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THE UNKOWN MICHEL FINGESTEN IN THE ROBERT GUTTMANN GALLERY
A new exhibition opened in the Robert Guttmann Gallery on the 28th of May. Entitled The Unknown Michel Fingesten. Paintings, Prints and Ex Libris from the Ernst Deeken Collection, this show features the work of one of the most famous Berlin artists of the interwar years, now almost forgotten. It will be on view until the end of August. The curator Arno Pařík responds to a few questions below.
The Silesian born Michel Fingesten had a remarkable life. Can you tell us something about it?
In many ways, Fingesten remains shrouded in mystery. Born in 1884, he was part of an artis-tic generation most heavily influenced by modernism. These artists had their fair share of scandals, adventurous escapades and protests against tradition. In his early years, Fingesten roamed the world for ten years to experience it for himself. He was a truly independent person for whom human freedom was the highest value.
The exhibition focuses mainly on Fingesten’s ex libris (bookplates). Why was he close to this art form?
Fingesten made as many as 1,000 ex libris, which is more than any other artist. However, he was never limited by their small size or function. He was one of the first artists to begin making collectors’ ex libris that were not intended for use in books. Based on a wide knowledge of literature and music, he created his own symbolic language with which he could express himself well in ex libris, despite the small format. At the time of crisis, ex libris provided him with the most secure source of his meagre but regular income.
Fingesten continued to work in the 1930s. How did Fingesten deal with Nazism in his work?
He was already protesting against German militarism and nationalism during the First World War. Until his arrest, he sent ex libris and New Year cards – in which he wittily ridiculed Nazi propaganda – to friends across the world. In 1936 he emigrated to Italy, where he made another 500 prints and two of his most important anti-war cycles – Essay on the Dance Macabre (1939) and Small Marginal Notes on the Theme of War (1939/40). After his arrest in October 1940, he spent the next three years in Italian internment camps. He died from a post-op wound infection shortly after liberation on the 8th of October.
WAY OF LIFE
RABBI JUDAH LOEW BEN BEZALEL
Next year will be the 400th anniversary of the death of the renowned rabbi Judah Liva (Loew) ben Bezalel, known as the Prague Maharal. The religious, pedagogical and philosophical legacy of this scholar remains a lively inspiration to this day. To mark this occasion, the Jewish Museum came up with the idea of a major exhibition, Way of Life. Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (ca. 1525–1609). In association with the Prague Castle Administration, this will be held in the Imperial Stables from the 31st of July to the 8th of November 2009. It will be under the auspices of the President of the Czech Republic Václav Klaus, the Czech Culture Minister Václav Jehlička and the Mayor of Prague Pavel Bém.
The Jewish Museum has just published a Hebrew/English wall calendar for the year 5769/2009 to mark this important anniversary. This features colour illustrations relating to the life and legends of Rabbi Loew drawn by the US artist Mark Podwal. The 16-page calendar spans the months from September 2008 to December 2009 and also includes Jewish holidays, weekly Torah portions and a brief biography of Rabbi Loew. A special website (www.jewishmuseum.cz/maharal) has been put together to keep you informed about preparations for the exhibition.
EVENINGS AT THE SPANISH SYNAGOGUE
In association with the French Institute in Prague, the Jewish Museum prepared a concert for members of Prague's Jewish community on the 29th of April. The renowned French musicians Isabelle Durin and Michael Ertzscheid performed works by M. Bruch, G. Perlman, J. Achron, J. Williams and E. Bloch.
Special event for the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel
The Jewish Museum in Prague and the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic prepared a special event at the Spanish Synagogue to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel on the 5th of May. Opening speeches were made by the Israeli Ambassador to the Czech Republic Yaakov Levy, the Chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities Jiří Daníček and the Jewish Museum Director Leo Pavlát. Works by Jewish composers were performed and excerpts from literary works by Israeli authors were read by the actors Táňa Fischerová and Alfred Strejček.
Light of Understanding
On the 13th of May, the third annual Light of Understanding concert was held by the Prague-based Conservative Jewish congregation Bejt Praha in co-operation with the Jewish Museum and the Church of the Holy Spirit. The concert took place in two adjoining temples of two different faiths in Prague’s Old Town that were once separated by a wall – the Spanish Synagogue and the Church of the Holy Spirit. This parallel concert in the two houses of prayer symbolizes the mutual understanding that has gradually developed between Christians and Jews after many centuries. Among the distinguished musicians appearing in concert were B. Basi-ková, Z. Bína, Varhan Orchestrovič Bauer,
N. Diamant, Okamžitý filmový orchestr (The Immediate Film Orchestra), M. Ambroš, Shira u Tfila, the Temple Choir of the Holy Spirit, Mikrochor and the children’s choir Chorus Angelus.
As part of the 2008 Respect World Music Festival, the Spanish Synagogue hosted a concert of Middle East music on the 30th of June. The Israeli group Toy Vivo Duo featured the qanun – an instrument whose importance in the classical music of the Middle East equals that of the piano in Europe – and an array of percussion instruments.
NEWS FROM THE EDUCATION AND CULTURE CENTRES IN PRAGUE AND BRNO
An exhibition of oil paintings by Sylva Chludilová, Interrupted Prayer, was on view at Prague’s Education and Culture Centre from February until April. Closely linked with Jewish themes, Chludilová’s works depict the corners and nooks of the Jewish district of Mikulov, as well as its residents.
Nine Jewish Walks
Works by the photographer Ivan Prokop were on display at Prague’s Education and Culture Centre from the 30th of April until the 12th of June. These photographs were originally made as illustrations for Jiřina Chrastilová’s guidebook Nine Jewish Walks – Sight-seeing Walks in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, which has been published this year by Paseka. This book charts the commingling of Jewish and Christian culture in the Czech Republic. The exhibition was part of the Kafka/Borges – Prague/Buenos Aires Biennale, which is organized by the Franz Kafka Society and La Fundación Internacional Jorge Luis Borges.
Publication for the project Don’t Lose Faith in Mankind...
The Education and Culture Centre has published a book for the project Don’t Lose Faith in Mankind... The Protectorate Through the Eyes of Jewish Children. This is intended for educational programmes at elementary and high schools. It is based on a travelling exhibition of the same name, which it expands upon in many respects, providing greater scope for children’s recollections and a broader description of historical contexts and events, as well as an explanation of a number of terms. The book includes a range of appendices with methodological materials and worksheet models.
…as long as the names still exist – exhibition in Brno
An exhibition of prints by the Japanese artist Kunito Nagaoko, entitled ...as long as the names still exist, was held in Brno’s New Town Hall Cloister from the 1st to the 19th of April. This show was organized by the Brno office of the Education and Culture Centre in collaboration with the Brno Jewish Community. On display were prints of gravestones in the Šafov Jewish Cemetery that Nagaoko made using the old Chinese technique of Taku-Hon.
Q&A with Olga Sommerová in Brno
A Q&A with the leading Czech documentary filmmaker Olga Sommerová took place in the Brno office of the Education and Culture Centre on the 22nd of May. It was moderated by Erika Bezdíčková, one of the characters in her last documentary Seven Lights, which is about Shoah survivors. The Jewish Museum provided this film with a wealth of material from the archive of its Holocaust department.
On the 15th of April, the Czech Union of Jewish Youth, the Foundation for Holocaust Victims and the Terezín Initiative Institute held a memorial event at Náměstí Míru (Peace Square) in Prague to mark Yom Ha-Shoah (Holocaust Memorial Day). A remembrance ceremony was also held in the Pinkas Synagogue for this anniversary on the 30th April.
The Jewish Museum took part in the 10th annual Bambiriáda – an event that provides children with various leisure opportunities – which was organized by the Czech Council of Children and Youth. It was held in Prague on Střelecký (Shooter’s) and Dětský (Children’s) islands and in the Anděl district from the 25th to the 28th of May. As part of this event, the Jewish Museum opened its doors to children for a symbolic price.
THE DIARY OF PETR GINZ
As part of the Prague Fringe Festival, which took place between the 26th and 30th of May, Divadlo Na Prádle (Theatre at the Laundry) featured a theatrical adaptation of the Diary of Petr Ginz. This journal from the Holocaust period is a record of the extraordinary personal resistance and unique artistic talent of a Jewish boy from Prague who perished in Auschwitz. The theatre piece was adapted and directed by Alex Went and performed by Shrewsbury School. The Jewish Museum collaborated on this extraordinary production.
PRAGUE MUSEUM NIGHT 2008
On the 14th of June, the Jewish Museum took part for the forth time in the Prague Museum Night under the auspices of the National Museum, the Prague Public Transit Co. Inc. and the Asso-ciation of Museums and Galleries in the Czech Republic. The Jewish Museum opened its doors free of charge to its permanent exhibition Jewish
Customs and Traditions at the Klausen Synagogue and the Prague Burial Society’s Ceremo-nial Hall. Qualified guides were available to help visitors get the most out of their visit. In the course of the night, the two sites were visited by as many as 6,500 people.
NEW DISPLAY CABINET IN THE SPANISH SYNAGOGUE
In May, a new display cabinet was placed on view in the Spanish Synagogue gallery, which contains part of the permanent exhibition History of the Jews in Bohemia and Moravia dealing with the Second World War period. Focusing on Czechoslovak Jews in combat against Nazism, the cabinet graphically shows that Czechoslovak Jews were an important part of the anti-Nazi resistance movement. The text and accompanying pictorial material for the new display were prepared by Zlatica Zudová-Lešková, a historian at the History Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences.
ALTERATIONS IN THE ŽIŽKOV CEMETERY
In May, the Jewish Museum carried out alterations in another section of the 17th–19th century Jewish cemetery in the Žižkov district of Prague (which it oversees). In the portion of the cemetery that was destroyed in the past during the construction of the Žižkov Television Tower, the area had remained in use as a playground. The museum removed 30m3 of concrete and asphalt from this area and had 40 m3 of soil brought in and sown with grass.
There have recently been several important acquisitions for the Jewish Museum’s Holocaust Department. A major donation was that of the private papers of Albert Ascher and his wife Anna (neé Kahnová), which constitute an immensely valuable set of unique material from the Terezín ghetto, 1942–1945. This donation was made by Marianna Becková (neé Kahnová), the sister of Anna, and was arranged by Jan Neubauer, the chair of the Jewish Museum's supervisory board. The uniqueness of this material consists in the variety of the documents, which chart both the working and private lives of prisoners in Terezín. Evidence of inclusion in a transport list is provided by an extant transport number and a luggage receipt issued by the Brno Jewish Community. Conditions in the ghetto are also documented by a relocation record. Unique wedding papers show that Anna and Albert got married in the ghetto, while a number of forms, receipts and permits point to their work assignments: Albert was employed in a cabinet-maker's workshop, Anna worked in the kitchen. Of particular value is the confirmation of the removal of their names from a transport list to the east, which saved both their lives. There is also a wealth of correspondence with relatives and friends. Anna and Albert also retained their permits to leave Terezín after its liberation, as well as their confirmation of non-infection. Marianna Becková also gave the museum photographs relating to her life shortly before her deportation from Brno. She worked as a nurse in a children’s shelter for Jewish refugees from Austria. She was also employed as a nurse in the Terezín ghetto, which is how she met her future husband, an Austrian doctor.
Another important donation is that of a diary from Terezín by Zuzana Justman (neé Picková), now living in the USA. The diary entries from May 1943 to June 1945 eloquently describe the atmosphere of the ghetto through the eyes of an adolescent girl trying to live a normal life despite all the restrictions. In her diary, she relates her encounter with Dr. Fleischmann, expresses her concerns for her family and conveys stories connected with food distribution, almost in the form of a feuilleton. Her pencil-written text is accompanied by small pictures. The diary has a green binding, measures 9 x 11 cm and contains 20 full pages.
The collection of metalworks and three-dimensional artefacts
Bohemia used to be a power house in the glass industry. The widespread use of glass can also be traced in the local Jewish milieu. This is particularly evident with luxury drinking glasses, which successfully replaced the vessels made of precious metals that were used elsewhere. The Jewish Museum managed to acquire one of these items at an auction held by Meissner-Neumann in March – a conical, cut-glass and gilt carafe made of pure glass, dating from the second half of the 19th century and formerly used for the ritual toasting of wine. It was probably originally part of a drinks set, although the other glasses have not been preserved. The carafe is a high-quality glass product. Much more important, however, is its gilt decoration comprising two medallions, one of which features the owner’s initials written in Roman characters, the other containing a four-line Hebrew inscription, reading “To the health of R. Meir and his wife Pesl, may they live.” Prestige items made of glass with personalized inscriptions are extremely rare. This acquisition has significantly enriched the Museum’s collection.
Judaica Bohemiae XLIII (2007- 2008)
The Jewish Museum in Prague has just published another issue of its annual English-language journal, which focuses on the history and culture of Jews in Bohemia and Moravia. It was put together by Iveta Cermanová, a member of the Museum staff. I. Cermanová’s paper deals with Hebrew censorship in the Bohemian lands
between 1781 and 1848. Pointing to the example of Nehemias Trebitsch as Chief Rabbi of Moravia, M. L. Miller of the Central European University in Budapest looks at the crisis of rabbinical authority in Moravia in the second third of the 19th century. M. Weiglová explores the relationship of Bohemian and Moravian Jews towards the Czech-German national conflict of 1890–1910. M. J. Wein of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem focuses on Zionism in the Bohemian lands before 1918. K. Habartová of the University of Pardubice deals with the issue of Jewish refugees from Galicia and Bukovina in East Bohemia during the First World War. The journal’s reports are written by members of the Museum staff: D. Polakovič looks at the history and the current state of documentation of the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague while A. Putík and D. Veselská provide information on the finding of an alleged remnant of the robe of the Jewish pseudo-Messiah Sabbatai Zevi from Izmir.
Participants of the General Assembly of the European Council of Jewish Communities.
Clients of Sotheby’s auction house.