Archive of press releases2014
Prague, 10 November 2010
The Jewish Museum in Prague to help make available Holocaust archives
The European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI) will be launched in Brussels on 16 November 2010 under the auspices of Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council. This four-year project aims to improve co-operation between Holocaust archives in Europe, thereby facilitating the work of historians, researchers, teachers and students. It is co-ordinated by the Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (NIOD) and involves the contribution of 20 archives and research institutes from 13 countries in Europe and Israel, including Yad Vashem. It is funded by the European Union as part of the Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration. The Jewish Museum and the Terezín Memorial are contributing to the project in the Czech Republic.
Holocaust research still faces considerable obstacles, even 60 years on from the end of the Second World War and the liberation of the concentration camps. The accessibility of archive sources and related information is one of the pre-requisites for research and for the preservation of the collective memory of the genocide of Jews in the Second World War. The work of Holocaust researchers is often difficult and time-consuming as fragments of the documents that the Nazis did not have time to destroy are scattered across many archives in a number of countries. The fact that the Holocaust took place throughout Europe means that a Europe-wide approach is required for providing access to Holocaust archives. This is why, in the next four years, those involved in the EHRI project will be developing an extensive database to bring together information about archive Holocaust collections relating to the Holocaust and will be creating a unique virtual research environment to help researchers connect the fragments of information that are scattered across many archives and countries. The EHRI seeks to become a model for other projects in the field of digital humanities.
“The Jewish Museum in Prague will be leading a work group which, by using modern technology, aims to create a virtual archive guide to the collections that are divided into various archives,” says the head of the Jewish Museum in Prague’s Shoah History Department Michal Frankl. Serving as a model example here are extant archive documents relating to the ghetto in Terezín, where nearly all Jews from the Czech lands and a large group of mostly elderly people from other European countries were deported during the Second World War. The main groups of documents that were not destroyed at the end of the war are now divided among the Terezín Memorial and the Prague Jewish Museum in the Czech Republic and Beit Terezín and Yad Vashem in Israel while many other sources are scattered across dozens of other archives. “The resulting guide to Terezín archive sources will be a unique digital source of information which will furnish not only information about the contents of individual archive collections, but will also consolidate the descriptive metadata, connect archive documents and information about Shoah victims and provide links to online digitized documents,” added Frankl.
Contacts for journalists:
Noemi Holeková, Jewish Museum in Prague, Publicity and Development Dept.; tel. 222 749 281; 603 867 285, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Michal Frankl, Jewish Museum in Prague, Shoah History Dept.; tel. 221 711 525, e-mail: email@example.com
Tomáš Fedorovič, Terezín Memorial; tel. 416 782 225, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Programme of the EHRI Launch
November 16, 2010; 13.30 – 17.00
Brussels, Royal Museums of Art and History, Parc du Cinquantenaire 10
13.30 – 14.00
press interviews: possibility to interview Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn and other representatives.
Please contact Herman Nieuwenhuis or Florian Frank in advance.
14.00 – 16.00
Opening Dr. Michal Frankl – chair, Jewish Museum, Prague
Mrs. Máire Geoghegan-Quinn – European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science
Mr. Gideon Saar – Minister of Education, Israel
Mr. Halbe Zijlstra – State Secretary of Education, Culture and Science, The Netherlands
Mr. Nathan Ramet – The Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance, Belgium
Prof. dr. Peter Longerich – Royal Holloway, University of London
Dr. Michal Frankl interviews Dr. Sheila Anderson – Director of the Centre for e-Research of King’s College London, and Dr. Conny Kristel – NIOD. Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Director of EHRI
Prof. dr. Jerzy Holzer – Institute of Political studies, Polish Academy of Sciences
Official launch – introducing EHRI
16.00 – 17.00 press interviews
Please register for the EHRI-launch at email@example.com.
Contacts for the press:
Herman Nieuwenhuis, EHRI, +31 6 53 58 60 57, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.ehri-project.eu
Prague, 28 July 2010
“Since then I believe in fate...”
Transports of Protectorate Jews to Byelorussia, 1941–1942
Jewish Museum in Prague – Robert Guttmann Gallery
U Staré školy 3, Prague 1 (rear wing of the Spanish Synagogue), tel. 221 711 553
29 July 2010 – 30 January 2011, open daily except for Saturdays and Jewish holidays
9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (29 July – 29 October 2010)
9 a.m. – 4.30 p.m. (31 October 2010 – 30 January 2011)
Exhibition curator: Dr. Jana Šplíchalová
In the public’s eye, the Shoah against the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia is associated mainly with the Terezín ghetto and the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. “Less well known are the deportations of Jewish prisoners to other ghettos, forced labour camps and concentration camps in the Baltic States and Nazi-occupied Poland and Byelorussia,” says the exhibition curator Jana Šplíchalová. During a single year, more than a half of all Jews from Bohemia and Moravia were dispatched to these places; 48,991 were murdered, only 549 survived.
It is these unknown tragic stories that are documented and presented to the public for the first time ever in the Jewish Museum in Prague’s exhibition series “Since then I believe in fate…”. The first part of the series, which was shown at the Robert Guttmann Gallery in 2005, focused on the deportation of Czech Jews to the Baltic States. The second, in 2007, dealt with the fate of the transports to Nazi-occupied Poland. The third and final part of the series, which is on view at the Robert Guttmann Gallery until 31 January 2011, looks at the stories of people who disappeared in Nazi-occupied Byelorussia. In total, 6,981 Jews from Bohemia and Moravia were murdered at the Minsk ghetto, the Maly Trostinets death camp and the Baranovichi railway station. Only 22 of these deportees survived the war.
“The mosaic of narratives about these Czech victims of the Shoah in Byelorussia had to be put together from fragments of a few prisoners’ reminiscences, as much of the incriminating material was destroyed by the Nazis. These reminiscences are supplemented in the exhibition by the testimonies of local inhabitants and Jews deported from Austria and Germany. Transcripts of subsequent interrogations of German army soldiers and local collaborators have also been used,” the curator points out. Nazi propaganda photos, private album photos and documentary photos taken by the armies of liberation not only add to the everyday reality but also capture the atmosphere of the fear, hopelessness, cynicism and brutality.
Thanks to a collaboration with documentary filmmaker Lukáš Přibyl, the director of the internationally award-winning four-part documentary Forgotten Transports, some of his film material was edited for this exhibition. "When, more than ten years ago, I began to systematically gather all material relating to the deportations of Czech Jews to Byelorussia, Estonia, Latvia and Eastern Poland and to record conversations with all the survivors and witnesses, hardly anyone knew about these transports. Scholarly interest, moreover, focused primarily on Terezín and Auschwitz. I am therefore glad that, thanks to the exhibition at the Jewish Museum, the general public will get to find out about this part of history and about the fate of the individuals who survived these transports," says Lukáš Přibyl.
The Nazi occupation of Poland in 1939 and the Soviet Union in 1941 provided space for the relocation and physical liquidation of the many population groups that the Nazis considered to be inferior. Like the rest of occupied Eastern Europe, Byelorussia was regarded by the Nazis as a laboratory for implementing their racial ideology. The war in the occupied territory of the Soviet Union had an entirely different character from that in Western Europe. It became the most brutal war of conquest, extermination and plundering in history. German propaganda painted it all as a struggle against Bolshevism and as a conquest for the acquisition of new “living space” and for the use of mineral riches and manpower in the name of National Socialism. Ruthless terror against the civilian population, POW camps where hundreds of thousands of prisoners died of malnutrition and disease, towns and villages that were burned down – such was the reality of Nazi German domination.
After Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union, the “final solution to the Jewish question” in the occupied territories led to the systematic slaughter of the Jewish population. Deportations of Jews from many European countries soon followed. Women, children and elderly people were mostly killed immediately after their arrival, while some of the younger prisoners who were capable of working were forced to work as slaves under inhuman conditions.
No other European country was as devastated by the Second World War as Byelorussia. More than two million of its inhabitants perished there, including almost 600,000 Jews.
The aim of this exhibition is to change the public’s historical awareness of Shoah history, particularly in relation to Czech society. This is because the fate of transports to Byelorussia has remained forgotten for many years. The testimonies often include optimistic – sometimes almost humorous – descriptions of brutal acts. Witnesses talk about their attempts at leading a “normal” life in the ghetto and describe situations where the courage to improvise often helped them to survive. They also recall their loved ones, their escapes to the partisans and their battles for life. They try to block out the background to these memories; the loss of their parents and loved ones remains unarticulated.
This exhibition is also a symbolic memorial to the victims who have no actual graves and whose place of execution was virtually unknown and inaccessible to their families and to the Czech public. It is important for survivors and for victims’ relatives who may rightfully feel that insufficient attention has been paid to those who were deported to Byelorussia, unlike the Jews who perished in Terezín and Auschwitz.
Guided exhibition tours:
21 October at 5 p.m.
28 November at 3 p.m.
(In Czech. To organize a guided tour in English, please contact Noemi Holeková.)
Accompanying programmes at the Jewish Museum’s Education and Culture Centre (Maiselova 15, Prague):
6 October, 6 p.m.: Screening of the documentary Zapomenuté transporty do Běloruska [Forgotten Transports to Byelorussia], followed by a Q&A session with the director Lukáš Přibyl. (In Czech.)
22 November and 6 December, 6 p.m.: Transports of Protectorate Jews to Byelorussia, 1941–1942. Lectures by the exhibition curator, Jana Šplíchalová. (In Czech.)
Media partner: Czech Radio (Český rozhlas)
Partners: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, the Foundation for Holocaust Victims (Nadační fond obětem holocaustu), the Czech-German Future Fund (Česko-německý fond budoucnosti), the Prague City Transport Company (Dopravní podnik hlavního města Prahy), Thomas Lederer
Exhibition images can be downloaded at ftp://220.127.116.11:2121/ftp/transportypress/.
Contact for journalists:
Public Relations and Development Department
tel. 221 711 581; 603 867 285; e-mail: email@example.com
Excerpt from the text about GASWAGEN (GAS VANS)
Heinrich Himmler wrote the following in his desk diary on 15 August 1941:
Morning: attend the execution of partisans and Jews near Minsk; visit POW camp
14.00 lunch at the Lenin House
15.00 trip to the ghetto – visit the institute for the insane and a sovkhoz
Having witnessed a mass execution, Himmler came to the view that it would be necessary to find a more suitable and effective killing method that would not have such a disheartening influence on the executors, particularly with women and children among the victims. This inspection trip by Himmler was later regarded as the moment the gas chambers came into being.
The RSHA and the Führer Chancellery were responsible for the development and production of gas vans (“Gaswagen”). Walter Rauff and Friedrich Pradel were called on to secure the construction. They were chosen by Gaubschat, a Berlin-based firm that made trucks and buses. Gaubschat made two prototypes of a hermetically sealed van. The first was the Diamond, a small van that could hold 10 to 30 people; the second was the Saurer, a larger type that was intended to hold between 20 and 60 people, but often up to 80 were crammed into the van. The freight compartment was about 2 metres high and hermetically sealed, with double doors at the back. The van’s interior was lined with galvanized sheet metal; in the top corners there were lights protected by an iron grill and on the floor there was a wooden grate. The exterior was painted grey, so from the outside it looked like a normal delivery van. In the floor was a 5–6 cm wide aperture with a nozzle to which the driver would connect the pipe from the exhaust; this was hidden under the wooden grate, so that nobody would suspect anything at first.
Death by carbon monoxide usually occurred between 7 and 15 minutes, sometimes longer. It depended on how many people were in the van, as well as on their age and physical condition. The victims’ skin had a typically cherry red colour. The gas van was first tested on a group of Russian POWs in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
Three gas vans were initially used in Minsk on 15 June 1942 – two Diamond vans driven directly from Berlin by Karl Gebl and Erich Gnewuch. The driver of the third van, a Saurer vehicle, was Harry Rübe. The name of the driver of the fourth van is also known: Johann Hassler.
The transports of prisoners slated for liquidation usually consisted of about a thousand people. It was necessary to clean the vans after each “use”, which slowed down the operation. The gassing facilities in all the vans were, moreover, prone to break down, which is why the vans were often used to transfer the prisoners to the execution site, where they were awaited by a firing squad.
Form the testimony of HANUŠ MÜNZ (transport Bc 25 August 1942 from Terezín)
“Three trucks that looked like removal vans were parked there. SS men were shouting for people to get in, as they were going to the same place of work. The people got in the vans, one of which was a bit smaller. There were about 60 to 80 in each van, and they were pressed body-to-body against one another. The doors were slammed shut, the vans set off and another lot came, and this went on and on.
One of the vans then returned and the driver told me: “Take a look in the wagons, there are still some people in there who can’t walk, bring them!” There were a lot of people in there, however, so we had to put them on the laps of those who were sitting there. The van was crammed full. We were ordered to bring the corpses, but we didn’t know where to put them. He says: “Schmeisst sie hin, das ist schon alles egal!” (chuck them over there, it doesn’t matter!) So we had to put the corpses there. By then, we knew things were bad. In the end, we put a girl who had been shot there. Three young well-dressed young men who spoke German came for us in trucks. I asked one of them where the people in the vans had gone and he told me: “Ah, die sind schon erledigt, die sind schon im Himmel!” (They’re done for – they’re in heaven by now!) It all took place in a meadow, where there was a dead siding.
When the people from the ghetto told me that someone from the car workshop always had to bring a thick pipe when a transport arrived, the driver was screwing on a pipe. When he was done, he released exhaust gas into the van for 15 minutes. I saw them cleaning this removal van. In the middle of it were pipes with H-shaped holes to which the exhaust was connected. It was covered by a wooden grate, like the ones in bathrooms.”
Prague, 24 March 2010
“And you shall tell your son…”
Haggadot in the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague
Jewish Museum in Prague – Robert Guttmann Gallery
U Staré školy 3, Prague 1 (rear wing of the Spanish Synagogue) , tel. 221 711 553
The exhibition is open every day except for Saturdays and Jewish holidays
from 25 until 26 March 9 a.m. – 4.30 p.m., from 28 March until 27 June 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Exhibition curators: Michal Bušek and Ondřej Čihák
The holiday of Pesah (Passover) falls on 30 March this year according to the Jewish calendar. To mark this occasion, the Jewish Museum in Prague has prepared a special exhibition at the Robert Guttmann Gallery. This show features a selection of the oldest and most interesting Haggadot (the plural of Haggadah – liturgical texts used during the Seder celebration of the Jewish holiday of Pesach) in which is related the miraculous story of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, along with other stories relating to the celebrations. This exhibition will reveal how the Haggadah has changed visually from the earliest printed copies to present-day editions from the Czech Republic, Israel and other regions of the world, which are represented in the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague. “The show is unique not only because it focuses on a single genre of religious literature but also because it is the first of its kind to familiarize viewers in the Czech Republic with Pesach Haggadot as they have been produced through the centuries,” according to Michal Bušek, one of the curators of the exhibition. The Jewish Museum in Prague oversees as many as 350 Haggadot from various areas and periods. Fifty-seven of these will be on display at the exhibition. “Among the rarest exhibits are two manuscripts – Haggadot from Moravia, dating from the first half of the eighteenth century. Viewers will be able to look through these texts, along with a fragment of a nineteenth century Haggadah manuscript, from the first to the last page, as they have been digitally scanned. Also on view will be the original copies of the Venice Haggadah (1599) and the Amsterdam Haggadah (1695), which are among the oldest in the museum’s collections, and a facsimile of the first printed Prague Haggadah of Gershom ben Sholem Ha-Kohen (1526), which is ranked among the most beautiful books printed in the Renaissance. The most frequently depicted themes – the seder ceremony, the finding of Moses and the Ten Plagues of Egypt – will also be featured in three moveable illustrations,” said Michal Bušek. The exhibition at the Robert Guttmann Gallery runs until 27 June 2010.
The Haggadah is among the most popular liturgical books of Judaism and among the most printed books of Jewish culture. It outlines the acts associated with preparations for the Pesah, sets out the order of the home service, describes the ritual ceremonies associated with the celebration, specifies the prayers to be said and the food and drink to be consumed during the seder, and, above all, recounts the biblical story of the Israelite Exodus from Egypt. The visual appearance of the Haggadah has substantially changed in the course of more than ten centuries. Since the early manuscripts and printed versions, the Haggadah has been adorned with illustrations that reflect the events of the narrated story in various forms and manifestations. The illustrations are intended to provide vivid lessons and to keep the attention of those partaking of the Pesah meal – especially children, who often found the celebration overly long. This is why modern editions of Haggadot often resemble children’s picture books, and even Haggadah comics have been produced. From generation to generation, its narrators and listeners are those who observe the commandment established in the Torah, “And you shall tell your son…”, which provides the title of this exhibition. “The actual text of the Haggadah introduces not one, but four listeners – the Four Sons – in the following order: one who is wise (haham), one who is wicked (rasha), one who is simple (tam) and one who does not know how to ask (she-eino yode´a lishol). It is not important whether the latter is unquestioning because of his overly young age or because of assimilation, as the combined effect is the same apathy. As the Pesah Haggadah shows, each son receives a meaningful answer, which is tailor made to his specific mode of thinking,” explains Ondřej Čihák, co-curator of the exhibition.
The final version of the basic text of the Haggadah was compiled in the seventh or eighth century C.E. by the Gaonim of Babylonia, although its oldest extent version dates from the tenth century. The earliest preserved Haggadah manuscripts date from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; the first known printed version of the Haggadah was produced in 1482, in Guadalajara, Spain. Four printed versions were published in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, whose ornamentation and graphic layout fundamentally influenced the printed form of the Haggadah. The first of these is the Prague Haggadah of Gershom ben Sholem Ha-Kohen (1526), whose artistic adornment for many years influenced the visual style of Haggadot in the Ashkenazi area and elsewhere. Other important editions were published by Hebrew printing houses in Mantua (1560), Venice (1609) and Amsterdam (1695); illustrations from the Amsterdam edition, in particular, were often subsequently imitated, if not directly copied.
Haggadah illustrations are closely linked to the content of the text and most frequently depict the seder ceremony, biblical passages (such as the finding of Moses, slavery in Egypt, the Ten Plagues of Egypt, the Exodus from Egypt, the Red Sea crossing, etc.) and Talmudic stories that are included in the Haggadah (such as the Pesah Seder in Bnei Brak, a depiction of the Four Sons). Also included are eschatological hopes for a new exodus of Israel, this time from exile, as represented by the newly built Temple in Jerusalem. More recent editions of the Haggadah make full use of the work of contemporary Jewish artists, a trend that continued from the nineteenth century into the twentieth. The only Haggadah published so far in the Czech Republic since the fall of Communism is the New Prague Pesah Haggadah, which is translated with a commentary by Rabbi Ephraim K. Sidon (1996).
As this exhibition at the Robert Guttmann Gallery reveals, the Jewish Museum’s collection of Pesah Haggadot not only forms a homogenous whole that charts the history, development and changes in their literary and aesthetic form, but also constitutes evidence of the diverse religious and cultural life of Czech and European Jewry.
Partner: Prague City Hall
Media partner: Czech Radio
Guided tours of the exhibition (in Czech):
Wednesday 14 April, 5 p.m.
Sunday 23 May, 4 p.m.
Thursday 17 June, 5 p.m.
A catalogue with the same title has been published for the exhibition.
Pictures can be downloaded at http://18.104.22.168:8880/zmp/hagadypress/.
Public Relations and Development Department
tel.: 221 711 581; GSM: 603 867 285; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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