An American in Prague

In the previous post on Yiddish-Speaking Slavs, I had mentioned that Slavs have a long history of confusing and conflating Germans with Jews — much of it due to the closeness of spoken-German and spoken-Yiddish — and that Slavs often cynically regard Germany as the “Land where Jews come from.” Westerners today are largely tone-deaf to these kinds of European cultural nuances, so I thought it would be interesting to cite an example where a prominent American tourist traveling in Bohemia in the early 20th-century had observed exactly this same linguistic and cultural phenomenon.

Booker_T._Washington_Lecture,_1906

Washington speaking at Carnegie Hall, New York City, 1909 [1]

Booker T. Washington was born into slavery in Virginia on the eve of the U.S. Civil War in 1856. He rose to national prominence after Emancipation and is probably best-known today for founding the Tuskagee Institute in Alabama in 1881. In 1910 his friends persuaded him to take a three-month trip to visit Europe, where he visited the prominent capitals of Vienna, Budapest and Prague in Austria-Hungary. His memoirs were later published as part of an autobiographical anthology of papers, The Booker T. Washington Papers.

Washington’s observations in Prague are worth noting:

Washington-quote

“When I reached Prague in Bohemia I learned that among the masses of the people there is little distinction made between Jews and Germans, since both speak the same language and the Czechs, confusing one with the other, hate both with a double hatred, first for what they are and then for what they seem to be.”

— Booker T. Washington, Race and Prejudice in Europe [2]

Exactly the ideological basis of our Yiddish-Speaking Slavs article, as expressed by an American tourist in Prague in 1910. 🙂

Footnotes

  1. Public Domain Image [source]
  2. “Race and Prejudice in Europe”, Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee, Alabama, December 5, 1911.