bars or restaurants in a city as diverse as Prague, you’re going to have to find some sort of a niche, otherwise the abundance might simply make you go mad.

With the rest of the group already reviewing veggie places, renowned chimney cake stands and, naturally, brilliant Czech beer, I felt like the natural path to go down was to follow my caffeine addiction and see where it takes me.

And it took me exactly where I needed to be as a laptop – carrying intern, searching for a cosy seat, coffee drip and fast Wi-Fi to complete my work – Prague’s work cafés.

Let me present to you two of the student working spots, where you can enjoy a warm drink and a blissful moment of noise-free concentration within the loud, bustling city.

CAFEDU

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Probably the most accurate definition of a study room/café hybrid, Cafedu is a two floor, non-stop (yes, you heard me right, Kimberlin Library !) creative space, filled with the smell of fresh brew and calming clicking of laptop keyboards. With shelves heavy with new and old books, as well as a vast choice of foods and drinks, it is a dream student location, combining the look of a 21st Century library with high quality catering for starved and weary. Delicious breakfast and lunch offer, including chia puddings, muesli, croissants and paninis, will most likely satisfy anyone who is in desperate need for a quick recharge. If it gets too much – the coffee is always there. Those unwanted, yet necessary vending machine excursions? Never again.

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Located right behind the National Museum, Cafedu is easy to get to and provides that refreshing change of space from you home, halls of residence or a scruffy student hostel. As advertised on their website, Cafedu is ‘a calm harbour where motivation springs up and inspiration is born’, and it is definitely something I felt during the fully focused hour I spend there. Who knows, maybe they have a magic cure for your writers’ block too? Worth checking out!

MŮJ ŠÁLEK KÁVY

A lot smaller and cosier than Cafedu, but because of that also slightly less work-focused, Můj Šálek Kávy is there for the young coffee connoisseurs, who don’t feel like it’s appropriate to drag out your laptop charger in the middle of one of those elegant, ‘top of the TripAdvisor list’ cafés. The interior has a relaxed, ‘chalkboard’ bistro vibe about it and should not scare anyone with too much poshness or that overwhelming Prague grandeur that Slavia and Louvre definitely have. Although it may not be as spacious as a typical library study room, everyone can find their own personal corner and I had absolutely no trouble concentrating on my work, even though there may have been more people around me.

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Amazing quality Costarican and Columbian filtered coffees, served in hipster-worthy chemex coffeemakers, as well as some cakes, pastries or even a full English if you are more than just peckish, all provide a very homely, rustic feel and although it does get busy (I would advise booking if you are planning a study session ahead and need somewhere nice to sit), I did not feel rushed at all.

Located in the Karlín district, a few tram stops away from Náměstí Republiky, Můj Šálek Kávy is far from the overcrowded Starbuckses in Old and New Town – both literally and ideologically. For a sip of coffee that’s way too cheap for how delicious it is and those blessed moments of creative flow, I can’t recommend it enough.

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Overall, there is no denying that Prague caters for its students, providing a niche that many cities lack in. Perhaps it is a fantastic new business idea for Leicester-based managers? After all, talents need to grow on something, and we all know coffee is the best fertiliser.