First Day in Prague

My sister and I had an exuberant day in Prague today, on our feet for nearly seven hours as we drank in the sumptuous sites of the Prague Jewish Quarter. Jews lived here in the thousands from the Ninth Century, with an abundance of synagogues—six beauties still stand—and a rich culture that seems to still vibrate with life along the cobblestone paths. Seems to. So much life abounds: thousands of tourists from around the world—kids in baseball caps and elegant Asians, Spanish speakers, Italians, and Brits pour in to see the gorgeous tile work of the Spanish synagogue, the Chevreh Kaddisha (sacred burial society) and most famously, a courtyard where 12,000 gravestones stand and lie at all angles demarcating Jewish culture that thrived here from the 1400's.

So much bustle and life! I almost forgot that before WWII 118,000 Jews lived in the Czech Republic, and 50,000 right here in these Prague streets. Now there are perhaps1,500 registered Jews in the entire city. Among the 78,000 Jews who were murdered, I found six names scribed on the wall of the Pinkas synagogue (now a museum) who bore the names of my relatives, the Schweigers: Evzen, Ruzena, Oskar, Gert, Klaus, and Frantiska. All of them died in 1939 or 1942.

Schweiger means those who are quiet. Were they quiet or did they rail at being pulled out of their homes, I wonder? Tonight as the full summer moon came wandering through the skylight of our VRBO, one small image from the day floated through my memory.

Three small gold squares inserted into the pavement before a doorstep of an average house here. They signify the mother, father and their 11-year old daughter pulled out of their homes by the Nazis and deported to Terezin, never to return. What must that little girl have gone through?

The gold squares was a project to remember the Nazi's victims of this city, but the metal was too hazardous in the winter weather, our tour guide told us, and the city discontinued it. Really, I thought? Too slippery for the feet or the mind?

What happened to all of these souls? And what has happened to the Judaism that these thousands of men, women and children lived and died for? All of this haunts me tonight as I muse on death and metamorphoses. After all, this is the home of Franz Kafka.

Tirzah Firestone