Wittman Tours in Prague offers tours with Jewish guides. The company was recommended by the Rick Steves guidebook, and I thought it would be a good fit for my tour. Vida, our tour guide for the Jewish quarter tour, wisked us in and out of the five synagogues and the cemetary with ease. Other tourists spent the morning confused about which venues required an extra fee and getting yelled at by an old Communist woman for taking pictures inside, but Vida made it easy. She knew her history because she has lived it. I won't remember all the details of the synagogues I saw today, but I will remember her.
She was 14 when her father finally told her that they were Jewish and why he had a number tatooed on his arm. Vida's father spent three years in concentration camps. His name is listed on the walls of the Pinkas Synagogue along with the names of others who perished, but he did not die. When he appealed to have his name removed since a mistake was made, the leaders of the community said it wasn't possible, and that he should just consider it good luck because he survived. She has embraced her faith and become part of the small orthodox community here in Prague.
The Nazis intended Prague to be a museum of the Jewish community that they were planning to exterminate. Artifacts were to be taken from synagogues all over Europe. They were brought to Prague and carefully catalogued. Thanks to the plan to preserve artifacts of the race they planned to exterminate, and the Nazis' careful attention to details, many cultural artifacts were preserved. If the synagogues were to be started again the items could be returned to their rightful homes. Vida wryly observed that it is good that the artifacts survived, but it would be better if there were more Jews to use them.
The Old-New Synagogue