For 40 recent years, half in the last days of communism and half in freedom, the modest two-story, Classical-style synagogue building on Na Potoce Street in Brandys nad Labem, in central Czech Republic, had no signs of Jewish life. The town, which had a Jewish population of 380 in 1893 and nearly 140 in the early 1930s, had no known Jewish residents after the Holocaust; the synagogue was used for a time as a pharmaceuticals warehouse and as a repository of Prague’s Jewish Museum.
Today the building, which returned to Jewish hands after communism fell, is a sign of renewed Czech interest in Judaism.
The site was restored as part of a “10 Stars” cultural project financed by the European Union and the Czech Republic’s Culture Ministry. It is among 10 once-Jewish buildings throughout the country that have been turned into a nationwide Jewish museum in the country’s most ambitious Jewish heritage project.
“The program is about breathing life into historical monuments,” said Jan Kindermann, coordinator of the project, who inspects the interior of the Brandys nad Labem synagogue during a recent reopening ceremony, above. “Each of the ten synagogues we’ve chosen once served as the center of the local Jewish community. Though obviously thanks to the Holocaust those communities — with the exception of Plzen — no longer exist,” he told Czech Radio.
“There’s a lot of interest in Jewish culture within Czech society, even if the great boom in interest that started in the early 1990s is beginning to fade away now,” Kindermann said.
About 350,000 Jews lived in the then-Czechoslovakia before World War II; current Jewish population estimates: Czech Republic, 3,900; Slovakia, 2,600. The Jewish community of Brandys nad Labem dated back to the 16th century,
The 10 Stars (“Revitalization of Jewish Monuments in the Czech Republic”) project, which is renovating 15 sites, is designed to stimulate interest in the Czech Republic’s Jewish heritage outside of the Jewish Quarter of Prague, the capital. Exhibits in each location will feature photographs and text panels; each visitor will receive a “passport,” good for entry to other sites in the network.
“The exhibition in each site will be linked to one certain phenomenon in Jewish history, culture, religion, traditions,” Tomas Kraus, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Communities, told Czech Radio. “The idea is that if you visit one of the sites, even by chance, you will realize that there are nine other parts of the exhibition, so you will want to visit them too.”