On October 12th Hynda and I flew to Prague. Hynda was going to chair a session and deliver a paper at the 3rd Annual Meeting of the Tumor Microenvironment Congress in Prague. Neither of us had been to Prague before and we looked forward to seeing the city and seeing some scientist friends from this group that we had not seen in awhile..
The Kleinchik Very Very Brief History of the Czech Republic.
Early tribes living in the area were Germanic and Celtic in 4000 BCE. Over the years many groups fought and lived here including Bohemians, Moravians, Germans, Austrians and others. During the Thirty Years War (17th Century) much of Europe was devastated and a quarter of Bohemia, what is now the Czech Republic, died. They were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War I. After the war Bohemia and Moravia joined Slovakia and partitioned the League of Nations to become a new independent democratic country. So Czechoslovakia was born and became one of the new countries formed after World War I.
Until the occupation of the country by Germany in 1939, Czechoslovakia ranked tenth among all the countries in the world for its living standard based upon jobs, GNP, etc. There were 120,000 Jews living in Prague at the start of World War II. More than 75 percent of them died in the war - either through starvation, disease or in concentration camps. After the war a Soviet backed coup d'etat ended democracy in the country.
In 1968, after years of gradual liberalization, the Czechs tried to bring back democracy. This ended with a full invasion by the Soviet Union. In 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, there were demonstrations in Prague and this led to full elections and a return to democracy in 1990. In 1993, the country was split into the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. There is no more Czechoslovakia. Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic.
Prague is a very beautiful city. It lies on both sides of the Vltava River. The Czech language is impossible to understand (except if you are Czech) and the alphabet is filled with various things on top of the letters which make the sound different. The only thing we learned was `dve pivo' which means two beers. Prague is a very young city - that is - it is filled with young people.
We were in a hotel that was right on one of the main squares in the new part of Prague. It is called Wenceslas Square. This is a picture of the square with the National Museum in the far background and a cute Czech in the foreground.
One of the things that we noticed about Prague was the unusual museums that it had. Here is Hynda in front of two of them. It was fairly cold when we were there - the temperature got down to the low 30s at night. Hynda is wearing a new fur jacket (real fur) that she got in a market in Rome. It cost 15 euros!!!
The most famous bridge over the Vltava River is the Charles bridge. The bridge is 600 years old. This is Hynda on the bridge. The structure on the hill in the background is the Prague Castle. It is the seat of the Czech government. The St. Vitus Cathedral behind the castle was started in 1344.
The tower at the end of the bridge is the Old Town Bridge Tower. The bridge has about 30 statues on it - all erected since 1683 and representing religious figures. That is a not so cute Czech in the foreground.
This statue on the bridge had the Hebrew letters added in 1696. Some Jewish resident of Prague evidently profaned the cross and he was made to pay for the letters which say ' Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts'.
This is the astronomical clock in the Old Town Square. Every hour when it goes off a skeleton pulls a cord, bells ring, cocks crow, little 15th century statues move including a man called Vain who looks in a mirror and a Jew who shakes money. (Remember - at that time the only professions open to Jews were dealing in used rags and money lending - often at no interest. Lending money was considered a sin by Christians so they made the Jews do it.) Prague was packed with tourists and every hour you can barely move around the clock with people getting stiff necks looking up at it.
This is a close up of the clock tower. It not only tells time but it also relates the position of the planets and the moon in relation to the sun - as they knew it in the 16th Century.
This is a typical street in the old part of Prague.
This is the King in the Old Town Square. The church behind me in the background is the Our Lady Before Tyn Church. It was started in the 14th Century.
About the only normal voice you heard in the Old Town Square was from the Hare Krishna folks who have made it to Prague.
This is the statue of Jan Hus located in the old town square. He was the rector of the Charles University in the 15th Century and fought for the liberalization of the Catholic Church - like translating the bible from Latin. He was considered a heretic for this and burned at the stake. As a result some of his followers went to the Old Town Hall and threw some Catholic city administrators from the windows. This process, called defenestration, that is, executing people by throwing them from windows became all the rage in Prague and continued for hundreds of years.
This is the Powder Tower. It was built in the 14th Century on the location of one of the old gates that formed part of the fortification of the old city. You can climb up to the top and the second photo is one of the views from the top.
There has been a significant Jewish presence in Prague since the 10th Century. By 1700 more Jews lived in Prague than any other city in Europe. Today there are less than 3,000 Jews in Prague. Like most Jewish communities in Europe it had its high point and it low points depending upon who was in power. The Jews were subject to constant pogroms and limited to a `ghetto' in Prague for long periods of time. The most infamous pogrom was in 1389 when 3000 Jews were killed during Passover because of the rumor that Jews killed Christians to make Passover matzo. The best years were probably between World Wars I and II. After the 1938 Munich Agreement gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler the Jews were placed inside the ghetto area and then transported to concentration camps. Over 75 percent of the 120,000 Jews of Czechoslovakia were killed during WWII.
In 1900 the Jewish ghetto was demolished for redevelopment. At that time some Jews started a Jewish Museum to rescue some artifacts from those synagogues that were to be destroyed when the ghetto was knocked down. The museum functioned until 1938 when the Nazis came to power. During the war years the Nazis used the Prague synagogues to store artifacts that they confiscated from all over Bohemia and Moravia. There was speculation that Hitler planned to make a museum of the extinct race in Prague. After the war the Jewish Museum came under the jurisdiction of the rulers of Czechoslovakia - the Communists. The museum was placed under considerable restrictions by the Communists. After 1989 when the Czech Republic became democratic again the Jewish Museum was returned to the Jewish Community of Prague to administer. The collection of Judaica is enormous (40,000 exhibits spread over 6 synagogues) and is unique in that it is all from one community (Bohemia and Moravia).
That is the King standing in the shadow of the Old-New Synagogue which was built in 1270. It is the oldest synagogue in Europe and has been used continuously for services for 700 years except for 1941-1945.
This building is the Spanish Synagogue built in 1868. It was closed for many years but was reopened in 1998 and made part of the Jewish Museum. The statue in front is Franz Kafka or that is what it says on the statue. I guess the little guy is Franz.
One of the synagogues not pictured that is part of the Jewish Museum is the Pinkas synagogue built in 1535. As a memorial to the Jews killed by the Nazis from Bohemia and Moravia, the names of all the victims were inscribed on the walls. During the Communist regime the names were removed from the walls. The 80,000 names were put back on the walls in 1994. One of the Israeli scientists at the meeting who is from Czechoslovakia found his grandparents names on the wall. This is also the synagogue where Secretary of State Madeleine Albright came to see her paternal grandparents' names on the wall to confirm that she was in fact Jewish. Her father, a Czechoslovak diplomat who fled Prague with his family, raised his children as Catholic and never told his children about their background.
The Jewish Cemetery established in the 15th century was within the ghetto. The oldest tombstone is dated 1439. It is estimated that 120,000 people are buried here but there are only 12,000 tombstones. Because this was the only location where Jews could be buried and they could not expand beyond the ghetto walls they kept adding layer upon layer of graves by bringing in more dirt. In the picture below you can see how crowded the cemetery is and how some areas have been built up to allow for more graves.
This larger stone is the grave of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (Rabbi Loew) and the author of the legend of the Golem.
The 3rd Tumor Microenvironment Congress
In 1994, Hynda attended (and I carried her bags) the first Tumor Microenvironment Congress. A lay person says… This organization was started by a group of Israelis who had decided that there is more to cancer than just studying the tumor cells themselves. Tumor cells are smart little creatures. They actually tell other cells around them to do certain things - like kill themselves or create more blood for the tumor cells. This group theorized that you need to look at the whole environment and not just the tumor cells. There are a number of very good friends of Hynda who attend these conferences and we looked forward to seeing them again.
The conference had two dinners. The King does not attend the sessions since they are Czech to me. The following are pictures taken at the dinners. The first dinner was held in a very fancy ballroom in a building on an island in the middle of the Vltava River.
The fellow on the left is Menashe Bar-Eli from MD Anderson in Texas. He was born in Iraq. The fellow to the left is Avraham Raz from Karmanos Cancer Institute at Wayne State University in Detroit. Everyone calls him Raz and I had always thought that was his first name. That is his wife - Tirzah - in the center. (I have guessed at the spelling of her name since I have never seen it written). We had actually just seen them all in Genoa.
This is Josh Fidler and his wife Margaret. Josh is also at MD Anderson in Houston.
This is Hynda with Dafna Benayahu from Tel Aviv University and Gera Neufield who is from the Technion in Haifa. Gera works with the two Israeli scientists who just won the Nobel Prize in Science - the first Israelis to win in science. (I just read a wonderful article by Farid Ghadry of the Reform Party of Syria titled Israel Cultivates Nobel laureates, Arabs Cultivate Suicide Bombers. I am sure you can find it on the web if you google his name.)
This is Hynda with Sarah. Sarah is Italian and works in the lab where Hynda works here in Italy.
This is Gera again with Molah Suresh who works at the National Cancer Institue in Bethesda.
And just so you do not think it is all science and business - the entertainment at the dinner was the 'Bubble' man. It is hard to describe this act - it was unusual.