Jewish Museum in Prague
Thanks to the selfless work of Jewish experts during the war, a number of unique examples of Jewish culture, which had developed for over a thousand years, were brought together - and thus rescued - in the collection of the Museum. In this context it is important also to document the activities of Jewish collectors in Bohemia and Moravia who, in addition to collecting Judaica, gained considerable recognition for establishing valuable collections of Czech and European art.
Even though a full provenance research on artworks is a routine task for museum and gallery curators, special emphasis should be placed on investigating ownership in the period between 1933 and 1945. This was the conclusion of participants at the first conference dealing with the confiscated property of Holocaust victims, which was held in Washington D.C. in November 1998. In an attempt to complete this task, the leading world museums and galleries have carried out thorough provenance research on the artworks in their collections. The search for artworks that had belonged to Holocaust victims was launched in 1996 in Austria and later continued in France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and U.S.A. The findings of this research are available to the general public in the form of a database that can be accessed via the internet.
The Jewish Museum in Prague has also become involved in these efforts, having recently undertaken a detailed study of collections of paintings, drawings and graphic art which were assumed to contain works whose original owners could be verified. These also included the artworks that were restituted to the Museum from the National Gallery in October 2000. Apart from a few exceptions, these works were never exhibi-ted, and their origin was of scant interest to the Natio-nal Gallery. Today, a list of these pictures, including photo-documentation, is available on the websites of the Jewish Museum ( http://www.jewishmuseum.cz ) and the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic ( http://www.restitution-art.cz ). In the event that a valid restitution claim is made in accordance with the relevant law with respect to these or any other artworks in the Jewish Museum's collections, the Museum is prepared to return the art to the heirs of the original owner.
Of the paintings and drawings returned from the National Gallery to the Jewish Museum in 2000, the art from the collection of Dr. Emil Freund represents one of the rare cases where it proved possible to keep together at least part of the collection that passed through the Prague warehouses of the Treuhandstelle. This private collection was established during the interwar period and was mostly formed by acquisitions from exhibition sales, such as those organized in Prague by the Mánes Association of Fine Artists and a number of other private galleries. The most important painting in the collection is Riverboat on the Seine (Morning in Samois) by the neo-impressionist painter Paul Signac from 1901, which was purchased at an exhibition of French art held by the Mánes Association in Prague. Other works include Portrait of a Young Woman (c. 1920) by André Derain and four large gouaches (c. 1930) by Maurice de Vlaminck - both prominent Fauvists -, a landscape from Vire-Calvados (1932) and a vibrant view of the Church of St. Peter in Montmatre (1930) by Maurice Utrillo, a watercolour by Paul Signac (1927) and a figurative gouache, Three Nudes in a Garden, by Charles Dufresne (1924). The Czech modern art in the collection is mostly by leading members of the Mánes Association - two cubist still lifes (1931) by Emil Filla, a landscape (1936) by Václav Špála, and one painting (1926) by Emil Arthur Pittermann-Longen. Works by younger Czech artists include Sitting Nude (1926) by Jan Bauch and Dancing in the Café (1930) by Zdenek Rykr.
perspective, Freund's collection, the main body of which is a valuable
historical document, should be seen as dialogue violently interrupted. The
exhibition was prepared by Michaela Hájková, curator of paintings,
drawings and graphic art at the Jewish Museum in Prague, and runs until 6
As mentioned in Newsletter 4/2000, the Jewish Museum arranged for the construction of a new cemetery wall and a caretaker's house. The first stage of the reconstruction was completed in the spring of 2001 with a major extension of the cemetery grounds and the construction of a 167m long wall with brick pillars and a metal railing.
The reconstruction is,
however, far from over. The next stage will see a continuation of
alterations and remedial measures to correct inappropriate changes made in
the 1980s. It will also be necessary to restore the unique classical-style
Zapperta Well (1792) with inscription tablets. Long-term and costly
repairs are also required by the tombstones, which have already been
partly restored. Attention is being paid, above all, to the tombstones of
prominent figures buried here, including the important scholar and chief
rabbi Ezekiel Landau (1713-1793) and members of his family, Landau's pupil
and member of the rabbinic board Eleazar Fleckeles (1754-1826), the
physician Jonas Jeiteles (1735-1806), the historian David J. Podiebrad
(1803-1882), the Jewish entrepreneur and philanthropist Joachim Popper
(1731-1795) and the entrepreneur Moses Jerusalem (1762-1824). With regards
tombstone designs, the cemetery covers a broad range of styles, from
Classicist, Empire and Romantic to the common forms of the mid-l9th
The remains of the genizah were found in the attic, near the entrance leading from what used to be the women's gallery. The genizah remained behind perimeter beams in the entire west and north-west facing area of the attic and in certain other spots. The genizah probably dates from the early 19th century, when the building was given a new ceiling and rafters. The age of the genizah corresponds to the age of the printed books (18th - early 20th century) that were found here. There are hardly any manuscripts (only two fragments of Torah scrolls). The most interesting items to have been found are textiles - one Torah curtain, several Torah mantles and, above all, several embroidered and printed Torah binders. A binder with an embroidered Star of David from 1715 is the oldest object to have been found in the repository. The genizah contains also the usual kinds of objects traditionally kept in such repositories: tallitot (prayer shawls), decorative covers, several plain candelabra and a brass sconce. Other objects that were found include fragments of tefillin (phylacteries) and various ink bottles and an interesting stoneware container. After careful sorting, most of the contents of the genizah were placed in sacks and prepared for burial in the local cemetery.
The synagogue, which
only recently was returned to the Prague Jewish Community, is soon to
undergo complete reconstruction, starting with the roof. Once renovated,
it will house an exhibition devoted to the history of local Jewish
communities and sites and especially to the Chief Rabbi Dr. Richard Feder
(1875-1970), who was born in the nearby town of Václavice. The exhibition
will also highlight the history of the nearby camp of Bystřice (where men
from mixed marriages were interned between 1942-45) and of the entire
region during the war (when it was evacuated to make way for an SS
Her monumental Golem is the embodiment both of an ancient myth and of recent experience, for it is intended to commemorate the bygone protector of Jews and, at the same time, is dedicated to the memory of the victims of Auschwitz, where Pearl Amsel was sent during the war. Although the sculpture is mostly abstract in form, it effectively conveys the heaviness of the material and the extraordinary strength of a being that resists and tries to free itself from it. The bulky stalking figure of the Golem (which could be female or male), stooping with a child in its arms is clearly identifiable.
This sculpture has been
dedicated to the Jewish Museum by Dr. Harold Amsel from New York in me-mory
of his mother. It is now sited in the inner courtyard of the Museum
complex near the facade of the Spanish Synagogue.
Because these books are classed as primary acquisitions, it is necessary to undertake a comprehensive search of the whole collection (currently over 100,000 books). The identification process which is being carried out in the depositories of the library, is painstaking and time-consuming work. On the basis of current findings, we assume that the entire project will take about three years to complete. The findings of this research are being stored in a specially created database. In order to speed up the whole project, we are entering only the identification symbol of a book (shelf-number, acquisition number), information concerning the owner (an abbreviation for an institution, a name for an individual), and the type of record used (stamp, ex-libris, signature, gloss, de-dication note, etc.).
All legible and
identifiable records concerning the owners are included in the database
regardless of when the proprietary record was made and the means by which
the book was acquired. The database therefore also includes printed books
that were donated, purchased in second-hand bookshops or exchanged. The
information garnered from this systematic research of the book collection
will become a basis for eventual restitution claims and, in addition, a
valuable historical source.
In collaboration with the Austrian Institute in Prague, the Centre will also be featuring a lecture by the historian Dirk Rupnow on his book Täter, Gedächtnis, Opfer (Picus Verlag, 2000). On 22 October there will be a literary evening with writer Ivan Kraus, following on from a series of author's evenings. Of a number of exhibitions that have been planned, the one that stands out in particular is an exhibition of paintings and artefacts by Jan F. Kovář.
It should also be noted
that the series entitled The Shadow of the Shoah over Europe is coming to
an end, (the last six lectures being on the Shoah in Italy and