Few rabbis and Jewish scholars became part of legends of non-Jewish people. But one, Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel who lived in Prague at the turn of the 17th century, has long been part of a Czech national legend which describes the creation of the mythical Golem. The Jewish Museum in Prague has staged an exhibition at Prague Castle to commemorate the life of the great rabbi.
Today in Mailbox: we find out the answer to the July competition question and announce its winners. We quote from the answers by the following listeners: Hans Verner Lollike, Colin Preston, Debakamal Hazarika, Jayanta Chakrabarty, Colin Law, Constantin Liviu Viorel, S. J. Agboola, Tracy Andreotti, Henrik Klemetz, David Eldridge, Charles Konecny.
Anything can get misplaced, even masterpieces of art, and caretakers at Prague Castle were well relieved this week when they rediscovered the 15th century wooden Statue of the Crucified Christ, 20 years after losing track of where it was stored. As it turns out, the statue they feared was lost forever was just a short way down the road from its proper home in the Basilica of Saint George. Earlier I spoke with Magda Machková, the curator of permanent collections at Prague Castle, who told me the story.
In last week’s From the Archives, we heard Jaroslav Hutka, singing at the huge demonstration that took place in Prague’s Letná park on November 25 1989. This was over a week after the Velvet Revolution had begun, but the hard liners in the communist party were still clinging on to power. The demonstration was a sign of the huge momentum for change that had built up in the previous days, and despite the cold weather, with sleet and snow, it was attended by nearly a million people.
The wheels of Czech justice are famously slow to turn, with court cases dragging on for what seems like – and often is – years. But how about this one for size: in the early days of the Velvet Revolution, in November 1989, three students of architecture described their Communist professor as an arrogant careerist and demagogue. He later demanded an apology, and took them to court. Twenty years on, and the case is still unresolved.
Last week we heard how a song, Marta Kubišová’s “A Prayer for Marta”, came to symbolize the period of the Velvet Revolution. But there were other songs and singers who also captured the spirit of the time. One of them was Jaroslav Hutka. After signing Charter 77, he had been bullied into exile in 1978, and all his songs and recordings banned. As soon as the revolution of November 1989 began, he came back home, and in one of the most moving moments of the period, he appeared at the vast demonstration held on Prague’s Letná Plain on November
All this year Czechs are remembering the fall of communism in November 1989, but just what was it exactly? Was it the “overthrow” of communism? Or simply “the collapse”? That’s a debate that’s still simmering away in Czech society, and on Saturday the country’s president Václav Klaus once again waded into it, telling students in Prague that the role of individuals in 1989 is often overestimated.
Václav Bartuška was one of the leaders of the student protests which toppled the Czechoslovak Communist regime in November 1989. Recently he has been the Czech energy security trouble shooter and has been recruited as an advisor by Sweden’s current EU presidency. I asked Mr Bartuška how he became one of the leaders of the student protests.