Beginning in June or 1989, Communist rule over the Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe began to collapse. Edward Serotta explains how these countries’ Jews reacted:
Ever since the one-party state cemented control of these countries in 1948, rabbis had been run out of town, seminaries and Jewish schools had been closed, kosher food became all but impossible to obtain, and if you showed up for synagogue services, your future job prospects would dry up. . . . That meant [that, in 1989], Jews in these countries were ready to deal with the official community organs that had been spewing anti-Israel propaganda and preventing their children from studying Hebrew—or learning even the first thing about Judaism. It didn’t happen everywhere, all at once, but change was in the air.
In Czechoslovakia, where Jewish life was stifled even more than elsewhere in the Eastern bloc, Jews turned their wrath on Frantisek Kraus, who had been appointed head of the Jewish community four years earlier after his predecessor was removed for being too enthusiastic about Judaism:
During his tenure at the Jewish Federation, Kraus forbade any programs that had to do with Israel, and when a group of younger community members asked him at least to consider allowing a Hebrew-language course, he informed the secret police, who came and grilled everyone who had even asked him.
“The one Jewish organization we did have,” said Andrej Ernyei, a piano tuner and jazz musician, “was our Jewish choir. Almost all of us were adults, and most of us had kids. Singing Hebrew songs together was the one thing we could do together as Jews, and Kraus didn’t think we could do harm to anyone. But he was wrong. We’re the ones who pushed him out.”
When Hanukkah came that December, and choir members were thrilled as the Communists were being hounded out of office, they demanded a communitywide meeting with Kraus. And with no one answering at party headquarters to help him out, Kraus gritted his teeth and prepared for the reckoning. Hundreds of Jews crowded into the venerable hall on Meiselova Street and demanded he resign.