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Prague's Pinkas Synagogue

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Photo: Courtesy of Tsala Treetop Lodge

The floods that swamped Prague 18 months ago left whole neighborhoods submerged for days and caused billions of dollars in structural damages. The rising waters of the Vltava River also nearly wiped away the memory of the 80,000 Czech Jews who died in the Holocaust—four feet of water eroded the ocher walls of the 16th-century Pinkas Synagogue, which had been hand-painted with the names, birth dates, and hometowns of every known Czech victim of the Nazi ghettos and death camps.

But thanks to a privately funded, $240,000 restoration project, a team of engineers and artists was able to fortify the temple's weakened foundation and repair the cracked walls. Work will continue through April, when the final names will be repainted, in black and red, to replicate the original 1959 memorial.

The synagogue, part of the Jewish Museum in Prague, owes its existence to a macabre twist of fate. The old Jewish Quarter was razed at the end of the 19th century as many Jews prospered and moved to leafy suburbs. During World War II, a handful of temples remained; the Nazis were preserving them as a museum of a vanished people. A few thousand Czech Jews straggled back after the war, however, and these "museums" outlasted the Nazis.

Prague's Jewish community has recovered, to a point. Today some 1,500 Jews worship in at least six different Prague congregations, and the Pinkas Synagogue is part of a living monument to a people that, in fact, refused to vanish. 3 Siroka St.; 420-2/2232-6660; www.jewishmuseum.cz/aindex.htm.

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