FZY members have been back on their travels! This time you'll be hearing about the recent trip to Prague from the wonderful Ella Pope.
Belonging to one of the oldest, most historically rich religions has a lot to offer; the
culture and traditional values are what unite the Jewish people as one nation.
Needless to say, the Holocaust was one of the most notorious events in Jewish history, nor
was it the first example of the persecution of the Jews. For years people have globally
dedicated their time to commemorate those who fell in the hands of the Nazis. Visiting
Poland with my school allowed me to walk on the grounds where my ancestors perished,
and learn more about the background of Auschwitz, Treblinka, Krakow, and other camps.
Intrigued by the history of the Holocaust, I left wanting to widen my understanding of
persecution beyond the atrocities in Poland. Then FZY offered the 'Prague, Present & Future' trip to the Czech Republic; we were to raise money to help restore Oskar Schindler’s old factory into a monumental educational site, and we would visit the factory during the trip.
It was impossible to jam the extensive amount of Holocaust education into one weekend - but we excelled at attempting to do so! The first day involved visiting Theresienstadt, which was a political prison used as propaganda by the Nazis, acting as a façade so they were not prosecuted for the dehumanisation of innocent people. However, as our tour guide noted, the Soviets were convinced by the disguise and were ignorant to the reality of the punishment and brutality within the walls. A friend and I discussed how the conditions resembled those we had seen in the camps in Poland - even the phrase ‘arbeit macht frei’ was painted on one of the gates. After delving into the shocking details of the conditions thousands of people were forced to reconcile with, we watched a propaganda film, presented to the Soviets and outside world, implying that the Jews were enjoying their lives in the ghettos and elsewhere, and that the Nazis were saving the Jews rather than executing them.
After a reflective afternoon, we visited the ‘Starnova’ synagogue and sat in on the
Friday night service and then ate dinner with the small pluralist community. Some
women wore trousers, others wore headscarves, and likewise the men were dressed
completely differently, which emphasised how even within diaspora Jewry, pluralism still
exists in all forms. Regarding the synagogue, although it was beautifully designed, many of us had issues with the division of men and women. whilst the men were able to sit within the actual synagogue, women were made to look through a small hole in the wall. This led on to an insightful discussion about feminism within Judaism, and how the situation has shifted from early days up until the 21 st century.
Shabbat was obviously the best part of the trip, especially as we spent it exploring the
Jewish quarter and putting our leadership skills into practice. Groups of us were designated
a certain synagogue or monument, then we had to create a peula to demonstrate our knowledge and
pass it on to the others in a ‘funducational’ way. Later that evening, we had a lovely
Havdallah and spent an evening exploring the streets of Prague… it really was a memorable
way to end Shabbat.
The last day of the trip was the reason we went to Prague in the first place; visiting
Schindler’s factory. En route to this, we stopped at the Jewish museum and learnt more
about the Holocaust and Oskar Schindler’s journey. He was a Nazi who saved over a thousand Jews
by providing them with work in his factory. There we met the founders of the Low-Beer and
Schindler Foundation, and learnt about the history of the building. There they spoke about
their aims, and we could clearly see the building needed renovating in order to keep
Schindler’s story alive and for it to be a source of education for many generations. It was a
great way to conclude the trip, and was yet another example of why, as young Jews, we
must do everything in our power to continue educating people on the Holocaust.
Unfortunately, in 10 years, there will likely be no more Holocaust survivors left to tell their stories. For me, this should be a huge red flag, as there are still a minority of people who support Holocaust
denial and disregard any leading evidence that will compromise their opinions. The Holocaust was the lowest point in Jewish history, but it allowed the Jews to persevere and eventually gain their own state. I am so fortunate to have been able to visit these sites in Prague, and I endeavour to widen my knowledge of the Holocaust even further by seizing these opportunities. I believe that it is our duty as young Jews to become knowledgeable enough on this subject to serve the survivors justice and continue their legacy long into the future.