PRAGUE, Aug. 13 (JTA) Prague’s Jewish leaders are waiting anxiously to find out whether the city’s worst floods in more than 100 years will cause serious damage to Jewish buildings and artifacts. Dozens of volunteers, including visitors from Israel, worked virtually around the clock along with community staff Tuesday in an attempt to protect synagogues and other sensitive Jewish sites from being engulfed by flood waters from the Vltava River, which is flowing at 30 times its normal rate. One of the biggest concerns was that flood waters could seriously damage the Pinkas Synagogue, where the names of 80,000 Czech Holocaust victims are painted on the walls. “I am afraid that the names at Pinkas will peel off if the water comes,” said Tomas Jelinek, chairman of Prague’s Jewish community. “At the moment, there is no water around the synagogue, but you never know what will happen.” Volunteers began building sandbag barriers around synagogues on Monday, when it became clear the city was facing a high risk of flooding. However, there were reports that sandbags were in short supply as city officials focused on other areas of Prague facing the greatest threat. Because of flooding fears, Torah scrolls and religious artifacts were removed from several synagogues around the Old Town and taken to the Jewish Town Hall for safety. Prague’s Jewish Museum canceled a number of exhibitions in the city center and moved paintings and other artworks to higher levels in the buildings where they were on display. Community staff worked until the early hours of Tuesday morning moving items to safety and then resumed work just a few hours later. Leo Pavlat, director of the museum, said some objects were still at risk. “There are some Jewish books held in depositories that are on a level that can be reached by water,” he said. “All we can do is pray not only that the rain stops but that the Vltava River becomes less wild.” In an attempt to hold back the floods, city officials have erected large steel barriers on the river embankment leading to the Old Town, where the old Jewish quarter stands. An official said it was too early to estimate whether the precautions would work. At least eight Czechs have died in 10 days of flooding, and more than 70 other people died as near-record summer rains brought flooding to many European cities this week. Some of the worst flooding occurred in Austria. In Salzburg, more than 1,000 buildings were reportedly under water. In Vienna, the city’s oldest Jewish cemetery was closed Tuesday due to emergency conditions brought on by days of torrential rain. “Several trees fell because the ground became soft in the aftermath of prolonged rain, and there was imminent danger for visitors,” said Jewish official Avshalom Hodik. “We closed the Central Cemetery temporarily so we can check for damage and have it repaired, and cut the trees that need cutting.” He said the local Jewish community had not received reports of deaths or major property damage due to the severe weather. A community spokesperson said none of the historical sites of the Viennese Jewish community had been flooded. The Central Cemetery, which dates back to the 1870s, contains about 50,000 graves, not all of them marked with stones.
European Jewish sites cope with flooding