Spanish Synagogue, 1 March
- 31 August 2000
Postcards featuring Jewish subject matter
are a mere fragment of the thematically diverse range of the postcards
from the period 1898 to 1938. They capture the long lost world of European
Jewry, who at the beginning of the 20th century experienced a culmination
of their long-standing efforts to achieve emancipation and equality.
This world was almost completely destroyed by the catastrophe of the
Shoah during the Second World War. It was therefore postcards that preserved,
albeit unwittingly, the richest picture of the life of pre-war Jewish
communities, their sites, customs and traditions. The majority of postcards
featuring Jewish subject matter, however, have not been preserved -
they served the needs of the day, and it was with the day that they
most often disappeared. The rest are dispersed across collections throughout
The aim of this exhibition is to show the full range of themes and genres
covered by pre-war Jewish postcards from both Bohemia and Europe as
a whole. We have selected around 450 Jewish postcards from a single
private collection and arranged them into 30 thematic groups. The majority
are topographic in nature, featuring synagogues, Jewish cemeteries
and other Jewish sites. As it was not possible to include every geographic
area in our selection, we have focused primarily on postcards from Central
and Eastern Europe, where Jewish settlements were the most populous
and culturally unique. Special attention is devoted to postcards that
feature Jewish motifs from Prague, lesser known synagogues in Bohemia
and Moravia, the former ghetto and synagogues in Bratislava, and the
environment of traditional Jewish communities in Slovakia and Ruthenia.
The second half of the exhibition documents various areas of Jewish
life. One of the most interesting thematic groups is that of postcards
depicting original settlements, ghettos and Jewish streets, particularly
in Galicia and Ruthenia. A related group of photographic postcards capture
the expressive faces of the elderly and of children from hadarim (Jewish
schools) in traditional dress, Jewish shops and individuals carrying
out typical Jewish trades - pedlars, hawkers, second hand dealers, tailors,
musicians and knife-grinders. An integral part of the picture of Jewish
life a century ago also included Karlovy Vary and Marianske Lazne, where
regular visits by Hassidic Rabbis from Galicia and their disciples would
attract great attention.
Other postcards depict traditional
scenes from Jewish festivals and religious life - men dressed in their
best clothes on their way to the synagogue with their children on the
Sabbath, elderly men with prayer shawls during morning services. Many
of these are connected to the celebration of the Sabbath - the lighting
of candles at the beginning, prayers and family rest, and the Havdalah
ceremony marking the close of the Sabbath. Others recall the poetic
ceremony of the blessing of the new moon. Many were intended as greetings-cards
to mark the most important Jewish festivals - New Year and the Day of
Atonement. These include traditional Hebrew greetings and show, for
example, a river bank scene during the New Year Tashlikh ceremony, and
an old man with a white rooster for the Kaparot ceremony. Much more
uncommon are the greetings-cards for the Spring festival Pesach, commemorating
the liberation from slavery in Egypt. There are only a few greetings-cards
to mark the festivals Simhath Torah, Sukkoth, Hanukkah and Purim.
Important moments in an individual's life were also occasions to be
congratulated upon, which was why they also appeared on postcards -
in particular, a religious wedding with all the traditions involved
(the huppah or wedding canopy, dance and music), the circumcision of
a new-born son, and the bar mitzvah (when a boy reaches the age of 13).
Original postcards designed by Jewish artists were also used as greetings-cards.
Much of the work of these artists has survived only on postcards.
For a fuller picture, we have also selected examples of postcards that
are humorous, sport-oriented or Zionist, and those that feature sites
in the Holy Land, in addition to postcards that are anti-Semitic.
For a long time, large museums failed to pay sufficient attention to
the collecting of postcards. The collections of the Jewish Museum in
Prague include only a small set of postcards bearing photographs of
Prague Jewish sites, in addition to postcards issued by the Museum itself.
On the other hand, there is a long-established tradition of privately
collecting postcards. It was not long after the invention of postcards
that they began to be collected, exhibited and exchanged with great
fervour. František Bányai's collection of Jewish postcards is one of
the most interesting of its kind. We are grateful that he was willing
to put part of his collection on public display.
Exhibition curator: Dr. Arno Parik
Installation: Pavel Brach