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JARMILA MAŘANOVÁ. KAFKA AND PRAGUE AT THE ROBERT GUTTMANN GALLERY
A new show, Jarmila Mařanová. Kafka and Prague, opened at the museum’s Robert Guttmann Gallery on 25 September. Jarmila Mařanová is one of the few artists to have contin-ually focused on illustrating literary works by Franz Kafka. In 2006 she kindly gave her earliest Kafka monotypes to the museum. To mark her 86th birthday, these prints are now being showcased (until 4 January 2009) at the gallery, along with her other work from the collections of the Jewish Museum, the City of Prague Gallery and the Terezín Memorial. This show is an acknowl-edgement of thanks to Jarmila Mařanová for her generous gift and an expression of the respect and recognition for this artist, whose lifelong work is so closely connected with the fate of Prague Jews and the Jewish Museum. The curator Arno Pařík responds to a few questions below.
Jarmila Mařanová illustrated a number of Kafka’s short stories and novels. How would you account for her affinity with Kafka’s work?
She felt close to Kafka for two reasons – firstly, he looked like one of her cousins, and sec-ondly her reading of his works reminded her of the atmosphere of the pre-war Jewish Town. She also had an affinity with his literary style and his dream-like imagery. She was born and brought up in Prague, as was Kafka. When the first translation of The Trial was published in 1958, everyone saw in it a reflection of the atmosphere and the political show trials of the day.
Mařanová gave 54 monotypes to the museum. How important are these works?
These monotypes were made in 1963–1967 and comprise two main series of illustrations – The Trial and Kafka’s Prague. They were first exhibited at the museum in 1965 and 1967 and were later seen in many galleries across Europe and the U.S. Perhaps Mařanová’s most successful achievement, they are among the best work inspired by the work of Franz Kafka.
In 1976 Mařanová left for the States to be with her children. How did her work develop there?
Years later she returned once again to Kafka and in 1977–78 she made another series of monotypes, this time for Kafka’s first novel America. Later, in 1982 and 1983, she drew the illustrations for a bibliophile edition of The Trial and The Castle (published by the Franklin Library, Philadelphia), for which she received praise and awards from leading American graphic design and art associations.
CONCERTS AT THE SPANISH SYNAGOGUE
On 4 September the Education and Culture Centre hosted a concert of the Dutch/American klezmer band Nikitov at the Spanish Synagogue. This was a unique performance of Yiddish songs and Gypsy jazz by the charismatic singer Niki Jacobs backed by a powerhouse group of truly virtuoso musicians. Nikitov differs from other varieties of klezmer in its instrumentation – violin, guitar, bass and vocals, without wind instruments or drums. Niki Jacobs showed that she has an extraordinarily soulful voice and a perfect pronunciation of Yiddish.
NEIGHBOURS WHO DISAPPEARED PROJECT IN THE UK
The Neighbours Who Disappeared project was launched in 1999 by the Ministry of Education under the auspices of the Office of the President of the Republic, Václav Havel. Its objective is to encourage 12–18 year olds to trace the fate of Jews who disappeared from their neighbourhoods during the Second World War. It has also involved a number of schools in the Czech Republic and abroad. On 25 September, it was presented by students at the Colchester Royal Grammar School in the UK. For its promotion of active European citizenship, the joint project has
won a Golden Star Award from the European Commission, which will be handed over in November 2008.
TOMÁŠ TÖPFER IN BRNO
At the very end of the last school year, the Brno branch of the Education and Culture Centre was visited by the actor, director of the Prague-based Na Fidlovačce Theatre and senator Tomáš Töpfer. He not only talked about how he sees his Jewishness but also discussed his work in TV serials and the world of politics in which he is now involved.
SUMMER PROMOTIONAL CAMPAIGN
Like last year, we again put together an intensive promotional campaign for the peak tourism season. Visits to the museum were promoted by posters with a smiley face comprising the traditional Jewish symbols – the Star of David and the Menorah – which went on display on trams, on citylight panels and at the main railway station and Ruzyně Airport in Prague.
Women in the Bible, Women Today
The newly published Ženy v Bibli, ženy dnes [Women in the Bible, Women Today] is based on a lecture series given by the Hebraist Terezie Dubinová at the Education and Culture Centre between January 2007 and January 2008. This collection provides a Jewish feminist interpreta-tion of the Hebrew Bible, which is a previously little-known source of Jewish biblical studies. The author interprets the attitudes and views towards women in Judaism through traditional rabbinic commentaries of biblical texts, which she compares with a present-day feminist perspective while focusing on new trends in various disciplines. This book is unique in its way, considering the fact that academic discussion and specialist literature on this topic in Czech Hebrew studies is mostly unknown and unpublished.
The Forgotten Voice of the Jeruzalémská Synagogue in Prague. Cantor Ladislav Moshe Blum
With technical assistance from the Phonogrammarchiv of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, we have published a unique double CD, The Forgotten Voice of the Jeruzalémská Synagogue in Prague. This is a selection of personal recordings which were made by the famous cantor Ladislav Moshe Blum on 40 cassette tapes in 1978–83 at the Jeruzalémská Synagogue.
Blum (1911–1994) was the last cantor (prayer-leader, or hazzan in Hebrew) of the pre-war generation, officiating as cantor in this synagogue during the years 1963–1994. He made these amateur recordings in order to preserve the local tradition for future generations. The recordings capture Shabbat and High Holiday services in the synagogue, remembrance ceremonies for those who died in Terezín, and even some performances of the Choir of the Jewish Religious Community in Prague led by Blum. This selection of the most representative recordings is presented on two CDs with a 60-page booklet in Czech and English. Apart from a biography of Cantor Blum and an ethno-musicological commentary on the recordings by Alexander Knapp, the CD booklet also contains the texts of all the songs (also in Hebrew) as compiled by Michal Foršt. The recordings were selected by musicologist Veronika Seidlová, who also put together the booklet.
Both of the above publications are available at the museum’s stores or online at www.jewishmuseum.cz/shop/ashop.htm.
Our collections have recently been enriched by several major acquisitions.
Visual Art Collection
A painting by Gustav Macoun (1892–1934), View of Butcher Shops in the Former Prague Ghetto (In the Old Town), has been purchased for the Visual Art Collection. This depicts Jewish butcher shops in the district around the former Great-Court Synagogue in Prague’s Jewish Town (demarcated by Masařská and Rabínská streets). The view of this corner of the former Jewish ghetto was a very popular motif for painters who focused on the nooks and crannies of Prague – such as Antonín Slavíček, Jan Minařík, Stanislav Feikl and Adolf Kohn. The schematisation of Macoun’s painting suggests that the work may have been made after this part of the former ghetto had been cleared in 1906–1907 (perhaps on the basis of earlier studies and sketches). However, it may be an earlier work, made when the not-quite 15-year-old student of painting from a poor rural family began to study under the landscape painter Alois Kalvoda, having been recommended by his first teacher Václav Jansa – also a “painter of the lost ghetto of Prague”. In 1909–1913 Macoun attended the Prague Academy studio of Slavíček, whose paintings Abattoir in the Fifth Quarter II (1906) and Old Butcher Shops in the Ghetto Clearance (1907) depicted butcher shops. It is possible that Macoun’s monumental format of butcher shops was influenced by his teacher and that he enlarged his earlier student work.
In connection with the exhibition Hella Guth. Dissolved Figures (see our newsletter 1/2008 for details), 16 works by Hella Guth (1908–1992) were donated to the museum by the artist’s nieces, Kate Rys and Mariana Ron. These include mainly drawings but also pastels and collages. Hella Guth studied in Prague in the 1930s, where she spent part of her youth. Most of her work, however, was created in the difficult conditions of exile and in the face of international competition in London and Paris. Thanks to her diligence and talent, however, Guth managed to achieve
relatively widespread acclaim not only in the 1950s and 60s but also in recent times, which have seen a rediscovery of her work in several galleries in France and Germany. The first ever solo exhibition in Prague of Guth’s works was on view at the Robert Guttmann Gallery between 7 February and 27 April for the 100th anniversary of the artist’s birth.
Thanks to a generous donation, the textile collection has a new and unique addition, which would certainly have been showcased in our 2006 Mazal Tov – Good Luck exhibition on Jewish wedding ceremonies. It is a brown leather case, once used as a decorative container for cash donations (wedding gifts or dowry) given after a wedding ceremony. The front contains the embroidered motif of a man’s hand putting a ring on a woman’s finger; the other side is monogrammed with the initials N. P. in a frame of flowers. Inside are two silk compartments, the outer sides of which have banknote motifs which are embroidered in fine yarn. The case belonged to the family of Dr. Viktor Pollak. Born in Vienna in 1917 and raised by his uncle in Postoloprty after the death of his parents, he was deported to Terezín during the war and in 1966 emigrated to Germany, from where he later left for Canada. Unique in terms of its function and its uncommon iconography, this item is also linked to a Jewish family’s fate, which makes its importance to the museum all the greater.
We would like to express our thanks to all the donors.
On the basis of a decision of the museum’s Board of Trustees, five books from the library collection were restituted to Malka Hahn on 19 September 2008. These books originally belonged to her father Naftali Zvi Kartagener, who was deported to Terezín in 1943 and then to Auschwitz, where he was murdered.
We hereby announce that as of 26 September 2008 we have received a claim for the restitution of 46 artworks by Hella Guth (1908–1992). The items in question were confiscated from Hella Guth (neé Rosenzweig, b. 27 November 1879), the artist’s mother, who was deported on 14 December 1941 from Prague to Terezín (on Transport No. M 686) and on 23 October 1944 sent to Auschwitz (on Transport No. Et 520), where she perished. Pursuant to the ‘Terms for the assertion of restitution claims with respect to items in the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague which were unlawfully taken during the period of Nazi occupation’, there is a time limit of one year from the above date (when the claim was made) for the filing of subsequent claims regarding the works in question. A complete list of artworks that are the subject of a restitution claim is available on the museum’s website: www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/arestit.htm.
ANITA FRANKOVÁ DIED
Anita Franková, a long-standing employee of the museum, died on 10 August. Her sudden death has affected not only her family, but also her many friends. Born in Litomyšl in 1930, Anita was deported with her mother to the Terezín ghetto in the summer of 1942, from where they were sent to the Terezín Family Camp at Auschwitz in December 1943. They were taken to the Stutthof concentration camp at the end of July 1944 and then to its sub camp Guttau, where they narrowly escaped death. After returning to Prague in 1945, Anita made up for lost school years by
finishing high school and reading history and archival science at Charles University in Prague. She married in 1951 and had a daughter, Ela. For almost forty years – from 1 October 1969 until her death – she worked at the Jewish Museum in Prague, where she contributed to the founding of the Documentation Centre, which later became the present Holocaust Department. She played an important role in arranging the museum’s collections of documents, photographs and books, and was a frequent guest on radio and television programmes. As a curator, she was involved
in the preparation of many exhibitions documenting the Shoah. Anita Franková’s work was always accompanied by an ability to empathize with others and to help in both word and deed. With her passing, the museum has lost a major specialist and a much-liked colleague.
Oscar-winning screen legend Robert De Niro.
Participants of a conference of garrison commanders from Central European capitals.