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 Czech ministry endorses textbook on ``Jewish usury''
    By Jan Lopatka
    PRAGUE, April 9 (Reuter) - Fifty years after the Holocaust,
 the Czech Education Ministry has endorsed a history textbook
 accusing mediaeval Jews of extraordinary usury, ritual murders
 and responsibility for mutual hatred with Christians.
    The ministry is likely to cancel its endorsement but
 passages in the book which are reminiscent of Nazi Germany's
 anti-Semitic propaganda have still enraged Prague's tiny Jewish
 community.
    ``The passages touching on Jews grossly distort history,
 contain tendentious half-truths and false claims, and generally
 testify to the anti-Semitic intentions of the author,'' said Leo
 Pavlat, the director of Prague's Jewish Museum.
    The book has stirred a controversy around the Roman Catholic
 church only weeks before Pope John Paul is due to visit the
 Czech Republic on May 20 and 21.
    ``Handbook on Church History'' by Pavel Mracek, a lay member
 of the Dominican monastic order, contends that Jews were to
 blame for Christians' hatred which led to progroms.
    ``It is an irrefutable fact that Jews in the Middle Ages
 collected extensive assets in all countries, took over the money
 lending business especially and were extraordinary usurers,
 charging more than 100 percent interest,'' wrote Mracek.
    ``Apart from this, they committed ritual murders, crucified
 Christian boys, and persecuted and murdered Jews who converted
 to Christianity.''
    Mracek attacked those who held the Roman Catholic church
 responsible for fomenting hatred of Jews and who liked to defend
 anybody who had been persecuted, while the question of guilt
 remained of secondary importance.
    The newly-published book has won a recommendation from the
 Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, meaning that pupils at
 state schools can get it free of charge.
    A ministry spokesman said that under rules used until the
 end of 1994, any book which was recommended by two reviewers
 chosen by the publisher would be approved by the ministry and
 listed among texts recommended to schools.
    The ministry has now ordered a new expert review. ``It is
 most probable that the book will be eliminated from the list (of
 recommended textbooks),'' said spokesman Arnost Kastner.
    But ministry views on the book's faults are themselves
 controversial. ``I think that those are mostly mistakes in
 formulation,'' said Kastner.
    A departmental head of the ministry, Jarmila Fucikova, was
 also quoted by the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes as saying the dispute
 was over only 10 lines in a 170-page book.
    Such comments do not go down well with the Czech Jewish
 population, which numbers just 15,000, a fraction of its size
 before Nazi Germany transported much of the community to its
 extermination camps in Poland.
    ``Their argument is that (the book) is not well formulated,
 and not that it is historically untrue and nonsense,'' Pavlat
 told Reuters.
    The Jewish Museum and the Federation of Jewish Communities
 are considering taking legal action over the book, saying that
 the passage incites racial and religious intolerance.
    Withdrawal of ministry recognition was not enough, said
 Pavlat. ``If a book contains such a slanderous passage, then
 does it get any better when a recommendation is taken away from
 it?'' he said, adding: ``This is a case for a court.''
    Mracek was on a trip outside the Czech Republic and
 unavailable for comment on the book, which is produced by the
 Krystal publishing house.
    Krystal is partly owned by the Dominicans but a spokesman
 for the order, Odilo Stampach, said it had no editorial control
 over the publishing house.
    ``The probable reason why the author, who is not an expert
 in church history, wrote it is that he was drawing upon old,
 inappropriate sources and he could not judge the quality of
 their expertise and ethics,'' he told Reuters.
    ``Those were sources from the last century,'' he said.
 However, he did not explain why a non-expert in the field of
 church history had written a book about it.


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