For centuries Prague has been culturally mixed. Czech is a West Slavic language and its spekers were self-confident members of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, although, as the name of the state betrays, they were always second in rank to the Germans and the Hungarians. Everybody else in the monarchy was third rank though 🙂
I have no hard number available, but, as far as I remember, about a third of the pre-WWI population of Prague spoke German, many of them Jews.
We know of a Jewish population in Prague from the first millenium on. Their “Golden Age” (like in so many places interrupted by pogromes once in a while) began in the early 16th century and lasted until 1939. Then it was all apocalypse.
In most of Austria and Germany the Nazis have destroyed all synagogues. Not so in Prague. It has a few of them, some still operative, all tourist attractions. I can’t remember which one it is, that is at the center of the old Jewish cemetery, but when you’re there you can’t fail it.
It’s always the same, regardless of being among hordes of tourists (like in Prague) or being almost alone (like in the extensive Jewish section of the central cemetery in Vienna): the feeling is always one of age and neglect.
In our own cemetries, the space is expensive and most graves are given up once the last paying relative has ceased to do so. Then the grave is sold to someone else. The result is, that almost no graves are neglected. It’s simply too expensive.
Those Jewish cemeteries are different. Nobody has been buried there since before WWII. Most of them have been vandalized by the Nazis. Much damage has been done and nobody was allowed to rapair it during the war. Most of the time nobody was left to care after the war. Other buildings would probably have been torn down or replaced, but those cemeteries, while not fulfilling their original purpose, are monuments.
When I’ve been in the Jewish section in Vienna for the first time, it was basically a jungle. Since then the city and private organizations have done a lot to cut back the growth, to clear the original paths and in many cases even to restore the graves. To a certain degreee this can be done. You can re-erect fallen stones, you can restore the inscriptions on a few graves of prominent citizens, but you don’t even want to restore everything. It’s a monument of a monstrous destruction after all. Taking away all the traces would help nobody and it would only cover the past. Thus most of the graves are left in this spooky, unnatural condition.
And that’s exactly what it looks like.
Ferrara almost automatically invokes the name Giorgio Bassani, and his book “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” is what I read while we were there.
I hadn’t even known that he is buried in Ferrara, but the first thing the woman at the entrance of the Cimitero ebraico di Ferrara asked us was, whether we were there to see Bassani’s tomb. It came as a surprise to us but, yeah, that’s why we were there.
Here it is.
Yesterday I made a short trip to Vienna’s biggest graveyard, Zentralfriedhof in the district of Simmering. Before the Nazi barbarism Vienna had quite some Jewish population, and so it is not surprising that the Jewish part of the cemetery is vast. When I was there for the first time, about 15 years ago, it was completely overgrown, basically a forest, but since then much has changed. From a merely aesthetic point of view it was more beautiful then, but even now it is a tranquil place of peace.
Graveyards and B&W, that may be more or less a cliché, but I simply could not resist. I have tried it both ways, and B&W won by far.
The Song of the Day is “And When I Die” from the self-titled second Blood, Sweat & Tears album. See a video on YouTube.