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New Europe

Day One Hundred and Twelve: Prague and Terezin

Prague's Jewish cemetery 
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Meeting up with concentration camp survivor Lisa Mikova in the old Jewish cemetery in Prague. For over 300 years this was the only place that Jews could bury their dead, so now the graves are piled one on top of the other.
Michael Palin - New EuropeOn the walls of what has been a place of worship for over 500 years are marked the names of all those Jews from Bohemia and Moravia who perished in the concentration camps. Seventy-seven thousand, two hundred and ninety-seven names.

I ask her how different this is for her from the cemetery outside. She stops at the end of one wall and looks closely.

'Here are my parents. Only their names. They have no graves.'

Twenty of her close family are listed on the wall, including a brother shot in Dachau three days before the Americans liberated the camp.

She sighs.

'I don't like it very much to come here. It's too emotional for me. I really don't like it.'

She straightens up and takes a deep breath, and we walk outside again.

Two years into the war the Nazis began moving the Jewish population out of Prague. They established a ghetto in the old garrison town of Theresienstadt, or, in Czech, Terezin, an hour north of the city towards the German border. Dominated by two long, low brick fortresses, built by the Habsburg Emperor Josef II in 1780 to defend his northern borders, it was cleared of its civil population in mid-1942 and replaced with 50,000 Jews from all over Europe, among them Lisa, her new husband and her parents.

She arrived here in the depths of winter, on her twentieth birthday, and today, sixty-six years on, she's returned.

At first glance Terezin seems pleasant enough. The town is laid out in a typical neo-classical Central European pattern. There is a large central square full of sweet chestnut trees and, amongst them, a statue of Jan Hus, the early-fifteenth-century religious reformer and Czech national hero, burnt at the stake for criticising the Catholic Church. There's something wrong with the place though. The atmosphere is odd. It's almost empty for a start.
The old Jewish cemetery in Prague 
click to enlarge 
file size
Meeting up with concentration camp survivor Lisa Mikova in the old Jewish cemetery in Prague. For over 300 years this was the only place that Jews could bury their dead, so now the graves are piled one on top of the other.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day One Hundred and Twelve: Prague and Terezin
  • Country/sea: Czech Republic
  • Place: Prague
  • Book page no: 261

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