Cemetery of the Week #39: the New Jewish Cemetery of Prague

View of the New Jewish Cemetery

Novy Zidovsky Hrbitov
Vinohradská at Jana Zelivského
Vinohrady, Prague, Bohemia, 120 00, Czech Republic
Telephone: I’ve found 3 on the internet, all of them different.
Established: 1890
Size: 25 acres
Number of burials: 15,000 under more than 5000 stones.
Open: October to March: Sunday – Thursday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Friday 9 a.m. to 2. April to September: Sunday – Thursday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday 9 a.m. to 2.

Entrance to the New Jewish Cemetery

Complete with ornate wrought iron doors and a gilded legend in Hebrew, the gate of the Novy Zidovsky Hrbitov — the New Jewish Cemetery — towers above the street directly across from the Zelivského metro station. Even though it was founded in 1890, the graveyard is called the New Jewish Cemetery to distinguish it from the jumbled old burial ground of Prague’s historic Jewish Quarter.

The earliest known Jewish community in this area of town was settled around 1888. There are other non-Jewish cemeteries in the area, so it’s possible this land is too stony to farm. The Jewish cemetery was established in 1890 and continues to serve the community. It survived WWII intact, but now contains many markers that remember people who went into the concentration camps and never returned.

As my husband Mason and I entered the gateway and tried to get our bearings, an old man bustled out of the cemetery office. He spoke rapidly in Czech. We didn’t understand a word until he held out a blue crocheted yarmulke for Mason. Men must cover their heads, we understood, to show respect. My research indicates that these yarmulkes are for sale, but we didn’t understand that. Mason returned it to the office when we left.

We wandered the path along the outer wall. Most of the monuments had been carved from polished black granite, their incised letters picked out in gold. Between the stones, shiny dark green ivy crawled up the tree trunks and flowed over the ground. Late October painted the oak leaves bright yellow. They drifted across the pathways, ankle-deep. Mason claimed this was the most beautiful graveyard we’d ever visited.

Kafka’s grave

The most famous of the graveyard’s denizens is easy to find, thanks to good signage. Franz Kafka’s monument was a top-heavy six-sided obelisk made of pink-and-gray granite. He died in 1924 of tuberculosis, in agony from his hemorrhaging lungs. All of his novels remained incomplete and unpublished at the time of his death, so only a few friends mourned him. When Mason and I visited his grave 75 years later, floral tributes surrounded the geometric obelisk.

It seemed odd to stand at Kafka’s grave in the sunshine, with the gilded leaves around us. Somehow I’d pictured Kafka’s world as shadowy, gray as a black-and-white movie. I hoped he could feel the sunshine, wherever he was.

The Cadogan City Guide to Prague forewarned us that Kafka shared his grave with his mother and hated father. In fact, he predeceased them both. He’s commemorated as Dr. Franz Kafka, in deference to his law degree. An inscription on a marble plaque at the base of the monument remembered his three sisters, who vanished into the Nazi death camps.

I haven’t been able to track down a lot of information about the cemetery and its residents, but we spent a lovely afternoon there.

Useful links:

Map to the New Jewish Cemetery

Useful information about the Jewish cemeteries of Prague

Other cemeteries in the Czech Republic on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #4: The Old Jewish Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #38: the Bone Chapel of Kutná Hora

Cemetery of the Week #59: Vysehrad Cemetery

5 responses to “Cemetery of the Week #39: the New Jewish Cemetery of Prague

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