Community in Czech Republic - World Jewish Congress
Czech Republic

According to reports from 2019, 3,500 Jews were living in Czechia, out of a population of between 10,000 and 14,000 people. Culturally and economically diverse, the Czech Jewish community features prominently in all aspects of public life, with a presence in the high office of the state, the civil service, the judiciary, and the armed forces.

The main body of representation for the Czech Jewish community is the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic – the Czech affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate
Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic

President: Petr Papoušek, also a WJC Vice President
Executive Director: Michael Pelíšek
Chief Rabbi: Karol Ephraim Sidon

Telephone: +420/224 800 824
+420/224 810 912

FZO President & WJC Vice-President: Petr Papoušek

The presence of the Jews in the Czech Republic traces back to antiquity, with the first Jews most likely arriving in central Europe, with Roman legions during the Classical period. The first written document about Prague, a manuscript dated 965-6 CE, was the work of Ibrahim ibn Jacob, a Jewish merchant and diplomat sent as an envoy by the caliph of Cordoba, Spain. In 1096, the Jews suffered severe persecution and were forced to undergo baptisms at the hands of the Crusaders. Throughout the following centuries, the fortunes of the local Jewish community alternated between periods of persecution, tolerance, and prosperity.

Beginning in the 12th century, Prague became a great center of Jewish learning: It eventually became the home of celebrated Talmudists and great rabbinic scholars, such as the famous rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, known as the “Maharal of Prague,” the most important Talmudist and kabbalist of his time (and, according to a famous legend, also the creator of the Golem).

The Jews experienced a golden age during the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The expulsion of Jews from Vienna in 1670, and a departure from Poland at the time of the Chmelnicki massacres from 1648 to 1649, led to an increase in the Jewish population of Prague. Nevertheless, subsequent rulers oppressed their Jewish subjects. When Bohemia and Moravia came under Austrian Habsburg rule, the situation of the Jews deteriorated, with Empress Maria Theresa ordering their expulsion in 1744. The Jews were banished from Prague, but only for a few weeks, as the economic situation forced the Empress to lift the ban. At the end of the 18th century, during the reign of Joseph II, conditions improved rapidly. In 1848, the ghetto was abolished, and by 1867, the process of political emancipation was complete.

After becoming equal citizens, Jews integrated into all aspects of public life and featured prominently in the arts, sciences, commerce, and industry. Famous personalities such as Sigmund Freud and Gustav Mahler were born on the territory of Bohemia and Moravia during this time. Yet, Czech Jewry was still not secure. For example, the killing of a Christian girl near Polná led to the infamous Hilsner ritual murder trial of 1899, which produced a wave of anti-Jewish sentiments (including riots) in Bohemia and Moravia. This, in turn, accelerated the exodus of Jews from many of the smaller communities to Prague and other large cities.

Much of the Jewish population, particularly the upper class, identified with the dominant German culture, and many of the great Jewish writers from Prague, notably Franz Kafka, Franz Werfel, Max Brod, and many others from the so-called “Prague Circle,” wrote in German. Assimilation, emigration, and a low birthrate took a heavy toll on Czech Jewry, which intermarried at a high rate.

In October 1918, following the union of Bohemia, Slovakia, and Moravia into the newly independent Czechoslovakia, the Prague-based Jewish National Council was created as a representative body to the new government, and it successfully worked to have Jews officially recognized as an official and legitimate minority. The Jewish National Council also established a political party, the Jewish Party (in Czech, Židovská strana) that enjoyed the support of Zionists in the Czech part of Czechoslovakia. In the 1931 national elections, the Jewish Party and the Slovak Jewish Party, led by Bratislava lawyer Julius Reisz, won two seats in the Czechoslovak Parliament.

About 71,000 Czech Jews (85% of the community) were killed in the Shoah. Many of the survivors attempted to rebuild Jewish life, but after the February 1948 coup d'état in which the Communists took over the government, the atmosphere became increasingly inhospitable. It should be noted that from 1945 to 1947, Czechoslovakia supported the establishment of a Jewish state. After 1948, it helped train Israeli soldiers and airmen and transferred significant quantities of arms and ammunition to Israel.

However, the Slánský Trial of 1952, in which several Jewish Communists were charged with Zionism and other “crimes,” ignited a general deterioration in conditions for the Czechoslovak Jewish community. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and other foreign Jewish organizations were expelled, and many Jews were arrested and imprisoned on spurious charges. Emigration was also tightly restricted. With de-Stalinization, the situation for Jews improved somewhat, but communal life was still subject to stringent control. The 1989 Velvet Revolution, in which democracy was reinstated, led to a reawakening of Jewish consciousness and opened up many new avenues of Jewish expression.

Today, Jews constitute a small portion of Czech society, yet feature prominently in it. Michael Žantovský, a Senator from Prague, served as Ambassador to the United States from 1992 to 1997, Ambassador to Israel from 2004 to 2009, and Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 2009 to 2015. Jan Fischer, whose father was a Holocaust survivor, served as Prime Minister from 2009 to 2010 and ran for President in the 2013 presidential elections.

The Years of the Holocaust

In the years before the outbreak of World War II, Czechoslovakia was in Germany’s crosshairs; in 1938, with the agreement of the major European powers, Wehrmacht troops entered the Sudetenland border regions, annexing them to the Reich. Neville Chamberlin, the British Prime Minister at the time, uttered the infamous phrase “peace for our time” in response to the agreement’s outcome.

Following the Anschluss in 1938, Hitler set his sights towards a weakened Czechoslovakia, invading and occupying Moravia and Bohemia in 1939. As a result, a separate pro-Nazi Slovakian Republic formed and Czechoslovakia was dissolved. During the Holocaust, Germans and collaborators murdered approximately 263,000 Jews who had lived in the Czechoslovak Republic prior to the occupation.

In 1941, Reinhard Heydrich, the Deputy Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, ordered the creation of a camp ghetto at Theresienstadt near the Czech city of Terezín. Approximately 73,603 Jews from the area were deported to Theresienstadt, where the majority stayed briefly before being sent to killing sites in the Baltic States, or other transit camp ghettos in occupied Poland from 1941 to 1942. From 1942 on, many were sent to the Auschwitz killing center. Of the 82,309 Jews deported from Czech lands – the Nazis and their collaborators killed approximately 71,000 in the Holocaust.

From 1942 to 1945, tens of thousands of Jews from the Greater German Reich, as well as some from the Netherlands, Hungary, and the Slovak region, were deported to Theresienstadt. The vast majority of these Jews were either murdered at Theresienstadt or sent to Auschwitz. Theresienstadt became the center of international attention when the camp was presented to the Red Cross as a “model Jewish settlement” in 1944, with the Nazis intensifying deportations and “beautifying” the camp to display it falsely to the world. More than 155,000 Jews, including approximately 15,000 children, passed through Theresienstadt on the way to killing centers such as Auschwitz-Birkenau and Treblinka. The camp was liberated on May 9, 1945, by the Soviet army.


In 2018, according to demographer Sergio DellaPergola, the Jewish community in the Czech Republic numbered 3,900 people out of an overall population of 10,436,560. The 2011 census saw many Czechs ignore questions on religious identification, which may account for the census’ findings of only 1,474 Jews in the country – 1,129 associated with the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic and 345 unregistered. The majority of Czech Jews live in Prague but there are several smaller communities throughout the country, including in Brno, Plzeň, Karlovy Vary, Olomouc, Liberec, Děčín, Ostrava, Ústí nad Labem, and Teplice.

However, it is estimated that there are many more Czechs with Jewish backgrounds, not to mention foreign Jews, mainly Israelis and Americans, who settled down in the country after the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

Community Life

Czech Jewry is represented by the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, an umbrella organization that represents Jewish communities and other institutions across the country. Acting as the voice of the community through political advocacy, the federation works to combat antisemitism and encourage support for Israel.

There are numerous other Jewish representative organizations in the Czech Republic, with the majority either working in conjunction with or falling under the authority of the federation. There is a heavy emphasis on restitution and care for Holocaust survivors, with the Foundation for Holocaust Victims working to ensure that survivors are rightfully compensated for Nazi injustices, and given the necessary social, health, and psychological care in their elderly years. Additionally, the Terezín Initiative (and Institute), an association of former Czech Holocaust inmates of the ghettos of Terezín and Łódź, and their ancestors, focuses on Holocaust education, remembrance, and rooting out intolerance. 

The community's diversity is reflected in other ways as well, including the sporting clubs Maccabi and Hakoach. In addition, the Czech Union of Jewish Students advocates on behalf of college-aged students and works to promote Jewish values, while the Franz Kafka Society showcases Jewish society through a focus on literature.

The Czech-Israeli Chamber of Commerce works to promote economic relations between the two countries.

Religious and Cultural Life

The Orthodox, liberal/Progressive, and Conservative denominations of Judaism are all active in the Czech Republic. The four traditional synagogues in Prague are the Old-New Synagogue (Altneuschul), the High Synagogue (Hochsul), the Jerusalem (Jubilee) Synagogue, and the Spanish Synagogue. Two other synagogues in Prague are Beit Praha, an open Jewish community, and Beit Simcha, a liberal Jewish community.

The Chief Rabbinate of Prague, who as of 2014 has been Rabbi David Peter, is charged with preserving the unified character of Prague’s Jewish community and is also responsible for the religious life of the community throughout the country.

Kosher Food

Kosher food is available mainly in Prague, through a myriad of stores, restaurants, and butcheries. Kosher food can also be found outside of Prague, but smaller communities have fewer options.

Jewish Education

The Lauder Schools in Prague, operated by the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, are the only full-time Jewish educational institutions in the Czech Republic and include a kindergarten, an elementary school, and a high school, in which both Jewish and non-Jewish students study together. Since 2013, the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation has also been running an online school there as well.

Jewish higher education is prominent across various disciplines in the Czech Republic with several faculties at the famous Charles University in Prague, as well as Palacky University in Olomouc, each offering a Centre for Jewish Studies. Additionally, New York University has a satellite campus in Prague that includes Jewish Studies in its curriculum. For adult students, Beit Simcha offers classes on Judaism and Hebrew the Jewish Liberal Union offers a range of Jewish-related studies and local Ulpans are offering classes in Hebrew to a wide Czech public with massive interest.


The Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic helps facilitate a chapter of the Maccabi World Union in Prague, offering Czech Jewish youth a Zionist-structured sporting organization that aims at fostering a connection to Israel and instilling Jewish values.

jewish media

The Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic provides updates on news relating to the Jewish community in the country on its website, as well as on a Jewish news website called “The Jewish Press and Information Service.” Additionally, there is a Jewish radio program called “Shalom Aleichem.”

Information for Visitors

There are numerous notable Jewish sites in the Czech Republic, with the Jewish quarter of Prague – Josefov – standing out as an unparalleled repository of Jewish art and architecture. Prague’s synagogues, ancient cemetery, and Jewish town hall with iconic clock are among the leading tourist attractions in the country. The Jewish Museum in Prague contains an extensive collection of artifacts and items depicting Jewish life throughout Czech history and is considered one of the best-known institutions of its type in Europe. The grounds of the former Theresienstadt concentration camp are preserved as a memorial site.

There are many notable Jewish sites outside of Prague, including a 16th-century synagogue in Milulov that has an exhibition of the history of its Jewish community and a Nouveau Romanesque-style synagogue in Český Krumlov. There is also a unique program of the Federation, 10 Stars, which has reconstructed 10 Jewish sites into a network museum and is successfully offering this to both the Czech population and the international public.

Relations with Israel

The Czech-Israeli relations date back long before the establishment of the State of Israel, beginning with Czechoslovak President Tomas G. Masaryk being the first head of state to visit Palestine and famously supplying arms in 1948.

The Czech Republic is said to be one of the closest allies to Israel, with Czech diplomacy demonstrating strong support for Israel in both the United Nations and the European Union. President Miloš Zeman is said to be the most vocal advocate for Israel in Europe.

Embassy of Israel in Czechia
Badeniho 2
170 06 Praha 7
Czech Republic
Telephone: (+420) 233 097 500
Fax: (+420) 233 097 519


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