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An exhibition of works by the popular early 20th century Prague naive painter Robert Guttmann at the eponymous gallery was extended till the end of the year 2020. The exhibition features Guttmann’s paintings and drawings from the collection of the Jewish Museum in Prague, as well as period photographs and documents which the museum has managed to collect over the years.
In the inter-war period Guttmann was better known in Prague for his distinct appearance than for his pictures – a thin figure with a large head, handlebar moustache and rich mane of dark black hair, wearing a blue velvet jacket and an enormous green cravat. Guttmann sketched pictures in bars and cafés and even on the train, selling them without much ado for a few crowns to anyone who was interested. Hardly anyone at the time, however, thought that his work had any genuine artistic value. It attracted attention only for its eccentric and unusual qualities. The pictures provide an insight into a secluded, sensitive soul which was drawn to nature, to the integrity of childhood and to a profound faith. Guttmann’s eccentricity and defiance may have been a way of protecting his fragile, sensitive world from outside encroachment. As an artist, he refused to be a mere reproducer of reality and defended his right to his own creative self-expression.
The Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 put an end to the genial world Guttmann had known. On 16 October 1941 Guttmann was put on the first transport from Prague to the Lodz/Litzmannstadt ghetto. Ghetto life must have been incomprehensible to Guttmann, a person who had criss-crossed half of Europe on foot. Robert Guttmann died of hunger and exhaustion in the ghetto on 14 March 1942.
Robert Guttmann Gallery, U Staré školy 3, Prague 1
Celebration of Robert Guttmann's 60th birthday, graphite pencil and watercolour on paper, Prague, 1940
A selection of cultural events and lectures
Opening of the Haredim exhibition
After the summer break, the Jewish Museum’s Education and Culture Department launched a new season of evening programmes with the opening of an exhibition of photographs from the Haredim project by photographer Eliška Blažková. On view at the department until 7 November 2020, the exhibition features a selection of images from the Mea Shearim neighbourhood of Jerusalem – one of the most closed ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in the world. The photographer’s aim was to examine the daily life of a society with its own rules that are often difficult for the outside world to understand. During the private view, Eliška Blažková spoke about working on the project, about meeting people in the ultra-Orthodox community, and about the status of the photographer – a woman in a world full of prohibitions and orders. To mark the close of the exhibition on 6 November at 6 p.m, Eliška Blažková will give a one-off lecture at the Museum’s Education and Culture Department.
Passports for Life: exhibition and film screening
On Tuesday 22 September, a presentation of the Passports for Life project was held at the Maisel Synagogue with the participation of the Chargé d’affaires of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Prague, Antoni Wrega. This project has been put together by the Polish Institute in Prague, the Pilecki Institute and the Polish Institute of National Remembrance (IPN). The exhibition and documentary draw attention to the little-known work done by several Polish diplomats and Jewish activists in Switzerland under the supervision of Alexander Ładoś (1891–1963), who sought to save thousands of lives during the Second World War by issuing fake passports. The event took place under a programme of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland and in co-operation with the Polish Institute in Prague and the Pilecki Institute. The director of the Polish Institute in Prague, Maciej Ruczaj, and the director of the Pilecký Institute, Wojciech Kozlowski, both spoke at the event.
2020 Meeting Brno Festival: The Final Platform – Jewish Transports from Brno
Offering a platform for encounters between different opinions, cultures and religions, “Meeting Brno” is a festival encompassing a multitude of genres. This year, for the fifth time, the programme reminded us of how important it is for our society to come to terms with its own past, to know its roots, and thereby to face the challenges of the present. This year’s festival, which was sponsored by Daniela Hammer-Tugendhat, acquainted its audiences with projects that contribute towards preserving the memory of the city and its region. The highlight of the festival was a trip to Brněnec (German: Brünnlitz), together with a screening of the film Schindler’s List at the site of the former factory, where the rescue of 1,200 Jews took place, and where Daniel Low-Beer is now planning to erect a Shoah memorial. The Brno branch of the Museum’s Education and Culture Department took part in the festival with a site-specific event, which combined expert commentary from the historian Tánia Klementová and theatrical montage from the theatre directors Eva Lietavová and Pavel Strašák. A lecture on the fate of the Brno Jewish community was held in the lecture hall of the office building in Kpt. Jaroše Street. During the lecture, the unsuspecting attendees received instructions to go to the elementary school gym in Merhautova Street, which once served as an assembly point for the Jewish population during the war. Here they had an opportunity to view a unique theatrical-musical collage comprising witness testimonies. They then stepped back in time on a historical tram ride to the main railway station – which is where almost all of the Jewish inhabitants of Brno and its surroundings were sent in 1941 and 1942.
Photo: Jakub Šnajdr
European Day of Jewish Culture 2020
The 21st European Day of Jewish Culture took place on the first Sunday of September this year. The aim of this event is to bring Jewish and non-Jewish people closer together, to highlight the diversity and richness of Judaism, and to protect and promote the Jewish cultural heritage as an integral part of European history. The Brno branch of the Museum’s Education and Culture Department celebrated this annual event with a cultural programme that included the opening of the exhibition The Promised Land by the Czech-Israeli photographers Jan Sekal and Marta Levin, which features unique views of Israel from places that tourists cannot reach. A recital by the virtuoso duo of Vladislav Bláha (guitar) and Tatsiana Drobysh (mandolin and domra) contributed to the festive atmosphere of the evening with a range of musical genres from Baroque music to Klezmer and South Moravian and Belarusian folklore arrangements through to Sephardic Jewish songs. The European Day of Jewish Culture activities are co-ordinated by the European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage in co-operation with the National Library of Israel.
The Sarajevo Haggadah in Brno
At the end of July, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Martina Mlinarević, brought a facsimile of the Sarajevo Haggadah – one of the rarest Sephardic manuscripts in the world – to Brno for the Days of Slavic Culture. The Haggadah was displayed at a touring exhibition (“UNESCO Cultural Heritage of Bosnia and Herzegovina”), which also featured the Sarajevo Jewish Cemetery in addition to other cultural monuments. The Brno branch of the Museum’s Education and Culture Department and many of its visitors were invited to attend a discussion with the Ambassador at the Löw-Beer Villa.
Jewish Museum’s day camps for kids
The Jewish Museum’s first day camps for kids were held on 13–17 July and 17–21 August. They were organized by its Education and Culture Department. The July event was titled “The Lost Treasure of the Maisel Family“. The children taking part were familiarized with the personalities and stories of Prague’s Jewish Town (Josefov) during the Renaissance period and, like little detectives, went in search of the Maisel Synagogue treasure. The treasure trails led them along the Royal Route across the Old-Town Square and Josefov up to Prague Castle and back again across Charles Bridge to the Old Town. Along the way, they discovered other legends associated with these historical sites. After successfully deciphering and exploring the clues, the children ended up with the lost treasure.
The August event was titled “Emperor Rudolf the Alchemist“. The children were introduced to the period of Rudolfinian Prague through a thrilling story in which they solved puzzles together, searched for clues, brewed potions and discovered mysterious places in Prague. We would like to thank the Charles Bridge Museum, which made it possible for us to see its exhibition and to go on a cruise through “Prague Venice” with a guide. In August, a day camp was also held at the Brno branch of the Education and Culture Department. Themed on Jewish stories and fairy tales, it was called “The Diamond Gate and Nine Thousand Trees of Paradise".
Other news from the museum
Prague Jewish Museum course for tour guides
Due to great interest from Prague tour guides, the Jewish Museum’s Education and Culture Department held its three-day Museum Guide Training Course also during the summer – between 20 and 22 July. As usual, the guides taking part had the opportunity to become acquainted with the history of the Jews in Bohemia and Moravia, with Jewish traditions and customs, with the history of antisemitism and the Holocaust/Shoah, with the history of the Jewish Museum and the Jewish community in Prague, and with twentieth-century Jewish culture, especially with prominent Jewish literary figures.
In view of the current international situation, the Museum’s Education and Culture Department decided to organize its first refresher course for tour guides of the Jewish Museum. This took place on 11 August with the participation of eighteen students. The intensive course is intended for guides who have already taken the above-mentioned three-day course and who wish to advance or revise the knowledge they have already acquired. It also enables them to clarify any questions they may have, as well as to solidify the information they have studied. The main aim of the course is to train future Jewish Museum guides so that they can successfully obtain a tour license and thereby receive a boost to their professional development at the present time. Thanks to the positive reactions to this initiative by the Education and Culture Department, the one-day refresher course is to be held twice a year, in addition to the regular Jewish Museum Guide Training Course.
“Jews, History and Culture” seminar for teachers
On 28 August, the Jewish Museum’s Education and Culture Department organized another of its regular additional seminars for teachers. This year’s seminar was entitled “The Historical and Literary Context of the Hebrew Bible” and was thematically focused on the earliest period of the Jewish nation’s existence. It was attended by 21 teachers. David Rafael Moulis (Protestant Theological Faculty, Charles University) drew attention to the latest results of archaeological research in several Israeli localities and pointed out possible interpretations that testify to the transformation of the Judean cult between the 10th and 8th centuries BCE. The presentation by Jan Dušek (Protestant Theological Faculty, Charles University) focused on the oldest documents of the Hebrew biblical canon, the context of how they came into being, and the importance of individual literary sources for the formation of the Hebrew Bible. Literature was also the focus of a visit to the Jewish Museum’s library. The library staff showed the seminar participants various beautiful editions of the Song of Songs, one of the most beautiful texts of the Hebrew canon. They also showed them some of the oldest Hebrew books produced by Hebrew printing presses in Bohemia. A visit to the Jewish Museum’s Paper Conservation and Restoration Studio also met with a great response. The one-day seminar ended with a lecture by Jiří Janák (Faculty of Arts, Charles University), which focused on ancient Egyptian textual and archaeological evidence for the presence of Hebrews in Egypt, and drew attention to the historicity of the biblical Exodus.
“Jews, History and Culture” seminar for teachers held in Boskovice
The seminar concluding the year-long set of accredited courses for teachers took place not at the usual Brno venue, but in Boskovice on 26 August. Colleagues from the religious studies programme in Brno and Rabbi Štěpán Menaš Kliment came to talk about the changes in the Jewish religion over time. Nineteen teachers participated in the event, which took place at the Jewish Town Hall and in the local synagogue. We would like to express our thanks to the Museum of the Boskovice Region for its co-operation and assistance.
An old-new Prague Hebrew font
Inspired by the Hebrew text fonts used by Prague-based Jewish printers in the first half of the 16th century, the award-winning American book and typeface designer Scott-Martin Kosofsky has created a new digital font that he calls “Prague Hebrew” (Ivrit Prag). Paradoxically, the completion of his new font project was facilitated by the global coronavirus pandemic, which Kosofsky saw as an impetus to implement his goal of reviving a unique graphic style. He became acquainted with Prague book printing through the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. The latter’s collection of books printed in Prague were featured at a successful exhibition on Jewish book culture that was curated by Olga Sixtová (for many years the curator of manuscripts and early printed books at the Jewish Museum in Prague). The results of Olga Sixtová’s project and of research by other specialists on book culture were presented in the ambitious publication Hebrew Printing in Bohemia and Moravia (Prague, 2012). The graphic style used by the Prague printers was influenced by the work of Italian printers, but developed in its own way, firmly rooted in the local Ashkenazi manuscript culture and utilizing the experience of local Christian printers. Now, five-hundred years later, Kosofsky has managed to transfer the renowned neatness and subtle elegance of the early Prague Hebrew books into a digital environment. So yasher koach, may it prosper in the modern world!
Religious service on the Yom Kippur holiday in the field camp in front of Metz and a collection of textiles from the Jewish Museum in Prague
In October 2020, 150 years passed since a field Jewish service on Yom Kippur during the Prussian-French War. The service celebrated on October 5 1870 in a field camp in front of Metz was remebered by the Jews from German-speaking countries until the rise of Nazism. Its celebration, a month after the victory of the Prussian army at the Battle of Sedan, where Jewish men also fought, was considered a symbolic confirmation of the integration and acceptance of the Jews in the Prussian army and in the society as well. Numerous depictions of the event on paintings, graphics, but also on textile scarves have become part of many Jewish households. The textile collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague include a total of five commemorative cotton scarves with a printed depiction of a field service in front of Metz. The author of the model was Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, considered the first Jewish painter of the "modern era" to receive world recognition. He captured the service which took place in the valley near Metz. Hundreds of Jewish soldiers pray around the tabernacle and rabbi shrouded in tallit leans over a prayer counter with the Holy Scripture. They have Prussian helmets with spikes on their heads, some of them are covered in tallits. A group of Prussian Christian soldiers protect their Jewish comrades from a possible attack by the French. Verses of Rabbi Gustav Philippson describing the circumstances under which the service took place are inserted in four medallions in the corners of the headscarf. The texts in the cartouches are a call from Malachi's prophecy: “Don't we all have one Father? Didn't a one and only God create us?”
“From Generation To...” survivor interview project supported by Robert B. Fried, the grandson of Rebecca Fried
Robert Fried from the USA is a long-term sponsor of the Jewish Museum’s projects aimed at commemorating victims of the Shoah. His grandmother Rebecca Fried (born Rifka Weiss) was a survivor who passed away on 1 April this year, at the age of 91. She was born into a religious family in the town of Brod in the Sub-Carpathian region of Czechoslovakia (now the town of Brid in Ukraine). In 1944, Rebecca was sent to the ghetto in Mukachevo. In May of that year, she was deported to Auschwitz, where she lost her parents. In 1945, she was sent on a death march, passing through Bergen-Belsen and Rochlitz. She was liberated in Žatec. In 1948, after an initial unsuccessful attempt, she made it to Israel, where she met and married Israel Fried, who was also a survivor. In 1959, they moved to the United States with their two sons, Alexander (Alex) and Matthew (Maty). They were later blessed with five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. They all remember Rebecca as an exceptional woman.
Jewish Museum in Prague, U Staré školy 1, 110 01 Prague 1
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Editor: Tomáš Tetiva
Photographs: JMP unless otherwise stated