This library contains over 45,000 volumes of work dating back to the 10th century. The two halls have been under restoration for the past four years and it is now complete. As a gift from our Prague travel agency owner, Dana Brichtova, we were allowed to enter into those rooms and see them close up. Donning special slipper shoes to protect the hardwood floors, we were guided through the Theological Hall and Philosophical Hall by Kamilla and Shalmi who spoke to us about the books and paintings.
After lunch in Kolin, went to the synagogue which had been built in the 15th century. To enter the synagogue we first had to go from the street through a house. Our local guide in Kolin, Dr. Miroslava Jouzova, informed us that the rabbi wanted to have a yeshiva (school) but the only land that was available to build on in the ghetto was in front of the synagogue so that’s where the school was built, making it an unusual structure.
Dr. Jouzova spoke to us about the Jews of Kolin and the synagogue. She said that the Jews had been extremely assimilated in the community which was a feeling echoed by Irene. On the second floor of the synagogue was an exhibition which shared the stories of some of the families of Kolin during the Holocaust including Irene’s family. The exhibition had been created by the Jewish community because of the importance it felt in conserving memory of its former Jewish residents.
Only the wealthy families were able to mark the graves of their children. Dr. Jouzova also said that unlike, the Prague cemetery, people here were not buried in layers but in individual plots because there was more available land. Much of the cemetery was in disrepair with vines totally covering many of the headstones. A congregation in Chicago had begun the process of cleaning up the cemetery several years ago and large sections of the cemetery are cleared, but there remains a significant number of headstones still needing attention. Most of the headstones are illegible due to weather erosion. The Prague Jewish Community now owns the cemetery and is trying to raise funds to restore and clean it. The Jewish community owns and is responsible for the synagogue.
As we walked back to the bus, Kamilla showed us some ‘stumbling stones’ which were brass plaques in the street around the town which had also been in Berlin and Prague. These are small plaques which were placed before homes of Jewish residents during the Holocaust. On them are listed the names of the family members who had lived there, their dates of birth, and their fate at the hands of the Nazis. Like the Bavarian Quarter memorial, these stones are inobtrusive memorials which one might stumble across and commemorate the lives of Holocaust victims.