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PATH OF LIFE: RABBI JUDAH LOEW BEN BEZALEL (ca. 1525–1609)
The 7th of September 2009 will be the 400th anniversary of the death of the renowned Rabbi Judah Loew (Löw) ben Bezalel, known in the Jewish world under the Hebrew acronym Maharal. The Jewish Museum and the Prague Castle Administration are preparing a major prestigious exhibition to mark this important event. Entitled Path of Life after one of the Maharal’s works (Derekh Hayyim), it will be held at the Imperial Stables of Prague Castle from 5 August to 8 November 2009. The exhibition commissioner Eva Kosáková responds to a few questions below.
In the Czech Republic, Rabbi Loew is mainly known as the legendary creator of the Golem. What perspective of the Prague Maharal does this exhibition offer?
This exhibition could be subtitled “Everything is different”, for what we know about Rabbi Loew and the Golem is generally based on legend and myth. It deals with both of these levels – the historical part will show out “how it really was”, although we will never know the real truth. In the other parts, we’ll see how legends arise and how they change our view of history. These things are so deeply rooted that we find them hard to give up.
Will the exhibition have any rare documents or items from Rabbi Loew’s era?
There will be many archive documents, including period editions of works by Rabbi Loew. Perhaps the most interesting is a silver gilt cup, which, according to tradition, belonged to the Rabbi Loew – this is the only item in our collections that can be associated with him, as nothing else has been preserved. But there will also be many items on loan from other collections in the Czech Republic and abroad that evoke the atmosphere of Prague under Rudolf II, the ‘golden’ era of Jewish Prague.
Are you preparing other events to accompany the exhibition?
Our Education and Culture Centre is working on some events for children, and an interactive installation, Golem, by the artist Petr Nikl will be on view at our Robert Guttmann Gallery from 4 June to 4 October 2009. In association with the Academia publishing house, we are also putting together a large catalogue (in Czech and English) for the exhibition.
AWARDS FOR THE JEWISH MUSEUM
EU award for the Neighbours
Who Disappeared project
On 14 November 2008, we received the Golden Star for Active European Citizenship prize from the European Commission in Brussels for the Neighbours Who Disappeared project. European Commissioner Ján Figel´ handed over the prize to Miroslava Ludvíková for the museum and to Marta Vančurová and Eva Kuželová for the civic association The Forgotten Ones. Awarded as part of the Europe for Citizens programme, the 2008 Golden Stars are a public acknowledgement of initiatives that can provide examples of co-operation, effective working procedures and tangible results with regard to citizen involvement. The winning projects involved the participation of citizens from 22 EU member states. More >>>
Smíchov Synagogue has recently been included in the highly prestigious The Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century World Architecture (published by the renowned London-based Phaidon Press). Along with 1,036 other buildings, it was selected from a list of more than 10,000 of the best in contemporary world architecture. The atlas contains eleven works of architecture from the Czech Republic, nine of which were designed by local architects. Smíchov Synagogue was chosen for its interesting refurbishment, which the Jewish Museum completed in 2004.
The Old Jewish Cemetery
The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague’s Jewish Town has recently been ranked among Europe’s ten most visited cemeteries in a survey done
by TripAdvisor. It came third after Highgate Cemetery in London and the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery (Cimetière du Père-Lachaise) in Paris. Others include the Protestant Church in Rome, the Central Cemetery (Zentralfriedhof) in Vienna and the Roman Catacombs. Attracting 25 million visitors each month, TripAdvisor (www.tripad-visor.co.uk) is one of the world’s largest travel-related websites.
70th ANNIVERSARY OF KRISTALLNACHT
Our Holocaust Department – as of January 2009 renamed the Shoah History Department – has been involved in putting together an online
exhibition at www.holocaust.cz, which was prepared by the Terezín Initiative Institute. This exhibition commemorates the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht in the Czech border area on 9–11 November 1938, when synagogues were burned, Jewish men were murdered and taken to concentration camps, and Jewish property was destroyed. Kristallnacht was a key milestone leading to the subsequent extermination of the Jews during the Second World War. Setting synagogues on fire was meant to show that there was no place for Jews in the Third Reich. This extensive web presentation contains texts by historians, photos, recollections by witnesses and archive documents, many of which are being published for the first time.
The Terezín Initiative held a commemoration ceremony in Pinkas Synagogue on the anniversary day of this tragic event.
Stones of the Vanished
On the eve of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) on 8 October, several brass topped stones were embedded in pavements in Prague as part of the international project Stones of the Vanished to commemorate the names of victims of Nazi persecution during the Second World War. Designed by Cologne-based Gunter Demnig, 16,500 of these stones have already been placed across Europe – including sites where “the vanished” last lived and often where they were heard of for the very last time. The project was prepared by the Czech Union of Jewish Youth with our support.
Launch of the history portal Memory of Nation
Since 1990 we have been systematically charting and documenting the fate of Jews during the Second World War. The Testimonies from Holocaust Survivors collection is the largest of its kind in the Czech Republic. In 2007, in order to support and intensify mutual co-operation with institutions involved in oral history, we joined Společenství paměti národa [Memory of Nation, SPN], a group of institutions that focus on documenting the life stories of people persecuted during the war and under Communism. With members including Czech Radio, the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, the Military History Institute and the Ústí nad Labem Museum, the SPN was founded on the basis of an initiative from the civic association Post Bellum.
On 28 October 2008, Post Bellum and the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes launched a history portal and electronic reading room (www.pametnaroda.cz, www.memoryofnation.cz) to publish and provide access to hundreds of selected audiovisual testimonies recorded by individuals and institutions involved in the SPN. The portal is intended for students, history teachers, historians, journalists and the general public.
The life and activities of the wartime Jewish Community in Prague (JCP) under the administration of the occupation authorities are documen-
ted by several thousands of photographs in our photo archive. About 700 of these are portraits of the community members and staff, most of whose identities are unknown. The captions that were written in the ‘book of negatives’ shortly after the war are very terse in nature – such as ‘unknown man’, ‘unknown woman’, ‘Mr. Bondy’, ‘Mr. Kohn’. Although only a few pictures have detailed captions (e.g., Jiří Baum, Leopold Fisch and Otto Munk), it is possible – but only with great effort – to find out the names (for instance, at least three Jiří Baums were living in Prague at the time) and fates behind the portraits. The unKnown project shows that even 60 years on, there may still be relatives, friends or acquaintances of former community members and staff among us. If we do not manage to find their identities, we will have to replace the capital K in the title with a small one.
We will be grateful to all members of theJCP and other communities if they help to identify any of these people. Since the launch of the project at the beginning of November, we have been contacted by 15 people, some of whom spotted relatives or friends in these photos. A selection of about 400 photos can be seenat Prague’s Jewish Town Hall or on our website (www.jewishmuseum.cz/cz/czidentifika-ce.htm).
NEWLY OPENED SYNAGOGUES
The refurbished Turnov Synagogue opened to the public at the end of November and is to be used as a museum. From the next season, it will feature original ritual items from Turnov and rare objects that we have loaned out. It will also be a venue for concerts and cultural/educational events.
Earlier, on 28 October, another permanent exhibition showing Jewish religious items and old photos of Jewish communities opened in Kdyně Synagogue as part of the celebrations for the 90th anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia. This show was conceived by Tachov Museum, which also loaned several items. Other exhibits were purchased by the town of Kdyně.
At the end of 2008, we issued a new CD, Dol Dauber. Musical Fantasies and Jewish Liturgical Songs. This loosely follows on from My Heart is
a Jazzband, a reissue of historical recordings of dance band music by the great bandmaster, violinist, arranger and composer Dol Dauber (1894–1950), which we put out on CD a few years ago. The new CD contains pieces for violin and piano, fantasies and arrangements of arias from famous operas, ‘high-popular’ music, arrangements of Jewish melodies and original compositions by Dol Dauber. It can be purchased at our retail stores or from our website.
We are carrying out long-term research into the provenance of our collections with a view to returning items that were illegally taken from their owners during the Nazi occupation. Two relatively large collections were restituted in 2008. In October we returned 22 paintings – mainly amateur works by Hanuš Kolben (the son of the famous Prague industrialist Emil Kolben) – to Jindřich Kolben, who was reunited with his father’s artworks after 65 years. In December, 32 artworks from the former collection of Dr. Emil Freund were returned to the descendants of Freund’s sister Berta. The Czech government has shown interest in buying some of the 13 pieces in this collection, which was designated a cultural treasure under a proposal by the National Gallery in Prague. If the government manages to purchase the works from the new owners, they will be kept in the National Gallery.
Our collections have recently been enriched by several major acquisitions. These include Portrait of Zdenka Strass by Czech portraitist Vladimír Stříbrný. Zdenka Strass (1881–1944) was the wife of the well-known collector Leo Strass from Náchod, who became involved in the ‘Terezín Painters Affair’. In Terezín, Strass arranged for drawings by B. Fritta, O. Ungar, L. Haas, F. Bloch and N. Troller to be taken outof the ghetto. This clandestine operation, however, was uncovered in 1944 and all those involved were deported to Auschwitz. Only Norbert Troller and Leo Haas survived. Leo and Zdenka Strass perished in Auschwitz.
Other acquisitions include an excellent silver Torah pointer (Vienna, 1880–90) for the Collection of Metal Works, a velvet bound album of wedding telegrams for the Archive, a set of six paintings by Adolf Kohn (c.1910) and three sketch drawings by Bedřich Feigl for the Visual Arts Collection.
MAISEL SYNAGOGUE FENCE
The restoration of the historic fence in front of Maisel Synagogue was completed in December. This well made railing with stone crown was originally installed in connection with the urban renewal of the Jewish Town in c.1900, when the synagogue was also given a Neo-Gothic façade. The current restoration was prepared and undertaken in co-operation with heritage protection specialists from Prague City Hall, who arranged to have the railing painted bluefollowing a restoration survey which revealed this to be the original colour.
A group of sponsors of the United States Holo-caust Memorial Museum, Washington.
Participants of the Conference of European Rabbis.
Supermodel Tereza Maxová.