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The Jewish Museum in Prague celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. To mark this occasion, it prepared a range of programmes and events in the Czech Republic and abroad as part of a special project, the Year of Jewish Culture. Information on much of this was provided in last year’s newsletters.
To recap, the Year of Jewish Culture involved the participation of 135 institutions from 17 different countries and the holding of 260 events in more than 50 towns across the Czech Republic and abroad, which attracted as many as 100,000 visitors. In total, there were 76 exhibitions, 34 concerts, 17 festivals, 31 theatre shows (plus repeat performances), 60 lectures/discussions, 25 social events and 13 activities organized by Czech Centres abroad, in addition to several other events. The Jewish Museum issued 11 publications for its centenary celebrations.
The Year of Jewish Culture was officially ended at a press conference on 15 January. The Jewish Museum thanked all who had contributed to its centenary celebrations and, in so doing, had helped not only to put together a diverse and rich programme but also to provide insights into the various aspects of Jewish culture. We believe that the Year of Jewish Culture succeeded in highlighting the great moral and humanitarian values of Judaism, as well as the diversity and originality of Jewish culture. It also contributed to spreading ideas of tolerance and mutual respect in the world.
A recent campaign by the Jewish Museum’s Education and Culture Centre followed on from the idea of tolerance. In a striking and original way, it drew attention to Nazi anti-Semitism and tried to show how the suppression of fundamental human rights and freedoms can begin gradually and unnoticed and, in the end, lead to genocide.
As part of the campaign, eight different posters with simple and distinct graphics, featuring a prominent yellow text against a black background, were displayed in illuminated glass frames (citylights) in various places across the centre of Prague. The texts were based on the wording of anti-Jewish prohibitions and regulations from the period of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, albeit updated for ironic effect (e.g. “Fair-haired people banned from the cinema”). The small lettering on each poster stated that such absurd prohibitions were actually in force in this country (e.g. “Seems absurd? Jews were banned from cinemas in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia”). In even smaller print were contact details for the Educa-tion and Culture Centre, which is holding various educational programmes on racism, anti-Semi-tism and xenophobia throughout the year.
This campaign took place between 16 Jan-uary and 12 February and was intended mainly for young people who know little or nothing about the anti-Jewish persecution in 1939–45. Judging by the response, the aim of drawing attention to this dark period and to the current problems of racism and anti-Semitism went well.
On 25 January the Education and Culture Centre in Prague prepared a festive evening for Holocaust Memorial Day (27 January). With musical accompaniment by Jiří Hošek, actress Táňa Fischerová recited poetry by Hošek’s grandfather Otto Weiss (1889–1944), which he wrote in the Terezín ghetto before his deportation to Auschwitz. This event also marked the opening of Hell Survivors, an exhibition of photo-graphic portraits by Jana Noseková-Žantovská of Israelis from pre-war Czechoslovakia who survived the Holocaust. In association with the UN Information Centre in Prague, the Education and Culture Centre also organized a series of workshops on the Holocaust (Hana’s Suitcase and The Holocaust in Documents).
On 26 January, for the same occasion, the Brno office of the Education and Culture Centre in co-operation with the Museum of Romani Culture, organized an interactive programme for high school students. The political development of Germany before the Second World War was highlighted by a short documentary film on Roma topics and by the workshop The Holocaust in Documents. Also shown was the music video by the band The Tchendos for the song I Can’t Understand, which confronts current Neo-Nazi trends with the events of the Holocaust. (See the last newsletter for details.)
Also on the occasion of Holocaust Memorial Day, the Education and Culture Centre’s travelling exhibition Neighbours Who Disappeared opened at the Czech Embassy in Washington with the Czech Ambassador Petr Kolář in attendance. The show is being held under the auspices of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. During three morning programmes, about a hundred local school pupils were introduced to the work of their Czech contemporaries. The Education and Culture Centre instructor Marie Zahradníková prepared a spe-cial workshop for the pupils and offered to ar-range for them to meet Holocaust survivors from pre-war Czechoslovakia who are now living in the USA. This opens the possibility of a similar project taking place in the States.
Two versions of the exhibition have been travelling across the States since last April. On the same day as the opening in Washington, another version of the exhibition opened in Trent, Italy, with the local mayor in attendance. In May, the exhibition will be on display in Germany.
14 February saw the opening in the Robert Guttmann Gallery of an exhibition that traces the lives of several generations of the famous Czech family of industrialists, the Kolbens.
The main focus was on Emil Kolben (1862– 1943), the celebrated engineer and inventor who was chief engineer for Thomas Edison in the United States and the founder of what became the engineering company Českomoravská-Kolben-Daněk (ČKD). Emil’s brother Jindřich left for America when he was young and ran the Czech newspaper Svornost (Concord) in Chicago for many years. Emil’s closest brother was Alfred, an engineer who also devoted many years to painting and whose artworks were displayed for the first time at this exhibition.
The exhibition also followed the story of the Kolben family during the Second World War. 26 members of the family perished as a result of racial persecution during the Holocaust. After the Nazi occupation of the Czech lands in March 1939, Emil Kolben had to give up all his posts at ČKD and to sell the family-owned companies. On 9 June 1943, at the age of 81, he was deported to the Terezín ghetto with his daughter Lilly, son Hanuš and grandson Jindřich. He died there three weeks later. Emil’s son Hanuš, who was a talented painter and whose artworks were also displayed for the first time at this exhibition, perished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz at the age of 49 on 10 July 1944.
Emil's grandson Jindřich (b. 1926) was the only member of the family to survive; during the evacuation of the Blechhammer camp in January 1945 he escaped to Slovakia, where he joined the Czechoslovak army. Despite his dramatic fate during the war and his difficult position in post-war Communist Czechoslovakia, when it was forbidden to talk about Emil Kolben, Jindřich became an outstanding expert in the design and dynamics of aircraft engines, thus continuing the Kolben family tradition.
It was only after the fall of the Communist regime in 1989 that the Kolben family was given full recognition. A metro station and a street in the Prague 9 district of Vysočany have since been named for Emil Kolben, and in September 2006 a memorial plaque at Vysočany Town Hall was unveiled for the 110th anniversary of the founding of ČKD. Emil’s grandson Jindřich was awarded the freedom of Prague 9 on his 80th birthday.
The Kolben family story is described by Jindřich Kolben in a Czech Television document-ary which was on view at the exhibition. Jindřich attended the exhibition opening with his wife. A packed audience in the Spanish Synagogue were treated to an unforgettable experience meeting him.
Each month, the Spanish Synagogue fea-tures a different exhibit from the Jewish Muse-um’s collections. The item of the month for March was a unique Purim mask which was made at the Prague Jewish Community’s retirement home by Dezider (Dudy) Salomon (1918–), originally from the small town of Chust in Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia. The mask contains the Yiddish text of a humorous Purim song, A gutn purim, malech, which was recreated and studied for the Jewish Museum in Prague by the singer and ethno-musicologist Kateryna Kolcová and which could be heard in the Spanish Synagogue.
The exhibition Anne Frank – Legacy for the Present opened on 7 March in the Czech town of Chomutov. This exhibition is being held as part of the international project ‘Free2choose’, which is co-ordinated by the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and involves the participation of 11 European countries. This is an interactive presentation of film clips (10 international, 3 Czech) about conflicting rights and freedoms and their boundaries. The aim of the films and the subsequent discussions in schools and at public venues is to encourage young people to think about the dilemmas that are touched upon. In addition to the Jewish Museum in Prague, the project’s local partner is the Czech humanitarian organization People in Need, which enabled the making of the short films about current problems in the Czech Republic.
On 13 March the Jewish Museum organized its traditional annual concert for members of the Jewish Community in Prague in the Spanish Synagogue. In a programme entitled LE-EL ELIM (To God Almighty), they were treated to a performance of Jewish Baroque music by Collegium Musicum Brno.
Every month, the Brno office of the Museum’s Education and Culture Centre organizes Sunday afternoon workshops for children. Entitled Raisins and Almonds, this involves various creative activities and games that are related to Jewish topics. The main aim is to familiarize the general public with Jewish festivals. So far, the workshops have introduced children to the festivals of Hanukkah, Tu bishvat and Purim.
The Jewish Museum’s library purchased two important acquisitions at the turn of the year. The first is a new edition of Encyclopedia Judaica (22-volume set) with continually updated online reference. Since its first (German) edition in 1928, this encyclopedia has been regarded as the most extensive work on Jewish history, religion and culture. The current edition contains more than 21,000 entries.
The second major ac-quisition is the complete 73-volume edition of the Babylonian Talmud publish- ed by Artscroll. This is a Hebrew-English edition, which makes in-depth Talmud study possible without knowledge of the source languages. Both of these sets are available for reference purposes in the library.
At the beginning of 2007, the Jewish Museum’s art collection was enriched by 54 illustrations for the work of Franz Kafka by the renowned Czech artist Jarmila Mařanová. These artworks (mostly monotypes) have been donated to the Museum by the artist. Jarmila Mařanová was born on 8 September 1922 in Prague and studied in 1939–1944 at the School of Applied Arts with J. V. Holeček, F. Kysela and B. Novák Sn. Her work, in which the above illus-trations occupy an important position, was first displayed at a group exhibition of Fine artists for the 20th anniversary of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (Galerie Mánes, Prague, 1965). In 1976 Mařanová left for the USA, where she lived in Los Angeles and later moved to New York. Her next group exhibitions in the Czech Republic were not until after 1989; these included Grey Brick – Exile (White Unicorn Gallery, Klatovy / Klenová Chateau, 1994), Old Testament Motifs in the Czech Art of the 20th Century (Roudnice nad Labem Modern Art Gallery / Karlovy Vary Art Gallery, 1995), Art is Abstraction: Czech Visual Culture of the 1960s (Riding School Gallery, Prague Castle / Museum of Decorative Arts, Brno / Salon – Cabinet, Olomouc, 2004, Staatliches Museum für angewandte Kunst, Munich, 2004). At present she is living in Idaho. The Jewish Museum intends to hold an exhibition of her illustrations in the Robert Guttmann Gallery next year.
Bronya Reyman-Gerstl from New Rochelle, New York, recently dedicated to the Museum an anonymous portrait of her ancestor, Moses Gerstl, dating from 1836. This very valuable acquisition for the Museum’s collection of paintings from the Emancipation period is now being restored.
At the end of last year, the Jewish Museum issued a new publication entitled Thesauration and presentation of the cultural heritage of minorities in the collections and exhibition programmes of museums and galleries. This is a collection of papers given over the course of a working seminar at the Museum’s Education and Culture Centre on 9 March 2006. The seminar took place with the financial support of the Czech Association of Museums and Galleries. Put together by Dana Veselská, the publication was financially supported by the Czech Ministry of Culture and the Czech Committee of ICOM.
On 2 February the Museum was visited by officials of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.



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