15 April 2023

Did the Golem save Mendelssohn
from the Nazis in Prague?

The Rudolfinum in Prague … but which statue on the roof portrays Mendelssohn? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Two of us have spent two or three days on a mid-week visit to Prague: the city of Good King Wenceslas and Franz Kafka, Milan Kundera and Václav Havel, the city of the Charles Bridge and Jan Hus, the city of the Prague Spring and the Velvet Revolution, and the city of the Golem, who is said to have saved Mendelssohn from the Nazis.

Prague is also a city of composers. This is where Mozart composed Don Giovanni, and Prague has associations too with Antonín Dvořák, Bedřich Smetana, Bohuslav Martinů, Jan Dismas Zelenka and Leoš Janáček. There are links too with Vivaldi and Beethoven.

Surprsingly, I could find no links with Mendelssohn in Prague. But the story of the Golem and Mendelssohn was first told in Mendelssohn is on the Roof, a novel by Jiří Weil, a Holocaust survivor who was instrumental in saving many of the synagogues in Prague after World War II.

Jiří Weil (1900-1959) was a Czech writer, literary critic, journalist and translator, is known for the novels Moscow–Border (1937) and Life with a Star (1949). After World War II and the Holocaust, he worked at the Jewish Museum until 1958, when he retired on disability. He died of leukemia a year later.

His novel Mendelssohn is on the Roof was published posthumously in 1960. It is set in occupied Prague and the Terezín ghetto during World War II, and its main themes are the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.

The Revd Fergus Butler-Gallie, who is writing in this weekend’s Church Times, told The story of Mendelssohn and the Golem once again in his recent book, Priests de la Résistance! (London: Oneworld, 2021), a humorous but pungent account of ‘the loose canons who fought fascism in the 20th century.’

During the Nazi occupation of Prague, the Gestapo director Reinhard Heydrich arrived in 1941 as ‘Protector’ of Bohemia and Moravia.

Prague is home to myriad opera houses, theatres and concert halls, including the Rudolfinum, a five-minute walk from where we were staying and where the roof is ringed by lare statues of the great composers.

Heydrich soon became aware that among the statues was one of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), who was born Jewish. Heydrich ordered the immediate removal and destruction of Mendelssohn’s stone statue. But the group of soldiers sent to the concert hall were met with stony silence from the tight-lipped curators, who declined to say which statue was Mendelssohn.

The frustrated soldiers found a measuring tape and, in a demonstration of the absurdity and futility of eugenics, proceeded to measure the nose of each of statue, seeking to establish which composer had ‘a Jewish nose.’ As they prepared to remove the statue, an onlooker shouted up that the figure they were removing was, in fact, Richard Wagner, Hitler’s favourite composer.

The real tragedy is that this story is based on a real-life event. In all, more than a quarter of a million Czechoslovak Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, and only 15,000 had survived by the end of World War II.

Did the Golem save Mendelssohn?

Perhps I should tell the story of the Golem some day next week.

Mendelssohn on the roof of the Rudolfinum … frustrated the anti-Semitic scheming of the Gestapo in Prague

Morning prayers in Easter
with USPG: (7) 15 April 2023

The Resurrection depicted at the top of the East Window in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Easter Day was on Sunday (9 April 2023) and Easter Week has continued all this week. Tomorrow (16 April 2023) is Easter in the calendar of the Orthodox Church, and later this evening I hope to attend the Easter Liturgy in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford.

I am back in Stony Stratford this morning, having spent a few days in Prague on a very brief mid-week visit to the Czech capital. Before this day begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

In these days of Easter Week, I am reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Short reflections on the stained-glass windows in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The Resurrection and the Holy Trinity:

The East Window in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton, dominates the chancel and the whole church. This is a spectacular Rose window by Nathaniel Westlake in 1888, with eight lobes around a large central circle and.

This window was the final element in the scheme of decoration in the church carried out from 1870 on under the supervision of the Stony Stratford-born architect Edward Swinfen Harris.

The window provides a magnificent climax to the interior of the church, drawing the attention of worshippers and visitors to the high altar below it.

The central panel window depicts the Crucifixion, with the Virgin Mary and Saint John, Christ standing beside the Cross. The inner circle surrounding the central panel depicts four scenes I described on Wednesday morning (12 April 2023).

The middle circle depicts six Biblical figures – King David and five prophets: Jeremiah, Isaiah, Amos, Daniel and Job – and two representations of the IHS monogram, described in on Thursday (13 April 2023).

The outer circle surrounding the central image of the Crucifixion has eight lobes, depicting six Biblical stories, which I described yesterday (14 April 2023), as well as an image of the Risen Christ and a symbol of the Holy Trinity.

This window is by the stained glass artist NHJ Westlake (1833-1921). He was a partner and finally the sole proprietor of Lavers, Barraud & Westlake (1855-1920s), a London-based firm that changed its name several times and became Lavers, Westlake and Co, and eventually NHJ Westlake, before closing in the 1920s.

The symbol of the Holy Trinity in the outer circle of the East Window in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Mark 16: 9-15 (NRSVA):

9 Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

12 After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

14 Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.’

A symbol of the Holy Trinity on the noticeboard in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton, reflecting the image in the East Window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) has been ‘USPG’s Lent Appeal: supporting young mothers affected By HIV.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by USPG’s Fundraising Manager, Rebecca Allin, who reflected on the 2023 Lent Appeal supporting young mothers affected by HIV, and their children.

The prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (15 April 2023, Saturday of Easter Week) invites us to pray:

Let us give thanks for signs of new life. May we open our eyes and ears to all that make our hearts sing and discover afresh the hope of resurrection.


Lord of all life and power,
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in him:
grant that we, being dead to sin
and alive to you in Jesus Christ,
may reign with him in glory;
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be praise and honour, glory and might,
now and in all eternity.

Post Communion:

God of Life,
who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son
to the death of the cross,
and by his glorious resurrection
have delivered us from the power of our enemy:
grant us so to die daily to sin,
that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his risen life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The East Window in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org