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Cinema advertisement of Rudolf Elsner, tradesman from Říčany by Prague, Bio-Reklama Slavia, Prague, Národní 21, year of production and display: 1926

Hand-colored positive on glass to be projected before the film
“Fenom – American Stove for Fuels of All Types / Supplier: Rudolf Elsner / hardware store / Říčany,” on the right is the trademark of the manufacturer “Fenom / Temper Prague” with a pelican motif standing on a globe, on the left is a picture of the product, dimensions: 85 x 85 mm, masking tape along the edges, the bottom part has a tag with a note of the projection date: “Projected on 24.10.1926”

This small item was donated to the Jewish Museum in Prague along with four other similar items last year by one of the daughters of Rudolf Elsner, who with her sister had survived the war in Great Britain. Their parents, Rudolf and Marie, were deported on September 12, 1942 from the Prague assembly point to Terezín and within a month to the Treblinka extermination camp, where they perished. The donor obtained, according to a family member, one of the few treasured personal mementos – five tiny glass plates with advertisements – after the war from an acquaintance who had worked in the local cinema in Říčany.

In his series on Říčany tradesmen, Dalibor Hofta gives us a colorful description of how Elsner’s shop was seen in the context of daily life in a small town in central Bohemia:

“We’re standing in the shop of Rudolf Elsner, which the young generation today remembers only as a hardware store. The establishment of this lively Jewish merchant was always full, fresh produce, he seems to have had the highest turnover. Mr. Elsner sold groceries, but he also had his own outfit for roasting coffee, real and ersatz, which was roasted grains. In addition he roasted peanuts. Five crowns would get you a half-meter paper bag full, still warm. The courtyard was for selling hardware of all manner, even the smaller types of building material. He was known as a man of unimpeachable honesty who was always willing to lend a helping hand. He disappeared in Auschwitz ...”

A more detailed picture of the Elsners’ life before the war, which revolved around the family business, is provided by the donor, who recalls their life in an intervew deposited in the archives of the Shoah History Department of the Jewish Museum in Prague:

“Dad began with very modest means, but by the time I remember he was already doing business as a wholesaler. He supplied nearly the whole district with produce, groceries, hardware, eveything, general goods to put it simply. Both parents worked hard, from five in the morning till ten at night, even though they had a few apprentices and shop assistants, they just put their backs into it. On Saturday and Sunday they stayed open till noon, because Sunday was the day the country folk went to church. Both parents came from Jewish-Czech families, from small villages near Prague, and rather poor at that. My father was born in Doubravce by Český Brod, my mother in Sluštice by Říčany. Each of their parents also came from small Czech villages, so they were completely imbued with Czech influences. I never heard, not from either side, anything other than Czech spoken. Naturally my sister and I attended Czech school in Říčany. [...] Father was convinced that the Jewish question could be solved through assimilation, because he had grown up with all those Czech influences. He loved Czech culture, history, literature, he could recite Karel Havlíček Borovský’s “The Baptism of St. Vladimír,” as well as Vrchlický and Jan Neruda’s “Cosmic Songs” and Svatopluk Čech’s “The Song of the Slave.” This was just something my father really enjoyed, even though he never had much time, he knew all this by heart. He brought us up on Jirásek, the very first thing we read was “Old Czech Legends.”

Faith in the assimilation movement and the effort to integrate fully into Czech society of course did not help the Elsner family escape the racial persecution and genocide that befell many other Jewish families from perwar Czechoslovakia. The photographs, letters, and even several small household items the Elsner daughters managed to get back when they returned from Great Britain thanks to the decency of some of their neighbors are the only pieces of concrete evidence of the life of one of the five Jewish families who called Říčany home before the war and who made such important contributions to the towns’s and region’s development.

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