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OBJECT OF THE MONTH


Album of photographs from the refugee camp in Německý Brod (now Havlíčkův Brod)
Acquired from Václav Hořejš by the Jewish Museum in 1962.

Visual Arts Collection
JMP 173.008
Album of 73 bromide photographs
Not signed or dated, ca. 1915-1917

During the First World War, hundreds of thousands of people fled from areas near the front lines to the inner regions of the Habsburg monarchy. They abandoned their homes out of fear of the approaching front, fighting, pillaging, rape and lack of basic survival needs. Many of them, however, were evacuated against their will by the army, which suspected the loyalty of certain ethnic groups, such as Ruthenians and Italians. Among the refugees were many Jews from Galicia and Bukovina – who were mostly very poor and were far more religious than the Jews of the Bohemian lands.
Although the state supported the refugees, it sought to control them as much as possible. Refugees received very little in aid (only 70 halers – later 90 halers – per person per day, which was enough only to buy a loaf of bread) and were not free to move about. They were ordered to stay in refugee camps, mostly in small towns and villages, or in newly founded barrack camps. The latter were a completely new phenomenon and their purpose was not only to provide mass accommodation for a large number of refugees, but also to prevent them from entering large towns, particularly Vienna and Prague. Moreover, the camps, like the aid organizations, were mostly divided along ethnic or religious lines. In Mikulov/Nikolsburg, Pohořelice/Pohrlitz and Kyjov/Gaya, for example, barracks were hastily built for thousands of Jewish refugees. The camps were crowded, especially in the first few months, and refugees complained about the undignified living conditions. Uherské Hradiště/Ungarisch Hradisch served as a transit station for tens of thousands of mostly Jewish refugees sent from Hungary to Cisleithania (the northern and western part of Austria-Hungary). The largest camp for Jewish refugees in the Bohemian lands, however, was the one in Německý Brod/Deutsch Brod (now Havlíčkův Brod).
Built in the summer of 1915 on the basis of existing plans for an insane asylum, the Německý Brod camp included 53 residential barracks, seven kitchens and three warehouses. Initially it was inhabited by Italian and Istrian refugees, but later it was reserved for Jewish refugees. At most, it accommodated up to ten thousand refugees. Due to high mortality rates and a typhus epidemic, the local Jewish cemetery was not large enough to bury all the dead, which was why a special typhus cemetery had to be set up. The camp also had a kindergarten and a school in which Polish was the language of instruction and the refugees themselves worked as teachers. In 1917 the camp was closed and the refugees who were still unable to return to their homes were relocated to various communities across the Bohemian lands. The barracks continued to be used as a recreational facility for starving children from Prague.

This album of 73 bromide photographs of various format sizes was acquired by the Jewish Museum in 1962. A series of identical photographs – although not arranged within an album – is also kept at the State District Archives in Havlíčkův Brod. The photographs depict the camp itself, the construction of new barracks and facilities, its inhabitants, and festive moments in the camp. Possibly taken by one of the camp's employees the photographs also document the local health service, sanitation and fire fighting service. Many of the pictures focus on the visible 'otherness' of the religious Galician Jewish men with their distinctive caftans and shtreimels. It is evident that some of these photographs were deliberately arranged and perhaps influenced by the prevalent images of 'Eastern Jews'. Women and children among the Jewish refugees, however, are hardly depicted at all. The album reflects a fascination with the 'otherness' of these 'Eastern' Jews, which is also evident in other photographs of Jewish refugees in the Bohemian lands during the First World War.

The fate of Jewish refugees during the First World War is the focus of the temporary exhibition The Orient in Bohemia?, which is on display at the Jewish Museum's Robert Guttmann Gallery until 1 February 2015.






"Arranged photograph of Jewish refugees from the barrack camp in Nemecky Brod (Deutschbrod, now Havlickuv Brod) 1915-1917. © Jewish Museum in Prague"




"Arranged photograph of Jewish refugees from the barrack camp in Nemecky Brod (Deutschbrod, now Havlickuv Brod) 1915-1917. © Jewish Museum in Prague"






"Arranged photograph of Jewish refugees from the barrack camp in Nemecky Brod (Deutschbrod, now Havlickuv Brod) 1915-1917. © Jewish Museum in Prague"











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