Czechoslovakian Jewry is Still at a Purely Formative Stage
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Czechoslovakian Jewry is Still at a Purely Formative Stage

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Germany, Poland, Palestine, indirectly Austria, and European Turkey—these were countries in which, during the past Jewish year, Jewish fate (at once crushing and exalting) was crystallized. The Jewries of all other countries lived this Jewish fate only vicariously; many, however, so intensely, that what was vicarious became an actual experience. Individuals learned to change their lines of thought and themselves in order to be better prepared to meet the fate of the future than German Jewry was.

How did this fateful year affect the Jews in the Czechoslovakian Republic, a country surrounded by Germany, Austria and Poland. One should have thought the echo would be strongest here, more resounding and accompanied by more positive actions than elsewhere.


But far from it. One might say that in the year just ended Czechoslovakian Jewry might be characterized not so much by what happened as by what did not happen. For as a matter of fact not much occurred which might serve the chronologists as the starting point for observations and conclusions. At the end of last year the Zionist Congress was still in Prague. That was really an event for Czechoslovakian Jewry, but not one which left deeper traces. This Congress, more than the preceding ones, was so entangled in its internal problems and factions that its effect outside was not exactly exciting. The weak resolution on Germany is a case in point. As a result the Congress did not as a matter of fact have either an educational or exemplary effect upon Czechoslovakian Jewry.

The catastrophe of German Jewry and the crises among the Jews in Austria and Poland touched the lives of the Czechoslovakian Jews much more deeply. But this, too, did not result in any external expression. Not a single protest meeting against Hitlerite Germany was held here. As a matter of fact, no public stand was taken towards the events in Germany. There is no indication of any boycott activity against the Hitler regime. With respect to the problem of Palestine immigration, the Zionist special committee, at an occasional meeting, adopted the already stereotyped protest resolution. That is all.


These points are not intended to introduce a criticism of Czechoslovakian Jewry, but rather to point out a fact which will explain the phenomena described: namely, that there is not yet today any Czechoslovakian Jewry in the sense that there is a German one, a Polish, an English or an American one.

In no country of the world is Jewry so differentiated culturally, sociologically and politically as it is in the Republic of Masaryk, which is composed of three parts so different from each other culturally and sociologically: The historic countries (Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia), Slovakia, Carpatho-Russia. But while the existence of a Czechoslovakian nation, at least in the governmental sense, must be admitted and is generally admitted by the separate parts, it is still to early to speak of Czechoslovakian Jewry. For there is no central instance whose activities would branch off to the various sectors.

According to the census of December 1, 1930, there are in Czechoslovakia 356,830 Jews; in Bohemia, 76,301 (somewhat more than one per cent of the general population); 41,250 in Moravia-Silesia (1.16 per cent); 136,737 in Slovakia (4.1 per cent); 102,542 in Carpatho-Russia (14.12 per cent). In the whole state the Jews constitute 2.42 per cent of the total population of over thirteen millions.


One may see here how, purely from a numerical point of view, the principal weight is not in the center, but is distributed among the branches. The differences in the sociological and cultural sense are still more sharply defined. In the historic countries the Jews belong to the culturally elevated middle stratum (merchant class, intellectuals); sociologically they are stratified much as were the German Jews before the Hitler storm.

This small Jewish central body is culturally fissured into German-speaking and Czech speaking Jews who often stand opposed to each other and between whom a groundwork of agreement is gradually being created. In Slovakia: a religious, conservative, more or less middle class Jewry shutting itself up against internal influence. In Carpatho-Russia, finally a religious and culturally backward, sociologically impoverished Jewish mass. This is the picture of Jewry in a state which was first to recognize the Jews as a nation.

It is clear that the Prague Jewish community, with its 38,000 Jews, is too small a body to be the source of a national educational effect upon 360,000 Jews who in addition are scattered over a large territory and are so variously stratified religiously, sociologically and culturally. But did there or does there exist in the Prague nucleus the will to take over the leadership and create a Jewish nation which tries to master its fate on Czechoslovakian territory and at the same time to reach deeply and beneficiently into the fate of world Jewry?

The external presuppositions for this have been given, but the internal conditions for it are still unripe, and the necessary determination is lacking—at least has been lacking until the present.


The character of the Jews of Prague, like that of the historic countries generally, bears the stamp of spiritual aristocracy. “Prague was once rightly called a mother in Israel; today it is a mother deserted by her children,” Dr. Felix Weltsch, the philosopher, wrote, only a short time ago, to the JTA. And, he added: “One visits Prague for the sake of the old Jewish cemetery; yet this cemetery, it appears, is not only the reason for seeing Jewish Prague, but has also become its symbol. For many decades this city has had no Jewish cultural life, in the correct sense of the word, of its own; but it is still an export center of Jewish culture. Prague no longer produces Jewish spirit; it still is the source of Jewish spirits.” But in conclusion Weltsch speaks of a “return wandering” of these spirits, which perhaps signifies a return to Jewry, and thinks: “It might finally happen that the Jewish cemetery will no longer be the only symbol of the Jewish spirit of this country, and that the second great reason for the city’s being worth seeing—the Old-New Synagogue—will also become a symbol.”

In this way Weltsch also hints at the forces which since the catastrophe of German Jewry also gradually tried to reach towards release in Czechoslovakia; the forces which aim at a reformulation of their own situation; at a reformation of their own social body, at a thorough reorganization of the combined group elements.

Even today a great part of Czechoslovakian Jewry lives an intensely Jewish life and does good Jewish and Zionist work. The B’nai B’rith lodges in Prague and in the other centers contribute a valuable cultural and educational activity. The communitie and community leagues follow the trend of the times and go more and more out of the purely religious and philanthropic realm of activity. The relief committee for the German-Jewish Refugees, supported principally by the lodges and communities, during the past year sent 400 refugees to Palestine and other countries across the sea after giving them vocational training. And—since the means had not yet been exhausted—they were able to give many other hundreds of refugees the necessities most vital to their existence. The Zionistic and Hebrew work is intensive and well organized.


But all these isolated efforts do not suffice to create a Czechoslovakian Jewry. The Jewish idea in Czechoslovakia—the idea of creating a national body which would work for itself and for Jewry—is still only in the budding stage, but it is going forward, albeit slowly. Mutual action by the Prague center and the branches in the east of the Republic is gradually becoming more and more noticeable. The future will show whether for the Jews in Czechoslovakia the fate of the German Jews meant only a vicarious experience or an actual one.

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