Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague

The Old Jewish Cemetery (Czech: Starý židovský hřbitov, German: Alter Jüdischer Friedhof) lies in the Josefov, the Jewish Quarter of Prague in the Czech Republic. It was in use from the early 15th century (the oldest preserved tombstone, the one of Avigdor Kara, dates back to 1439) until 1787. Its ancestor was a cemetery called "The Jewish Garden", which was found in archaeological excavations under the Vladislavova street, New Town.

The numbers of grave stones and numbers of people buried there are uncertain, because there are layers of tombs. However, it has been estimated that there are approximately 12,000 tombstones presently visible, and there may be as many as 100,000 burials in all. The most important personalities buried in the Old Jewish Cemetery are Yehuda ben Bezalel known as the Maharal Rabbi Löw (d. 1609), Mordechai Maisel (d. 1601), David Gans (d. 1613) and David Oppenheim (d. 1736).

History

It is not clear when exactly the cemetery was founded. This has been the subject of discussion of many scholars. Some are claiming that the cemetery is over 1000 years older than the accepted date, which is the first half of the 15th century. The oldest grave belongs to the Prague rabbi and poet Avigdor Kara from 1439. It was founded by the king Ottokar II of Bohemia.

According to halakhah, Jews must not destroy Jewish graves and in particular it is not allowed to remove the tombstone. This meant that when the cemetery ran out of space and purchasing extra land was impossible, more layers of soil were placed on the existing graves, the old tombstones taken out and placed upon the new layer of soil. This explains why the tombstones in the cemetery are placed so closely to each other. This resulted in the cemetery having 12 layers of graves.

Conspiracy theories

This cemetery is allegedly the secret venue of conspiracy meetings of the Elders of Zion and the place where The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (the Zionistic plan to rule the world or New World Order) was created. This information was firstly mentioned in Hermann Goedsche's 1868 novel, Biarritz (in English as To Sedan) which probably inspired Russian secret police to create The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to spread anti-semitism in Russia. The Protocols than started to live its own live and were considered as true (even by Hitler and many enemies of Jews even today). Umberto Eco´s 2010 novel The Cemetery of Prague refers to this topic.

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