April 20, 2024
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The Jewish Cemetery in Prague

Part I

The “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” is the most deceitful, dangerous and pernicious of the libels ever used to incite hatred and violence against the Jewish people. The myth of an international Jewish scheme to control the world as advanced in the Protocols has been exposed by historians, journalists, politicians, police and religious leaders, asserted Hadassa Ben-Itto, noted Israeli jurist.

Ben-Itto added that in November 1937, the Court of Appeals in Berne, Switzerland concluded, “This scurrilous work contains unheard of and unjustified attacks against Jews and must without reservation be judged to be immoral literature.” She said that in the introduction to a 1964 report of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee investigating the Protocols, the senators stated: “Every age and country has had its share of fabricated ‘historic’ documents which have been foisted on an unsuspecting public for some malign purpose…. One of the most notorious and most durable of these is the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion.’”

American journalist Herman Bernstein explained that according to the Protocols, the representative of the Elders of the 12 Jewish tribes, including the lost ones, allegedly meet once in a century in the ancient Prague Jewish cemetery to discuss their nefarious attempt to triumph over Christianity, rule the world, and report on the successes they had achieved during the previous century. Dressed in “long white mantles,” they assemble around the grave of a rabbi.

They allegedly convened as representatives of God, who had given his chosen people “the tenacity of a snake, the cunning of a fox, the look of a falcon, the memory of a dog, the diligence of an ant, and the sociability of a beaver,” writes Bernstein. Using animal imagery to describe Jews was consistent with the increased use of such stereotypes in the 18th century, and the Protocols were no exception.

 

Animal Imagery

Historian George Mosse points out that in 1805 Neapolitan Jean Baptiste Porta developed a new physiognomic theory, which posited that the similarity of a person’s face to that of an animal reveals the extent to which the individual’s character will possess the primary traits of that animal. A man could look like a lion, goat, cow, pig or a dog and thus be assumed to have the primary traits of that particular creature. Physiognomy, the general theory that a person’s character or personality is based on their outer appearance, made it more likely than ever for certain people to be viewed as animals. The skulls of Blacks were continuously compared to those of apes. Jews were similarly stripped of their humanity and degraded by being equated with animals.

During the 19th century, when Frankenstein and human vampires became popular, the masses were riveted by horror stories that had actual individuals who were their foil, notes Mosse. The novel “Biarritz,” written in 1868 by Hermann Goedsche, a journalist and a writer who published it under his pen name Sir John Redcliffe, was characteristic of “this love of the unusual,” but also important as one of the primary sources of the Protocols, Mosse said.

In one dramatized chapter, Ben-Itto notes, Goedsche fictionalized the canard about a Jewish scheme to dominate the world, considering it nothing more than sheer fantasy, “a figment of his imagination.” The location for “Biarritz” is the Jewish cemetery in Prague. Other more prominent writers, such as the German novelist Wilhelm Raabe, also used this romantic setting with its strange Hebrew-lettered gravestones, to convey accounts of Jewish “mysteries and clandestine intrigues,” Mosse noted.

 

The Jewish Quarter of Prague

“The Jewish quarter of Prague represents a remarkable labyrinth of crooked and narrow streets; it is situated in the outskirts of Prague, which witnessed numerous bloody episodes of Bohemian and German history,” Bernstein quotes from the fictional “Biarritz” in his 1921 book “The History of a Lie.” “The dwellers of the dirty and dilapidated houses of this quarter are engaged in petty trading and profiteering on their own as well as in other parts of the city. Prague is the only city in Germany where the Jews live entirely isolated from the nation whose name they have taken in order to avail themselves of the privileges of the city population and to exploit it for their own purposes. The Jewish quarter in Prague is the same as the rag-fair in Vienna and the Temple in Paris. In these places deals amounting to thousands are transacted daily.

“If you take a few steps along this dirty, foul marketplace, you will suddenly come upon an old, high, decayed wall which surrounds a space of from two to three acres. Elder-trees and other wild shrubbery wind around this wall. Old Jewish houses are crowded all along near this wall, threatened with destruction at any moment. The strange circle formed by this wall has an unwelcome, puzzling appearance.

“Beth Chaim—the house of life.’ Thus is the cemetery called. Yes, indeed, this place of rest is a house of life, for from here is given the mysterious impulse which makes the exiles masters of the earth and tyrants of nations—the impulse which directs the golden calf to the chosen tribe.

“It seems as though at any moment these tombs, overgrown with shrubbery, are ready to open, these stones growing for thousands of years are ready to raise themselves, and to let out into the world the restless wanderer with a pack upon his shoulder, with a staff in his hand, in order to go again to strange peoples,—to cheat and combat them and to seek a new Canaan—his dominion!” (Quote from Bernstein’s The Big Lie)

Although Prague was part of the Austrian Empire, it was regarded as a German city, and those who wanted to visit its quaint Jewish ghetto could do so with ease. Other Jewish ghettos were not as nearly accessible since they were in distant lands where people spoke other languages.

Tourists from Germany and Austria would feel quite comfortable staying in the sizable German section of Prague. Observing the Jews in the ghetto, in their distinct dress and demeanor, was a simple task.

 

Final Note

Georges Brunschvig, one of the lawyers representing the Swiss Jewish Association and Bern Jewish Community in the Court of Appeals in Berne, had no illusions about the implications of the verdict against the Protocols, according to Ben Itto. He understood that even if the Protocols were proclaimed a forgery in every court throughout the world, and even universally banned, “the images in the cartoons, depicting an awesome snake encircling the globe, or wrapped round a cross, or worming it way through the map of Europe, dragging behind it a Star of David, would be forever stamped on people’s minds.”


Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society, and a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. He is on the advisory board of the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel (NCLCI). He has an MA and PhD in contemporary Jewry from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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