The Liben Synagogue stands in the district of Prague 8 at the Palmovka junction. Today it is used several times a year by members of the Prague Jewish community– mostly the Czech Union of Jewish Youth. It was used for celebrating the feast of Passover in the spring of 2017 / 5777.
Jewish community of Liben
After losing the war with Prussia during the reign of Maria Theresa, almost all of Silesia was lost. Anger was directed against the Jews. They were criticized for “helping the enemy”, and an edict was issued to denounce the Jews, first in 1744 from Prague, and then the whole of Bohemia in 1745. The denunciation was to take effect in forty-five days. It was stated that the 10,000 inhabitants had to move to a ghetto. At the time, they comprised a quarter of the city’s population. The Jews could settle for at least 2 hours from the city gates, and had to spend the night there and only a day in the city to deal with the formalities needed to evict.
The real expulsion but did not happen because Prague was so dependent on the financial transactions with Jews. Trade relations were compromised. Marie Terezie was under pressure from all kinds of institutions and states to invite the Jews back, which she did in 1748. However, several dozens of families had already been built in Liben, and a ghetto in Liben was established.
Ghetto and Old Synagogue
Although the Jews eventually returned, Liben’s Jewish community became the second most important Jewish center in today’s Prague. The Liben’s ghetto was located between today’s streets Voctár, Kozeluzska, Vojen and the now-defunct Jirchárské and Kozní. In Kozeluzska Street, which was the center of the ghetto, there was an old synagogue, of which information about it is scarce. However, like the whole Jewish settlement, it was in a disadvantageous location, as it was often flooded by floods from the Vltava River. It was demolished in 1862, several years after the construction of a new one.
The foundation stone for the construction of the new synagogue was laid on November 23, 1846 in the presence of Archduke Stepan, beyond the boundary of the original ghetto. The construction lasted for twelve years and was celebrated in 1858. The building was built in Neo-Romanesque style with oriental elements, in the spirit of romantic historicism, a very fashionable style at that time. An alley with low trees led to the entrance to the entrance.
The building itself is relatively simple. It is monothilic with only one storey, and is finished with a saddle roof. The façade originally had a much richer stucco that did not survive time. The interior has a basilic shape, replicating the inside of a Christian church, and its arrangement is oriented to Jerusalem, in the direction of which is terminated by the aron.
Synagogue before, during and after the Holocaust
The services were held here for Liben citizens of the Jewish religion continuously until World War II. In the 1930s, for example, Arnošt Lustig and Helga Hošková-Weissová, both of whom were still children, were attending the Synagogue regularly, especially on High Holidays. Both of them are well-known Lebanese natives. In 1941, the Liben Synagogue, as well as all others in the Protectorate, was closed and transformed into a warehouse of confiscated Jewish property.
After World War II, it was not restored to a house of faith. The synagogue remained a warehouse for fruit and later backdrops near the Theater under Palmovka. In the 1950s, sculptor Bohumil Hrabal often stayed there. In the relaxed atmosphere of the 1960s, the synagogue revived the literary and philosophical debates and workshops of Bohumil Hrabal, Egon Bondy and Vladimir Boudnik.
After the revolution in 1989, the synagogue was evacuated and partially restored. It began to be used again for cultural and religious purposes, and will hopefully be continued in the future.
Liben is one of the most important centers of the Jewish community in Prague. It is an ideal location for kosher tours in the Czech Republic due to the rich history and heritage that the people have in the area. One notable Jewish landmark is the Liben Synagouge.