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Old Jewish Cemetery

A section of the Old Jewish Cemetery has been preserved on the northern side of the present Mahler Gardens. The Jewish Community was established in Žižkov in 1893. In May 1894, the Town Council issued a building permit for Hynek Alois Če­řovský to build a house at 38 Karlova Avenue (the present Seifertova), the builder was Josef Filipovský. Even before construction commenced, the investor made an agreement with the Jewish Community in Žižkov which requested “the construction of a spacious room on the first floor to hold divine service”. The prayer room was a part of the building design right from the start. The first lease agreement is dated December 9, 1894, and is for ten years. The synagogue included an apartment for the synagogue sexton, shamash, and a smaller venue for the so-called winter prayer room. The community kept the Jewish prayer house until WWII.

The lease on the Jewish prayer house expired on December 31, 1949. Already in September 1906, a Union for the building of the Israeli religious community synagogue in Žižkov was formed; however, it was forced to terminate its activities in June 1948. The dream of building their own synagogue in Žižkov never came true.

The Jewish community is reflected in Žižkov in two Jewish cemeteries, the newer one being also the largest cemetery of its kind in the Czech Republic. The Old Jewish Cemetery in Fibichova Street was established in 1680 as the plague burial ground for the Prague Jewish community and it served its purpose until 1890. About 40,000 people are buried there. Its initial area was larger when compared to the present state; it stretched over today’s Mahler Gardens. The cemetery was partly damaged during the construction of the Žižkov TV tower in 1985 to 1992. The preserved part was taken over by the Jewish Museum in Prague in 1999 and made accessible to the public in 2001. The area is currently managed by the Jewish Community in Prague. One can find stones in the Baroque, Empire style, or stones or steles in historicising styles. The most frequently attended spot is the grave of Prague’s Chief Rabbi Ezechiel Landau (Noda bi-Yehuda) who lived in 1713 to 1793.

The last burials in the Old Jewish Cemetery in the Mahler Gardens occurred in 1890; at the same time, the New Žižkov Jewish Cemetery at the Olšany Cemeteries opened. The author of the new cemetery complex was Bedřich Münzberger, whose other designs include the Industrial Palace at the Exhibition Grounds (Výstaviště). The cemetery was extended in the 1920’s, and the 1930’s added an urn ground with its own ceremonial hall in the Functionalist style built in 1932–1933 and designed by L. Ehrmann, the author of the Smíchov synagogue reconstruction project. Nowadays, it is the largest Jewish cemetery in the Czech Republic, extending over 101,430 square metres. It has been protected as cultural heritage since 1958. The first ceremonial hall was built in the Neo-Renaissance style in 1891 to 1893, followed by the “bet tahara“ (building dedicated to the pre-funeral purification) with a Neo-Classicist morgue. The “kiyor” (basin) for washing one’s hands upon leaving the cemetery, put in when the water pipe was connected in 1935, is placed by the east side of the hall.  The New Jewish Cemetery was used primarily as the burial grounds for the Prague Jewish Community in Josefov but later became also the main cemetery for Jewish coreligionists from the second largest community in Vinohrady and the communities in Žižkov, Karlín, Michle, Nusle, Bra­ník etc. The cemetery has the graves of Franz Kafka, Max Brod, Arnošt Lustig, Jiří Orten, Ota Pavel and many others. There is also a memorial to the Jewish soldiers who died in WWI, built in 1927. The beginning of the 20th century introduced a lot of valuable art to the burial stones by sculptors and architects – Jan Kotěra, his disciple Paul Albert Ko­petzky, Antonín Balšánek, Josef Zasch or Leopold Ehrmann.

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