Jews have lived in the territory of the today’s Czech Republic for more than 1,000 years. The Old-New Synagogue was build around 1270 and is the oldest functioning synagogue of Europe. Important was the school of Rabbi Jehuda Löw ben Bezalel, the famous “Maharal mi Prag”, one of the greatest figures in Judaic and Cabalistic sciences who appears in many legends including the one of the Golem. He is buries in the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague together with other famous Rabbis and other Jewish personalities of their time, as Avigdor Kara, David Gans, Mordechai Maisel, the treasurer of the Emperor Rudolph II., David Oppenheim etc. Prague was also famous for its medieval Jewish publishing house founded by the Gersonides family.

Other Czech and Moravian towns were also significant – Kolín, Mikulov (Nikolsburg), Třebíč, Holešov, Boskovice etc. where many rabbis and scholars resided. In medieval times the Jews lived safely under the protection of the King who often used them as a good source of income (taxes). This peaceful and productive coexistence came to an end – as anywhere in Europe – by the crusades. The worst pogrom in Prague was in 1389 (the elegy by Avigdor Kara describing it is read in the Old-New Synagogue every year until today) and the Jews had to face several expulsions, like in 1745 – 1748 by Maria Theresia. Only the reforms by Emperor Joseph II. meant for the community a beginning of freedom which was afterwards fully granted in 1848. Then the Jews were able to integrate into all spheres of public life and played a significant role in the commercial, cultural and scientific life of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk who became the first president of Czechoslovakia in 1918 distinguished himself in early times of his professional career as philosophy professor during the so called Hilsner trial (a blood-liable trial which arose sentiments similar to Dreyfuss affair) for his condemnation of anti-Semitism. Later he was also the first President of a State to visit Palestine. During the existence of the so called First Czechoslovak Republic (1918 – 1938) the Jews enjoyed unprecedented freedom, equality and safety. Czechoslovakia’s Jewish population numbered 350,000 by 1930 of which 120,000 lived in Bohemia and Moravia, 120,000 in Slovakia and the rest resided in sub-Carpathian Ruthenia, a region being today a part of Ukraine. After 1933 the Jewish population rose to more than 400.000 due to the influx of German Jews who escaped after Hitler took power and viewed rightfully Czechoslovakia as the island of democracy in at-that-time Europe.

The Holocaust meant for the Czech Jewry an absolute disaster. It started as first in Europe by expelling the Jewish population from the Sudeten-German regions after Munich Appeasement in 1938 and it ended as last by disclosing the Terezín concentration camp only in fall 1945 after the typhoid epidemic. Only about 30,000 Jews started to recreate Jewish life in Bohemia and Moravia by 1945/1946. Only a few years later they had to face another challenge when Communists took power in February 1948. Those who stayed in the country (immigration to Israel was possible for some time) went through anti-Semitic period marked by the so called Slánský trial in early 50ies, they enjoyed some freedom in late 60ies which ended by the Soviet led invasion in August 1968 (again many Jews left the country) to be completely downed by the Communist so called normalisation led by the Husák régime.

It was the Velvet revolution in November 1989 which brought freedom to Czech society and it’s Jewish Community.