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Jewish Life in Czechoslovakia Declining; Community Called “museum Piece”

The Jewish community of Czechoslovakia is “neither allowed to live nor allowed to die,” H.A. Goodman, Agudas Israel leader, declared here today upon his return from an extensive visit to that community. He characterized the Jewish community of Prague as a “museum piece.”

There are some 20,000 Jews registered with communities, about 12,000 in Slovakia and 8,000 in Bohemia. In addition, he estimated that there were another 20,000 unaffiliated Jews in Czechoslovakia. There were, he said, more intermarriages than unions in which both partners were Jewish.

Mr. Goodman reported that the Alt-Neu Synagogue, Prague’s 1,000 year old synagogue was open for worship every day, during his visit, but he rarely saw more than a bare minyan–ten–of worshippers in it. On the walls of the synagogue, which houses the Jewish Museum, termed by Mr. Goodman the community’s most important asset, are being inscribed the names of 80,000 Prague Jews deported to their death by the Nazis. Of the 400,000 Jews in pre-war Czechoslovakia, over 250,000 were sent to the death camps.

The Agudah leader said he had raised with the Czechoslovak authorities the question of Jewish religious instruction for children. At present, both parents must make written application before a child is given permission to attend religious classes, which provide but one hour’s instruction a week.

An official of the Czechoslovak Ministry of Religion told Mr. Goodman that there would not be any objection to the opening of a Talmud Torah in Prague for children to attend whenever they chose. In discussing the question of enabling young Jews to study for the rabbinate, the official said there would be no objection to permitting such young men to go abroad for their education, since no facilities exist in this country. However, he countered Mr. Goodman’s suggestion of study in London by suggesting they attend either the Moscow yeshivah or one in Arad, Rumania.

Mr. Goodman also reported that Prague Chief Rabbi M. Sicher had urged Jewish communities abroad to take an interest in the maintenance of the cemetery at Terezin, site of a Nazi death camp. The Prague community he said, had used up all its funds and unless it received assistance from without, the cemetery would have to come under the care of the state. In that event, Rabbi Sicher said, the soil in which thousands of Jews from all over Europe are buried would still be vested in the Chief Rabbinate for religious administration.

The Agudist representative said that the Czechoslovak state displayed a positive attitude toward the maintenance of the Jewish communities, paying the salaries of all religious functionaries from Chief Rabbi and shochet to mikveh attendant and kashruth overseer in kosher kitchens. He further reported that Rabbi B. Farkas, who was arrested some months ago, is still in prison. He is expected to be released soon, Mr. Goodman said, but it is not known whether he will be allowed to resume his religious duties when he is freed.

There are no relations whatever between the Israel legation in Prague and the Jewish community, he stated. At the last Independence Day reception given by the Israelis in Prague, Czechoslovak Government officials attended, but members of the Jewish community did not.

Finally, he reported that the Jewish Museum authorities had expressed a willingness to send selected religious objects from the museum collection to be exhibited in London. The museum authorities, he said, would welcome closer relations with religious communities abroad. The Prague Chief Rabbinate had asked the Agudas Israel for various religious articles and publications of which very few were available in Czechoslovakia.

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