Monday, 17 October 2011

Trebic Jewish Quarter

After our visit to Slavonice and the 1938 bunkers (see previous post) my husband and I drove to Trebic, where we stayed in the old Jewish quarter. The quarter is now on the UNESCO World Heritage list, being one of the few well-preserved Jewish gettos left in Europe. I have discovered a wonderful hotel in a building which dates back to the 17th century. The hotel must be unique in having an ancient Jewish ritual bath (mikveh) in its basement. 

Having offloaded our bags in our room, we went for a walk around the quarter. The first place we visited was the Jewish cemetery, which sits on the hill above the Jewish quarter. There are over 3000 gravestones (we didn't count them) set on a steep slope and thousands more unmarked graves. You see two memorials as you enter the cemetery - the first is a large memorial to the men of the community who gave their lives in World War 1 (presumably fighting on the side of the Germans), the second a simple memorial to the 290 Jews who were victims of the Nazis. In the museum in the old synagogue you can see a list of their names. Family names appear on both.
The one hundred and twenty three houses and two synagogues of the Jewish quarter are squashed on to a slope between the river and the hill along two roads which go nowhere, but are linked by alleyways, some of which go through the houses. Now relatively quiet, the area would once have been vibrant and noisy, full of industry and a large Jewish population (1500 in 1890). The Jewish community was already in decline by the 1930s, but as the gravestones tell noone was left after 1945. It is a remarkably atmospheric place, as yet undiscovered by tourists. As we walked the empty streets back to the hotel in the falling dusk, the ghosts of the past walked beside us.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Bunkers in the woods

Czechs view the events of 1938 very differently from us Brits. For them British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's betrayal at Munich (where he agreed to Hitler's annexation of the Sudetenland) still galls and is one of the most important "what ifs" in modern history. We Brits have been led to believe that there was no point in supporting the Czechs in resisting Hitler, they lived "in a far-away country" with "people of whom we know nothing" (Chamberlain 1938) and needed British help to fight - help we could not provide. But if you explore the forests and mountains that ring the Czech Republic you will find evidence to the contrary.

Near Slavonice in South Bohemia my husband and I visited some of the bunkers, which Czechoslovakia had been building for Nazi invasion for several years upto 1938. The bunkers were approximately every 100 yards apart, giving a continuous field of fire. In front of the bunkers were barbwire and anti-tank defences. These fortifications went all the way along the border. The little Czechoslovak nation was mobilised in 1938 - the army that would have faced Hitler's troops was nearly as large as the Nazi's. And as the Czechs will tell you they were prepared to fight for the country that they had so long been denied and they will also tell you that they could have won. What would the history of the twentieth century have been like if they had?


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