The Pinkas Synagogue

Tourists lined up to enter the Pinkas Synagogue and the Old Cemetery

My visit in 2000 to the Pinkas Synagogue on Siroka street in Josefov, the old Jewish quarter in Prague, was a most moving experience. Every inch of the interior stone walls of the synagogue are inscribed with the names of the 77,297 Jews from Bohemia and Moravia who died in the Holocaust. Most of them were sent first to the ghetto set up by the Nazis in the old military garrison in Theresienstadt, now called Terezin, and were then transported to the death camp at Auschwitz in Poland where they were murdered in the gas chambers.

Upstairs there is a heart wrenching exhibit of drawings and paintings done by the children in Theresienstadt while they were awaiting transportation to the Auschwitz gas chambers. Inexplicably, the Nazis carefully preserved their artwork, which is now in a permanent exhibit entitled "Children's Drawings from Terezin 1942 - 1944."

The children were given art lessons by Friedl Dicker-Brandejsova in a school which the Nazis allowed the Jews to organize at Theresienstadt. There are many drawings done by different children on the same theme, so one can see that the children were receiving instruction and guidance in their artwork. There were 10,000 children, mostly orphans, sent to Theresienstadt by the Nazis, and The Jewish Museum has over 4,000 of their original drawings and paintings done in the ghetto.

The Pinkas Synagogue was founded by Aaron Meshullam Horowitz who had it built in 1535 between his house and the Old Cemetery wall. The building juts out from the cemetery wall and is below the present street level. Inside, there is a small courtyard with two doors, one to the synagogue, and the other to the Old Cemetery. A tree is growing right by the entrance inside the courtyard.

The Pinkas Synagogue was first turned into a memorial to the Czech Holocaust victims in 1958. Ten years later, following the Six Day War in Israel in 1967, the Communist government of Czechoslovakia closed the memorial and removed the names from the wall. After the fall of Communism in 1989, the names were painstakingly rewritten on the walls of the synagogue between 1992 and 1996.

Rear of Pinkas Synagogue with graffiti on walls of cemetery