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 notable personalities buried in the Old Jewish Cemetery are Yehuda ben Bezalel known as the Maharal Rabbi Löw (d. 1609), Kli YakarShlomo Ephraim of Luntchitz (d. 1609), Mordechai Maisel (d. 1601), David Gans (d. 1613) and David Oppenheim(d. 1736).
It is not clear when exactly the cemetery was founded. This has been the subject of discussion of many scholars. Some claim 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 they are 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.
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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 supposed Zionistic plan to rule the world or New World Order) was created. This was first suggested fictionally in Hermann Goedsche's 1868 novel, Biarritz (in English as To Sedan) which probably inspired the Russian secret police to create The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to spread antisemitism in Russia. The Protocols then took on a life of their own and were considered to be true by the likes of Hitler and many enemies of Jews. Umberto Eco's 2010 novel The Prague Cemetery refers to this topic.
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- The Old Jewish Cemetery of Prague: A Guide Through the Cemetery, by Hana Volavková, Otto Muneles, Tobiáš Jakobovitsch — Prague (Czech Republic), 1947, 15 pages. Edited by the Administration of the Jewish Museum of Prague.