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In 1993, by democratic vote, the nation of Czechoslovakia, bordering Poland on the north, Germany on the west, and Hungary on the east, was split into two countries, Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Czech Republic’s Jewish community in the regions of Moravia and Bohemia dates to the 10th century.

Jews first settled in a suburb of the capital city, Prague, and from there spread to other cities. Their numbers increased when they were joined by Jews fleeing the cruel attacks of the Crusaders in the countries of western and southern Europe. Jews prospered in the region, engaging in agriculture and various trades, until the mid-14th century when they suffered persecution and exile. They were accused of poisoning wells and desecrating the bread of the Holy Communion.

The religious war which broke out at this time between the students of Jan Hus and the Catholics brought further suffering to the Jews. In 1542, disaster was narrowly averted when pope Pius IV persuaded King Ferdinand I to cancel the edict ordering Jews out of Prague. After each tragic disturbance, the Jewish community rebuilt its life, and the community became famous for its outstanding scholars. Among these were Rabbi Judah Loew, scholar and saint also known as the Maharal, and Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller, author of a commentary on the Mishnah. The country was for many years the cause of controversy between certain Slavic and German tribes. After continuous battles between the Slavic and the German rulers in the mid-17th century, it fell to the Hapsburg crown and became a part of the Austro-Hungary empire. In 1918, Czechoslovakia again won political independence.

The new republic, established after World War I by Thomas Masaryk, granted its Jewish citizens equal rights in practice as well as in theory. In 1938, there were about 400,000 Jews living in the new Czechoslovakia, in a general population of about 15 million. Jews were represented in the government, civil service, the armed forces, Parliament, trade and commerce, and the professions. A national-cultural Jewish life developed there, and numerous yeshivot and Hebrew schools flourished. Carpatho-Russia was, between the World Wars, an important center of Hasidism. Many Jews there engaged in farming. Some of the most famous Czechoslovak communities were Prague, Brno, Bratislava, Moravska Ostrava, and Mukacevo. In the 1930’s Czechoslovakia absorbed many Jewish refugees from Germany.

The Munich Pact of 1938, under which large areas were surrendered to Nazi Germany, brought tragedy to Jews in Czechoslovakia. In the area which was ceded to Germany, Czech Jews were persecuted as were other Jews throughout the German Reich. In 1939, the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia, nullified its independence, and turned it into a puppet state. Some Czechoslovak Jews managed to emigrate to other countries, including Palestine, but large numbers suffered the fate of millions of other Jews, and were exterminated in the infamous death camps.

After World War II, the republic of Czechoslovakia was reestablished and its Jewish citizens were granted equal rights. But nearly all of the communities were without Jewish residents. In 1946, the Communist regime came into power, and most of the remaining Jews emigrated. In 1989, the Communist regime came to an end. The new president, Vaclav Havel, visited Israel in 1990 and has shown interest in furthering cultural ties between the two nations.In 1993, by democratic vote, the country split into Czech Republic and Slovakia. Currently, the Jewish population in the Czech Republic is estimated at about 4,000; most live in Prague and other large centers.

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