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Flood damage in the Jewish Museum in Prague in August 2002


As part of the Museum's preventative measures taken before the floods, the ground-floor sections of the permanent exhibitions in the Spanish, Maisel and Klausen synagogues were closed and hundreds of the Museum's artifacts were deposited in a safe place. The Museum complex is situated in an area that was completely evacuated during the floods and Museum staff did not have access to the building for almost two days (13 and 14 August). Although this area of Prague was not flooded from the outside, a huge increase in the level of groundwater and the flooding of the sewage system had a devastating impact. During the floods in Prague not a single object or book in the Museum's collection was destroyed or seriously damaged. It was the Museum's buildings that suffered the damage; preliminary estimates put the extent of this damage - together with indirect financial losses incurred by the Museum during the floods - at tens of millions of Czech crowns (hundreds of thousends US$). As the Museum is insured, it is expected that part of the damage will be covered.
Museum staff are putting in maximum effort to ensure that the Museum reopens as soon as possible. This depends on the reconnection of the electricity supply and the removal of the damage mentioned in the following overview. There appears to be a realistic possibility that, apart from the Pinkas Synagogue, all the Museum's properties in the Old Town, including the Old Jewish Cemetery, will open in October 2002. The entrance fee will be appropriately reduced.

Pinkas Synagogue (built in 1535)
Groundwater reached a height of 1.5 meters, flooding the nave and vestibule of the synagogue. The water covered some of the hand-written inscriptions on the walls which commemorate the 80,000 victims of the Shoah from Bohemia and Moravia. According to an expert opinion, the inscriptions are seriously damaged and there is rising damp on the walls even in places where the water did not reach. Also damaged are the historic stone bimah (platform) in the centre of the synagogue and the aron ha-kodesh (holy ark ) on the east side. The water destroyed the banisters (which also served as a source of lighting for the synagogue) and the underfloor heating system. The building also shows signs of structural damage which needs to be assessed in detail.
Once the water was removed from the synagogue, work began on drying out the area, disinfection was undertaken and rescue work commenced on the wall inscriptions on the recommendation of external experts and Museum experts. In view of the varied nature and extent of the damage, an expert team is being set up which, in a short while, will lay down a detailed procedure for further rescue work . At this stage, it is not yet known whether the damaged part of the Memorial (hand-written wall inscriptions) - and, in the event of overall structural damage, perhaps even a significant part - can be saved. The reopening of the memorial is envisaged within 18 months, and, if necessary, inscriptions may be restored while the synagogue is open to visitors.

Specialist and administrative centre of the Museum, U staré školy Street, 1,3
The two-building complex which houses the Museum's administrative and specialist workplaces, security centre, book depositories, restoration workshops, library, study, reference centre, gallery and café was established following the extensive reconstruction and refurbishment of a former hospital. The Museum began to use the property in February 2001. During the floods, the basement areas were completely inundated. The water destroyed the transformer station, boiler room, cooling, ventilation and elevator engine rooms, the vast majority of the Museum's visitor information publications, postcards and guidebooks, packing room, security staff cloakroom, maintenance workshops and café stores. As the electricity supply has been cut off for a prolonged period of time and the air-conditioning is completely out of order, the depositories of books, rare printed works and manuscripts in particular are also at risk .
Since returning to work , Museum staff have, with the help of generators, been making constant efforts to dehumidify the depositories in order to prevent any damage to the books. After drawing water out of the basement areas of the building, all items that has been destroyed were carried away to the dump. Plasterboard partitions which divide the basement rooms were taken down and the whole area was repeatedly disinfected. The partitions will be reinstalled once the basement has dried out. Ongoing work is being carried out on repairs to the technological facilities. The state of the building before the floods will not be restored earlier than the spring of 2003.


Klausen Synagogue (built in 1573)
The basement was completely flooded and the boiler was destroyed. The flooding of basement areas also led to increased dampness in the nave; the exhibition here cannot be renewed until the dampness falls to an acceptable level.
Once the water was drawn away, the basement areas were disinfected and are now being thoroughly dried out. The repair or replacement of the boiler may be envisaged in the course of October.


Maisel Synagogue (built in 1592)
Structural damage in the wake of the floods is suspected in the area of the Maisel Synagogue, which is why the building's structure has to be monitored. In the vicinity of the synagogue, several pavements caved in and a symbolic 19th century tombstone in the front garden partly collapsed and broke in two. The basement area was completely covered with water, which - as with the Klausen Synagogue - led to increased dampness in the nave; the exhibition here cannot be renewed until the dampness falls to an acceptable level. The flooded areas were disinfected and are now being thoroughly dried out. The synagogue will open only provided that no structural damage is found.


Spanish Synagogue (built in 1868)
The synagogue forms a connected complex with the specialist and administrative centre of the Museum. Its basement was covered with water, which destroyed the vast majority of the chairs in storage (used in services of the conservative congregation Beith Praha and concerts). The flooded areas were disinfected and are now being thoroughly dried out. The synagogue will open as soon as the dampness in the nave (which serves as an exhibition space) subsides.


Old Jewish cemetery (oldest tombstone from 1439)
The cemetery was not flooded, but the raised level of groundwater threatened the stability of trees and pathways. From an expert assessment it follows that certain trees will have to be cut down in the interest of safety. In view of repairs to the Pinkas Synagogue, which borders the cemetery, it will not be possible to use on a long-term basis the former visitor route; an alternative route will have to be built before the cemetery opens to the public.

Jáchymova Street 3
The Museum's spare bookshelves were damaged in the flooded basement. No books, however, were stored there at the time of the floods.


Smíchov Synagogue (built in 1863)
In no way did the floods damage the ongoing preparatory work connected with the repair and reconstruction of this synagogue, which is to serve as a Jewish archive and a depository for artworks. According to the original plan, the main building works were to have been launched at the end of this year and completed in 2003. The time frame for repairs and reconstruction will not be decided until all damage has been assessed and the insurance settled.


Cemetery in Fibich Street (established in 1680)
A survey regarding the stability of trees and pathways has been commissioned, the results of which should be known by mid-September. The cemetery will reopen if no defects are found.

Prague, 27 August 2002
Leo Pavlát
Director of the Jewish Museum in Prague

Photos the damage caused by the flooding


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