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Award for the Jewish Museum in Prague at the 19th Gloria Musaealis National Museum Competition

The results of the 19th Gloria Musaealis National Museum Competition were recently announced in the Smetana Hall, Municipal House, Prague. This prestigious competition is organized jointly by the Czech Ministry of Culture, the Association of Museums and Galleries in the Czech Republic, and the Czech Committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM). In the “Museum Achievement of the Year” category, the Jewish Museum in Prague received a special award – among the six highest rated entries – for its reconstruction of the Spanish Synagogue and its new exhibition that is housed there (“Jews in the Bohemian Lands, 19th–20th Centuries”). In this category, the jury selected among 25 institutions that had entered the competition.

“We are very pleased that the jury appreciated our reconstruction of the Spanish Synagogue and our new exhibition. It is also of great satisfaction for us, in particular because most of the work on this project took place during the pandemic, which caused a severe drop in income for the museum. Although the Jewish Museum is a non-state institution which must rely on its own resources in order to fully secure its operations, we managed – even at a time of financial losses – to complete this costly project in accordance with our original objective, so that our visitors can now enjoy it,” said the museum director Leo Pavlát.
New exhibition of the museum “Jews in the Bohemian Lands, 19th–20th Centuries”
Photo Jiří Šebek

A selection of cultural events and lectures

Yom HaShoah memorial concert

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Jewish Museum’s traditional concert for Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) took place online this year. Broadcast on 8 April from the newly refurbished Spanish Synagogue, it was preceded by a opening speech by the Jewish Museum director Leo Pavlát and the Israeli Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Daniel Meron.

The concert was given by the Martinů Quartet with the mezzo-soprano Olga Černá, who are among the leading contemporary performers of chamber music and have won many awards in Czech and international competitions. The concert featured works by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809–1847), Viktor Ullmann (1898–1944) and Zdeněk Lukášek (1928–2007). The repertoire was chosen with regard to the character of the venue and to the commemorative nature of the day. The concert took place with financial support from the City of Prague. A video of the concert can be seen here.

Online broadcast of memorial concert on the occasion of Yom HaShoah from the Spanish Synagogue
Photo Jan Šteffl

Jewish memory in the streets of Brest

On Wednesday, 2 June, the auditorium of the Jewish Museum’s Department for Education and Culture hosted a discussion with the Belarusian actress, director and playwright Aksana Haiko, the director of the Kryly Khalopa Theatre in the Belarusian city of Brest (founded in 2014). Aksana Haiko was in Prague during May and June as part of a residency for Belarusian playwrights, which took place through the cooperation of the National Theatre Drama in Prague, the Prague Crossroads Festival, and the Embassy of Independent Belarusian Culture at the Centre for Experimental Theatre. The discussion was moderated and interpreted by Tereza Krčálová, a translator from the Russian language who focuses mainly on contemporary Russian drama.

The event also featured a presentation of one of Aksana Haiko’s major projects, Brest Stories Guide, which draws attention to the forgotten history of the persecution and extermination of the Jewish population in Brest, particularly in 1941 and 1942. Together with Andrei Bogdan and Svetlana Gajdaljonok, she collected and processed available textual documentary material to create a documentary audio performance in the city space – a tour around a “non-existent” Brest. The author also spoke about the need to recall past events from many points of view and to preserve the testimonies of witnesses and contemporaries, thereby breaking free of the traditional Soviet interpretation of history that still persists in Belarus.

About Jewishness with ease and humour

On Wednesday, 16 June, the Maisel Synagogue hosted a discussion with the creators of the project Will we be there soon, Moses? – the director of the JCC Prague community centre, Pavlína Šulcová, and the artist, illustrator and animator David Kalik – and with audience participation. The book of the same name not only introduces children to the holiday of Pesach in a light-hearted cartoon format, but also contains a simplified guide to the Seder. A board game, titled Will we be there soon, Moses? Forty Years of Wandering in the Wilderness is being created as a follow-up to the book.

In a relaxed atmosphere, the guests talked to the moderator Jan Fingerland about his work on the book and about the other activities of the JCC Prague community centre. Among other things, the latter is currently putting together short animated films about individual Jewish holidays, as well as a podcast in collaboration with Jan Fingerland. You can watch the entire event here
Discussion with the creators of the project Will we be there soon, Moses?
Photo Vojtěch Brtnický

Seminar for teachers

On 9 April 2021, the Jewish Museum’s Department for Education and Culture held another of its series of seminars for teachers, this time focused on the State of Israel and its present situation. The one-day seminar took place online and was attended by 28 teachers. The opening paper was a presentation by Jakub Záhora (Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University) on the key milestones in Israel’s political development, the various political parties, and the composition of Israel’s Parliament, the Kneset. The next paper, by Irena Kalhousová (Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University), touched upon the broader contexts of the political events in the Middle East while providing reasons for unrest in this area, as well as highlighting the current challenges and specifying the changes in mutual diplomatic relations, particularly in connection with climate change. The afternoon session was opened by Milan Lyčka (Faculty of Arts, Charles University) who dealt with the topic of law from the perspective of Jewish philosophy. The final paper was given by Marcela Zoufalá (Faculty of Arts, Charles University), who drew attention to the role and position of women in Israeli society, culture and religion.
Seminar for teachers focused on the State of Israel and its present situation
Photo JMP – Education and Culture Department

Timid and bold steps to return to the pre-Covid era at the Brno branch of the Jewish Museum’s Department for Education and Culture

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the loyal visitors to our cultural events who have successfully managed the transition to online evening lectures during the past three months and have supported us with their participation. Two parts of the “Jews, History and Culture” seminar were held online in April and May with the participation of sixty teachers. The gradual easing of pandemic restrictions in late May and early June facilitated the slow transition back to the in-person mode for the department’s programmes and lessons. As part of the Open House Brno festival of architecture at the end of May, over fifty visitors went on two guided tours of the Jewish cemetery and others made use of the “DIY” interactive cemetery guide. We were delighted by the opening of a retrospective exhibition of paintings and graphic art by the academy-trained painter Helga Hošková-Weiss in Villa Stiassni, which met with a great response from the public. A report on the exhibition in the Czech Television programme Sousedé [Neighbours] no doubt also contributed to the interest.

Exhibition of paintings and graphic art by the academy-trained painter Helga Hošková-Weiss in Villa Stiassni
Photo Kateřina Konečná

Our second exhibition project – the double exhibition Přetnuté životy [Transformed Lives] and Archy rodiny Maierovy [Ark of the Maier Family] – will be on view at the Villa Löw-Beer in Brno until 6 September 2021. In June, we enlivened this show with a workshop for adults and teenagers about the Diary of Ruth Maier. After the end of the summer holidays, the exhibition will be moving to Žarošice in Moravia. At a June workshop titled “History of Women and Gender History in the Theory and Practice of Museums and Archives in the Czech Republic” – organized by the National Museum in Prague and the Moravian Museum in Brno – Tánia Klementová gave a paper on the interactive work on the double exhibition in the form of online workshops for students. Also in June, both exhibitions were featured at the international conference of the Moravian Holocaust Documentation Centre. Thanks to the contacts we have established, the map of exhibition venues from this autumn is now being given clearer contours.

Other news from the museum

420th anniversary of the death of Mordecai Maisel

Mordecai Maisel (1528 – 13 March 1601) was one of the most prominent figures in the history of the Jewish community of Prague and Bohemia. He was a successful merchant, banker, long-time member of the Jewish Council of Elders, and Primas (Mayor) of the Prague Jewish Town, which he helped to construct and develop. He funded the construction of the Maisel Synagogue – and, according to tradition, also the High Synagogue – as well as other public buildings, in particular public baths and a mikveh. For his services to the Court, he was appointed a Court Jew by Emperor Rudolf II. He received a number of privileges from the monarch, including the right to a banner – the second in the Prague Jewish Town, which was subsequently placed in the Maisel Synagogue. Mordecai Maisel and his wife Frumet are permanently commemorated by a Torah ark curtain (Inv. No. 031.749) and a Torah mantle (Inv. No. 031.853), which they donated to the Maisel Synagogue – where they are now on display in the Jewish Museum’s permanent exhibition The History of the Jews in the Bohemian Lands, 10th–18th Century.

Torah mantle dedicated to Mordecai Maisel and his wife Frumet, Prague 1592, restored in 1699, 450 x 870 mm

Synagogue curtain dedicated to Mordecai Maisel and his wife Frumet, Prague 1592, restored in 1767, 1,630 x 2,300 mm

Both of these textile relics, which are part of the Jewish Museum’s collections, were preserved due to the events following the death of Mordecai Maisel. Although Maisel was one of the few Jews with the right to freely dispose of and bequeath their property, all of his assets were seized by the state shortly after he died childless. It was not until 1664 that Maisel’s heirs won a long-running lawsuit over the seized assets. The heirs also demanded the return of the Maisel Synagogue, which Mordecai Maisel  had bequeathed to the Prague Jewish community. After violent disputes between heirs and the community, the state proceeded to close the synagogue and confiscated its furnishings. After more than 30 years, Primas Samuel Tausk paid for the curtain and mantle. The fact that both of the synagogue textiles had been kept outside the Jewish Town for almost 30 years, however, spared them from a devastating fire in 1689. They were then repaired and given their present form in the following years; the mantle in 1699, the curtain in 1767. Also commemorative of Mordecai Maisel, the third textile relict in the Jewish Museum’s collections is the above-mentioned banner (Inv. No. 060.714), which was restored and given its present form in 1702.

Banner of the Maisel Synagogue, Prague 1589, reconstructed in 1702, 2,300 x 5,300 mm

Solo for Intelligent Hands and Friedl Dicker-Brandeis at 8SMIČKA

With the return to normalcy, it is now finally time for the launch of a number of long-suspended projects – not only at the Jewish Museum in Prague, but also at co-operating institutions. One such project is the exhibition Hand at the End of an Arm: Czech and Slovak P(Art)icipatory Projects, which – after a number of delays – was finally launched at the Art Zone 8SMIČKA on 28 May. The introductory “chapter” of this innovative and original exhibition comprises a section dedicated to the artist and educator Friedl Dicker-Brandeis (1898–1944). The pedagogical experiment that she developed in the extreme conditions of the Terezín ghetto from spring 1943 to autumn 1944 provided an alternative means of education – which was strictly banned – for the children who were imprisoned there and condemned to death.

As suggested by its title, the exhibition focuses on artistic cooperation between Czech and Slovak artists and various social groups, realized outside traditional exhibition spaces. Rather than focusing on the creation of artworks, the primary aim is to promote a participatory approach to art making with strong social, educational and therapeutic benefits. A book of the same name was published for the exhibition, which includes an essay (“Solo for Intelligent Hands”) written by Michaela Sidenberg, the curator of visual arts at the Jewish Museum in Prague. The exhibition and its accompanying programmes will be on view in Humpolec until 2 January 2022. The publication can be purchased at the local bookshop. For more information, see https://8smicka.com.

Unknown children author, Movement Study (Dance), Ghetto Terezín (1943–44), graphite pencil on paper, 160 x 213 mm

 Egon Seidel (1931–1944), Color composition, Ghetto Terezín (1943–44), watercolor on paper, 158 x 214 mm

The architect Jakob Gartner (1861–1921) and his anniversaries in 2021

This year, we commemorate two anniversaries relating to the architect Jakob Gartner. The 22nd of June marked the 160th anniversary of his birth in the Moravian city of Přerov (German: Prerau), and the 15th of April marked the centenary of his death in Vienna. Jakob Gartner was well-known as an architect of residential and public buildings, in particular synagogues, which were built according to his designs in Moravia, Austria, and Slovakia. He designed seven synagogues in Moravia – Holešov (dedicated in 1893), Opava (1896), Olomouc (1897), Bohumín (1900), Prostějov (1904), Kroměříž (1910) and Přerov, where (in 1898) an earlier building was rebuilt in the neo-Romanesque style according to plans drawn up by Gartner. Of these, only the synagogues in Přerov and Prostějov survived the ravages of the Second World War.

The original pre-war appearance of Gartner’s Moravian synagogues can now be seen only in building plans and period photographs. With the help of photographs of the interiors of Gartner’s synagogues, it has been possible to prove that the Jewish Museum’s textile collection includes textiles that once adorned the holy arks in the first and  last synagogues designed by Gartner in Moravia. A photograph of Holešov’s New Temple (JMP Photo Archive, Inv. No. 994), taken before 1929 for Hugo Gold’s monograph on Jewish religious communities in Moravia, shows the Torah ark curtain (Inv. No. 007.491) that was donated to the synagogue by Mordecai Leib and his wife Sarl for his parents Sammuel and Devor Kinitz in 1828. This curtain was originally located in the earlier Shakh Synagogue, from which it was moved to Jakob Gartner’s New Temple after 1893.

Holešov, New Synagogue, interior with the synagogue curtain of Mordecai LeIb. Holešov, 1928

Synagogue curtain dedicated to Mordecai Leib and his wife Sarl, Moravia, 1828, 1,500 x 2,600 mm

A 1910 photograph of the New Temple in Kroměříž (Inv. No. 063.725) shows the curtain (Inv. No. 000.708) and valance (000.724) that were donated to the synagogue by Simcha Hartmann ha-Levi and his wife Rachel in 1870. Both of these textiles were intended for the older synagogue in Kroměříž, from where they were moved to the New Temple designed by Gartner. Both the curtain from the Holešovice Synagogue and the curtain and valance from the Kroměříž Synagogue became part of the Jewish Museum’s collections between 1942 and 1945 in connection with the rescue of property from Jewish communities in Bohemia and Moravia that had been disbanded by the Nazis.

Kroměříž, New Synagogue, interior with the synagogue curtain of Simcha Hartmann ha-Levi. Kroměříž, 1910

Synagogue curtain dedicated to Simcha Hartmann ha-Levi and his wife Rachel. Moravia, 1870, 1,420 x 2,380 mm

“The Treasure of Life” – the recovery of a rare medical book

In the autumn of last year, the Jewish Museum’s library staff entered into negotiations for the return of a rare printed medical book – Sefer Otzar ha-Hayyim [The Treasure of Life] (Venice, 1683) – after it had been offered for sale through an online company. Once part of the original Library of the Prague Jewish Religious Community, the book disappeared during the Second World War. It is recorded in a historical catalogue and has the call number 2816. The author of the books is Rabbi Jacob Zahalon (Italy, 17th century). The possessor of the lost book showed an understanding of the Jewish Museum’s position and agreed to return it in March 2021. The library staff are delighted that this rare book has now been recovered. An article about the repatriation of the medical book will be published in Roš chodeš, the monthly newsletter of the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic.

Photo of Folio 1a with marks of provenance from the Library of the Prague Jewish Religious Community

Notification by The Jewish Museum in Prague of a Claim for Voluntary Transfer of Assets

The Jewish Museum in Prague hereby gives notices that a claim has been filed for the voluntary transfer of the following item from its collections:

In accordance with the “Terms for the assertion of claims for voluntary transfers of assets in the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague which were unlawfully seized during the period of Nazi occupation“ (hereinafter “the Terms”) a one-year deadline for filing any additional claims with respect to the artwork in question shall run from the date of publication of this notice of delivery of claim (i. e. to 11 March 2022) on JMP's website. After this deadline has passed, a decision will be made with regard to the claim in accordance with the Terms. Applications delivered at a later date shall not be taken into consideration.

List of objects for which a claim for a voluntary transfer of ownership has been made: JMP 27.513

Adolf Wiesner (18711942), Portrait of Louisa Poláčková (Louise Polacek), born Kohnová (Kohn) (1885 after year. 1941), Oil on canvas, 125 x 100 cm, Signed and dated lower right: Ad. Wiesner 1926

Provenance: JMP acquisition from 19421945, Treuhandstelle; transport number of the last owner prior to confiscation as recorded in an entry in the German Catalogue of the wartime Central Jewish Museum in Prague (hereinafter “the German Catalogue”): B 731 of Louisa Poláčková.

New publications

Jews in the Bohemian Lands, 19th–20th Centuries

This publication, written by a team of local authors, provides the first overall view of the 19th- and 20th-century Jewish history of the Bohemian/Czech lands. The first part focuses on the beginnings of Jewish emancipation, starting with the Josephinian reforms through to the fundamental changes that occurred after the revolution of 1848. The easing of restrictions on the lives of Jews led to their gradual emancipation and to their integration into mainstream society, as well as to the granting in 1867 of official civil and political equality within the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The growing phenomenon of political antisemitism and the endeavour to restore Jewish culture led to the birth of the Zionist movement and to the early efforts at forming a national Jewish identity.

The second part of the book, subtitled “Jews in the Czech Lands between Freedom and Totalitarianism”, provides a detailed account of the decisive political events following the Munich Agreement of 1938 and the Nazi occupation of Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939. Focus is placed on the beginning of the systematic Nazi persecution of the Jewish population with the deprivation of all civil rights and the deportation to ghettos, concentration camps and extermination centres, in which almost 80,000 Jews from the Czech lands were murdered. Many of the local Jews, however, fought against Nazism on all fronts of the Second World War. The final part of the book focuses on the difficult renewal of life in the postwar period and the return of persecution during the communist regime, through to the new beginnings of Jewish life in the Czech Republic after the fall of communism in November 1989. The book is published in Czech and English-language versions.

The publication is accompanied by 165 high-quality images of exhibits from the new permanent exhibition in the Spanish Synagogue, including many period photographs. Many of these images are reproduced here for the first time, including a wealth of rare items from the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague and other institutions.

New issue of the journal Judaica Bohemiae

A new issue of the journal Judaica Bohemiae (Vol. 56/2021, 1) came out at the end of June 2021. It starts with a study by Daniel Soukup (Anti-Jewish Rhetoric of Canon Law: Ecclesiastical Legislation and Jews in the 14th-Century Bohemian Lands), which deals with anti-Jewish rhetoric of the Late Middle Ages and explores in detail how the Jewish community in the Bohemian lands was perceived in ecclesiastical works from the time the Archbishopric of Prague was established. In the next paper, Marie Buňatová (Jewish Goldsmiths in Early Modern Prague: A Paper on Immigration, Labour Mobility, and Socio-Economic Relations in 16th-Century Prague Jewish Society) provides a comprehensive view of the goldsmith’s trade in Prague during the 16th century and describes the conditions under which Jews were allowed to engage in this profession; it also looks at the involvement of Jewish goldsmiths in other financial transactions and examines the broader cultural and social framework of their lives. The next paper by Zdeňka Stoklásková (Silent (In)Tolerance? Jewish Academics in the Office of Rector at the German University of Prague before 1933) analyzes the circumstances surrounding the election of Jewish scholars to the office of Rector at the German University in Prague and draws attention to the problems they had to face because of their religion.

In the Reports section, a paper by Michaela Sidenberg, Iveta Cermanová and Jana Šplíchalová details the concept, content and form of the new permanent exhibition of the Jewish Museum in Prague, Židé v českých zemích, 19.–20. století (Jews in the Bohemian Lands, 19th–20th Centuries) at the Spanish Synagogue. This is followed by a report by Arno Pařík, which focuses on the reconstruction of the Baroque rural synagogue in the Moravian town of Police, and a report by Lenka Matušíková on the exhibition ‘Translocation Plans of Jewish Settlements in the 18th Century’, which was held by the National Archives in Prague in the autumn of 2020.

The final section of the journal contains reviews of the following books: Jakub Hauser and Eva Janáčová (eds.), Obrazy nenávisti. Vizuální projevy antisemitismu ve střední Evropě (Imagery of Hatred. Visual Antisemitism in Central Europe; reviewed by Ivana Ebelová) and a Czech edition of Peter Hallama’s Nationale Helden und jüdische Opfer. Tschechische Repräsentationen des Holocaust (Národní hrdinové a židovské oběti: Holokaust v české kulturní paměti; reviewed by Alena Heitlinger).
Published since 1965 by the Jewish Museum in Prague, Judaica Bohemiae focuses on Jewish history and culture in Bohemia, Moravia and the wider Central European area (the territory of the former Habsburg Monarchy). The texts are published in English and German.

VIP Visits

On Thursday, July 8, the Minister of Culture Lubomír Zaorálek visited the museum. The Minister was accompanied by Director Leo Pavlát and together visited the Spanish Synagogue, the Pinkas Synagogue and the Old Jewish Cemetery. The tour lasted almost 3 hours and the Minister was acquainted with the museum's exhibitions and its operation in the period after the pandemic.
Photo Zdeněk Bakštein
On Friday, July 9, a farewell meeting took place with the Israeli Ambassador to Prague, Daniel Meron, who invited about 40 diplomats to the museum in agreement with the director Leo Pavlát. The representative of the diplomatic missions was welcomed in the Maisel Synagogue by the director Leo Pavlát. Then Ambassador Meron spoke and was donated a book the Path of Life about the Prague Maharal as a reminder from Director Pavlát. Accompanied by the museum's chief curator Michaela Sidenberg and Martina Kutková, a lecturer in the Department of Education and Culture, the diplomats visited the museum's exhibitions.
Photo Zdeněk Bakštein
Melanie Huml, Bavarian Minister for European and International Affairs, arrived in Prague on Thursday 15 July at the invitation of the Federation of Jewish Communities. She visited the Pinkas Synagogue, the Old Jewish Cemetery and the Old-New Synagogue accompanied by the Secretary of the Federation Tomáš Kraus.

 Photo Dana Cabanová

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Editor: Tomáš Tetiva
Photographs: JMP unless otherwise stated