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by Franz Fischhof, Prague, former inmate of Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Kauffering IV. and St. Otilien.

The Old New Synagogue in Prague during the German occupation.

In response to your request, I begin with episodes that are related to the Old New Synagogue in Prague.

1. / On the night of March 20, 1939, Czech fascists working on behalf of the Germans climbed the roof of the Old New Synagogue / the oldest Gothic synagogue in Europe/, smashed the window panes on the roof and used a wire to lower a petrol can with 20 liters of petrol, along with many rags and wood wool soaked in petrol, into the interior of the synagogue and lit it on fire. Even though the upper windows caught fire, a miracle occurred and a strong wind extinguished the fire. The Czech police investigated the case and the perpetrators but were not allowed to arrest them.

2. / Germans and fascists searched the synagogue and the building of the Jewish Community for weapons, occupied the library and turned them into the SS Command Location [sic]. There were about 30,000 volumes, including very valuable one-of-a-kind pieces and sonzine prints.

3. / On the Shavuot festival of the same year, the Mincha prayer was held half an hour early, so that the synagogue was (unusually) already closed at 4 pm. At 5 o'clock we heard a strong detonation from the house next to the synagogue, where the stairwell and the caretaker's apartment were destroyed. The investigation found that the time bomb had been intended for the Old New Synagogue and that just because it was already closed at 4pm, the perpetrators put the bomb in the house next door to hit the synagogue. According to the Police Commissioner from the first police station, the police knew the perpetrators, but were not allowed to arrest them. As a response, a police guard was set up at the expense of the Religious Community, although this was banned after 6 months.

4. / Rosh Hashanah 5700 /1939 / a raid was carried out against the Jews in front of the synagogues. I too was taken out of the Old New Synagogue during prayers, along with a number of Jews who wanted to enter the synagogue upstairs, and we were arrested by Gestapo Commissioner Bartl and taken to the Gestapo Headquarters in waiting cars. There, we had to face the wall for 2 ½ hours, after which we had to do heavy manual labour in narrow corridors and up and down stairs at a run. After being interrogated by Detective Inspector Fuchs, I was the only one to be released, while the rest were transferred to the Pankrác prison, where they were tortured and received death threats.

5. / on Yom Kippur of the same year we were asked to hand over our financial statements and turn in our radios. We didn’t do it until the next day and

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reassured the synagogue visitors.

6. / On October 15, 1939. We received a visit from the Obergruppenfuhrer and Chief of the Jewish Police Eichmann from the Berlin headquarters, who was interested in all Jewish institutions, including the cemetery, synagogues, shekels, etc. Among other things, he asked why the Jewish cemeteries in the Orient were built into rock faces. The sentence: When I was working in Morocco in the secret service against the Jews, I saw other graves, slipped out.

7. / In July 1940, Gestapo Commissioner Bartl came to visit the synagogue and the old Jewish cemetery. At the tomb of Rabbi David Oppenheim 1Note 1: Oppenheimer, which had a rich and valuable library - Hebraika, Talmudika - located at Oxford University /. He said: Our boys will manage to bring the library home soon.

8. / On July 20, 1940, a troop of fascist youth stormed the Old New Synagogue, just as the Mincha prayer was being held. I called on the intruders to leave the synagogue immediately, otherwise I would alert the Gestapo or the central office. Then the gentlemen fled at a run.

9. / On August 10, 1940, I was taken away from worship to meet with the head of the JKG Dr. Weidmann, at the office of Hauptsturmführer Günther from the Central Office for Jewish Emigration in the protectorate, to audition 2Note 2: Part of this sentece is missing in the Czech translation.. Günther said that a Jew film was going to be made and we would have to provide 100 extras with beards and pejot, along with a cantor who knows the rites and melodies. We pointed out that this would be technically difficult, to which he replied succinctly: Orders must be followed. When the director arrived from Berlin to rehearse in the Old New Synagogue I told him that no proper scenes could come out of there as it lacked atmosphere. Moreover, it was not in keeping with the piety of the Old New Synagogue and its tradition. They decided to refrain from recording in the Old New Synagogue and the JKG was entrusted with the implementation and engagement of professional actors and volunteer extras.

10. / On August 18, 1940, the pigeons were shot down from the roof of the Old New Synagogue on the grounds that the symbol of the Jews had to be removed. Regularly, on every holiday, special torments against the Jews were ordered.

11. / On Purim night in 1941, the first air raid alarm in Prague occured. It was ordered that no lessons, or morning devotions take place in schools and synagogues. All synagogues, with the exception of the Old New Synagogue, were closed. I was called to account and defended myself for saying that the Megila / coram publico / needed to be read. Then I was released.

12. / On the Sabbath an SS Oberfuhrer came to our apartment and very politely asked me to open the Old New Synagogue, as he himself was very interested in it and had travelled via Prague on his way from Berlin to Vienna to visit the synagogue. We were very surprised how familiar he was with the customs and traditions of the Jews. He then said that he was a clerk in the propaganda office, that he had previously worked in Vienna

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with a sabbath-observing merchant and had been very interested in Jewish customs since then. He wanted to send a larger donation to the synagogue, which I refused, on the grounds that we had to pay the donations to the central office. He explained to us that despite his position, he was a friend of Judaism and that in his lectures to the Nazi Party he had often pointed out that a fight against Judaism was only possible in oral form, and under no circumstances with a fist. As soon as the Germans use violence against the Jews, the war is lost. I am sorry that I am not taken seriously.

13./ Erew Yom Kippur 1941 the leaders of the JKG whether the service could be held. / In Brno, 100 Jews were arrested on Erew Yom Kippur, taken to Mauthausen and murdered within 14 days./ Of course, the Central Office said they had forbidden it. Nevertheless, morning and evening prayers were said daily according to rite of the Old New Synagogue, in the apartments of the Chief Cantor Hirsch and the Chief Rabbi.

14./ We were able to supply the Jews of the Protectorate with mazzot, wine, fat, ritually-prepared meat conserves and Lulav and Etrog until March 1, 1943. The donors were the Joint, and the KGs Pressburg, Budapest, Lubotice, and Groß-Wardein.

15./ On October 1, 1941, all synagogues and schools were closed. The furnishings of the entire Protectorate came to Prague, where a Jewish museum was built / order of Rosenberg and Goebbels /.

16./ 12 January 1943. During the night on Sunday at 1 o'clock I was awakened by the police. I was supposed to come immediately to the Old New Synagogue, because light could be seen coming from inside. The investigation revealed that the wire insulation had been damaged by the moisture and that the Ner tamid had self-ignited and illuminated the synagogue quite strangely. The wakeful Czech Police Inspector patted my shoulder and said, I congratulate you Jews: I see this as a sign that God will help you.

On the first of March, 1943, I was put onto a transport to Theresienstadt. There I worked in the rabbinate and in the M Aktion. The robbed libraries of the rabbinical seminaries from Vienna, Amsterdam, Berlin, Warsaw, Breslau etc., were brought to Theresienstadt in hundreds of boxes, where they were edited and cataloged by specialists, because the Judaistic Institute, Berlin, according to the words of its leader, Sturmführer Dr. Kellner, had no suitable professionals available. Among the many boxes of books were also about 50 boxes with books from the Benedictine monastery of St. Ottilien.

On September 27, 1944, I had to leave this beautiful job because I was put onto a transport to Birkenau.

3Note 3: Following part is missing in the Czech tramslation:On behalf of the Documentation Campaign: Weinberger

On behalf of the archive: 17. IX. 1945 Alex. Schmiedt