WHAT May BE RESTITUTED

In the case of the Jewish Museum in Prague, restitution may apply primarily to objects that were incorporated into its collections during the existence of the Central Jewish Museum (1942-1945) after being confiscated from Jewish owners. This relates mainly to objects confiscated by the Prague Treuhandstelle (Trustee's Office) from owners who were deported from the Prague area to ghettos and death camps from the autumn of 1941 onwards.

Restitution claims may also be made for books confiscated from individual deportees in the Terezín ghetto that were added to the Terezín Zentralbücherei (Central Library), as long as they were transferred to the library of the Jewish Museum in Prague after the war. Likewise, restitution claims may also apply to books from the Terezín Zentralbücherei that had been owned by individuals living outside the Protectorate, as long as they were later incorporated into the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague.

Only selected paintings, prints, drawings, books or ritual objects from Jewish households (e.g., havdalah candlesticks, spice boxes, Seder plates, etrog containers) could be incorporated into the collections of the Central Jewish Museum from the Treuhandstelle's warehouses. Mostly they were objects to which no great value was attributed. Other items of personal property (e.g., furniture, carpets, porcelain, glassware, jewellery, paintings by old masters, rare sculptures) were never included in the museum’s collections at that time.

Restitution claims cannot be made for items from pre-war synagogues or from the property of Jewish religious communities and associations, as this material was transferred by the state to the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic in 1994. This property was subsequently placed with the Jewish Museum in Prague.

Since May 2001, the library of the Jewish Museum in Prague has been trying to ascertain the original ownership of the books in its collections.

The Central Jewish Museum (1942-1945)

As of 15 March 1939, when the Nazis occupied the remainder of the former Czechoslovak Republic, the Jewish Museum's collection comprised several hundred liturgical objects, books and archival documents. Anti-Semitic laws were immediately introduced in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and mass deportations of the Jewish population began at the end of 1941 – first to the ghettos in the East, then to Terezín. The first transport left Prague on 16 October 1941. Three days earlier the Nazi authorities founded the Treuhandstelle at the Prague Jewish Community, whose task was to oversee the confiscation of the personal property of Jews who had been deported from Prague.

Jewish religious services were banned in September 1941. At the end of the same year, books and liturgical objects from Prague synagogues were sent first to the Jewish Museum in Prague and then transferred to the Pinkas Synagogue, where they were to be conserved and preserved for the future.

In May 1942, the Prague Jewish Community was given the task of gathering together in Prague all the historical objects and items of historical value that belonged to rural Jewish communities. At the same time, the collections of the Jewish museums of Mikulov and Mladá Boleslav were transferred to the Jewish Museum in Prague. In an attempt to preserve as much of the Jewish heritage as possible, certain members of the Prague Jewish Community developed an initiative with the approval of the Nazi authorities. Launched in August 1942, the Central Jewish Museum began the gradual process of collecting all the liturgical objects that had been confiscated from synagogues in the territory of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (i.e., not including the Sudetenland, which had been annexed in September 1938).

Characteristics and records of the collections

The current process of identifying books and collection pieces is based on the Jewish Museum’s wartime 'German Catalogue', which consists of cards that were produced by staff at the Central Jewish Museum. In total, there are 101,000 such cards, which have information on items that came to the museum from the Nazi shipments.

The catalogue information is included on cards, of which there are three main types – for three-dimensional objects, books and archival documents. These records are compared with other archival information when identifying specific objects.

Card for a book

Card for a three-dimensional object

1945-1950

In 1945 there were 213,096 registered items that were filed under 101,000 inventory numbers at the Jewish Museum (including its pre-war collections).

Archival documents (about 40% of the total) comprised the archives of individual Jewish religious communities and small dossiers – material relating to various associations, posthumous papers, documents, privileges, etc. Books (about 30% of the total) consisted primarily of traditional works (Judaica, Hebraica, Talmudic studies), specialist papers and also fiction by Jewish authors. There were also multiples copies of many titles. In addition to 19th-century portraits, the art collection (about 7% of the total) contained paintings by modern Jewish artists from the first third of the 20th century. Objects documenting Jewish religious life (about 20% of the total) were usually divided into two categories: synagogue and household objects. The first category was the largest – approximately two thirds of all ritual objects.

Of the above inventory numbers – constituting the museum’s core collection – about 96,000 items came from corporate property, only 5,000 items were from private property. Between 1945 and 1950, 2,396 objects were removed from the museum's collections – these were either returned to their previous owners or provided to the 52 re-established Jewish communities for ritual use.

1950-1994

The Jewish Museum was run by the state between April 1950 and the end of September 1994. During the Communist regime, a number of items were stolen, destroyed or illegally sold to collectors in Czechoslovakia and abroad. This led to a deterioration in the museum’s holdings. In 1964, more than 1,500 Torah scrolls were sold to a private purchaser in England and are not kept by the Memorial Scroll Trust at the Westminster Synagogue in London.

The present

The museum's current collections consist of 2,476 Torah curtains, 4,248 Torah mantles, 1,117 valances, 608 lectern covers, 70 wedding canopies, 371 tallitot, 91 tallit bags, 479 phylacteries, 205 skullcaps, 872 Sabbath and Pesach covers, 747 Torah shields, 790 pairs of finials, 168 crowns, 85 Levite lavers and basins, 212 spice boxes, 700 Hanukkah lamps, 800 burial society objects, 154 pewter plates and dishes, 373 objects associated with kosher preparation, and about 10,000 art works, including about 2,500 paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures. The vast majority of the art collection is from private collectors in Prague.

Library holdings

The library holdings of the Jewish Museum in Prague (JMP) were established in connection with the Nazi shipment of confiscated items between 1942-1944 and at the time comprised about 46,000 books (including sheet music). In 1945 about 100,000 books from the Terezín ghetto library were incorporated into the JMP library. These included books from various private and institutional Jewish libraries from the whole of the Third Reich. Some, but not all, of these books were incorporated into the library holdings. The library of the Prague Jewish Community (about 15,000 books, including a collection of periodicals and booklets) was returned to Prague in 1946, having been previously stored in a former monastery (Zlatá Koruna). Since then it has constituted the Historical Collection of the JMP library. In 1947 an unspecified amount of books that had been stored by the Nazi authorities before the end of the war in several mansions (Mimoň, Nový Falkenburg, Nový Perkštejn and Houska) were transferred to the JMP.

Many of these books (apart from the holdings from the original library of the Prague Jewish Community) were again removed from the JMP in 1945-50. These books, along with collection pieces, were returned to the original owners or were provided to the re-established Jewish communities for their use. In addition, a number of books were handed over to UNRRA (65,115), the Jerusalem National and University Library (40,000) and JOINT (34,900). To sum up, it can be said that over 190,000 volumes were shipped to the JMP during the war, and 158,000 of these were returned. The JMP library now comprises over 130,000 volumes, which include both books from Nazi shipments and direct acquisitions (purchases, donations, bequests, replacements).

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