HIT PRAGUE'S JEWISH CULTURAL TREASURES
In the middle of August 2002, devastating floods hit the bulk of the Czech
Republic, including Prague's Jewish monuments and the majority of the
historic sites of the Jewish Museum in Prague. From 13 August, as a result
of the damage caused by the flood waters, the Museum was forced to close
its permanent exhibitions in all its synagogues, as well as the Old Jewish
Cemetery, for several months. The planned opening of the exhibition "Adolf
Kohn - Painter of the Prague Ghetto", which was originally scheduled
for 15 August 2002, has had to be postponed. This grim event is covered
in the following summary by the Museum director Leo Pavlát, together with
FLOOD DAMAGE IN THE JEWISH
MUSEUM IN PRAGUE, AUGUST 2002
As part of the Museum's preventative measures taken before the floods,
the ground-floor sections of the permanent exhibitions in the Spanish,
Maisel and Klausen synagogues were closed and hundreds of the Museum's
artefacts were deposited in a safe place. The Museum complex, which is
situated in an area that was completely evacuated during the floods, was
not accessible to Museum staff for two days (13 and 14 August). Although
this area of Prague was not flooded on the outside, a huge increase in
level of groundwater and the flooding of the sewage system had a devastating
impact. During the floods in Prague not a single object or book in the
Museum's collection was destroyed or seriously damaged. It was the Museum's
buildings that suffered the damage; preliminary estimates put the extent
of this damage together with indirect financial losses incurred by the
Museum during the floods at hundreds of thousands of US$. As the Museum
is insured, it is expected that part of the damage will be covered.
Pinkas Synagogue (built in
Groundwater reached a height of 1.5 metres, flooding the nave and vestibule
of the synagogue. The water covered some of the hand-written inscriptions
on the walls which commemorate the 80,000 victims of the Shoah from Bohemia
and Moravia. According to an expert assessment, the inscriptions are seriously
damaged and moisture is rising on the walls even where the water did not
reach. Also damaged are the historic stone bimah (platform) in the centre
of the synagogue and the aron ha-kodesh (holy ark) on the east side. The
water destroyed the banisters (which also served as a source of lighting
for the synagogue) and the underfloor heating system. The building also
shows signs of structural damage, which is something that needs to be
assessed in detail.
Once the water was removed from the synagogue, work began on drying out
the area, the building was disinfected and rescue work commenced on the
wall inscriptions on the recommendation of external experts and Museum
specialists. In view of the varied nature and extent of the damage, an
expert team is being set up which, in a short while, will lay down a detailed
procedure for further rescue work. At this stage, it is not yet known
whether the damaged part of the memorial (hand-written wall inscriptions)
- and, in the event of overall structural damage, perhaps even a significant
part - can be saved. The reopening of the memorial is envisaged within
18 months, and, if necessary, inscriptions may be restored while the synagogue
is open to visitors.
Specialist and administrative
centre of the Museum, U staré školy Street, 1,3
The two-building complex which houses the Museum's administrative and
specialist workplaces, security centre, book depositories, restoration
workshops, library, study, reference centre, gallery and café was established
following the extensive reconstruction and refurbishment of a former hospital.
The Museum began to use the property in February 2001. During the floods,
the basement areas were completely inundated. The water destroyed the
transformer station, boiler room, cooling ventilation and elevator rooms,
the vast majority of the Museum's visitor information publications, postcards
and guidebooks, packing room, security staff cloakroom, maintenance workshops
and café stores. As the electricity supply has been cut off for a prolonged
period of time and the air-conditioning is completely out of order, the
depositories of books, rare printed works and manuscripts, in particular,
are also at risk.
Since returning to work, Museum staff have, with the help of generators,
been making constant efforts to dehumidify the depositories in order to
prevent any damage to the books. After drawing water out of the basement
areas of the building, all destroyed items were carried away to a dump.
Plasterboard partitions which divide the basement rooms were taken down
and the whole area was repeatedly disinfected. The partitions will be
reinstalled once the basement has dried out. Ongoing work is being carried
out on repairs to the technological facilities. The building will not
be restored to its former state earlier than the spring of 2003.
Klausen Synagogue (built in
The basement was completely flooded and the boiler was destroyed. The
flooding of basement areas also led to increased dampness in the nave.
Once the water was drawn away, the basement areas were disinfected and
dried out. The repair or replacement of the boiler may be envisaged in
the course of October.
Maisel Synagogue (built in
Structural damage in the wake of the floods is suspected near the Maisel
Synagogue, which is why the building's structure has to be monitored.
vicinity of the synagogue, several pavements caved in and a symbolic 19th
century tombstone in the front garden partly collapsed and broke in two.
The basement area was completely covered with water, which - as with the
Klausen Synagogue - led to increased dampness in the nave; the exhibition
here cannot be renewed until the dampness falls to an acceptable level.
The flooded areas were disinfected and dried out.
Spanish Synagogue (built in 1868)
The synagogue forms a connected complex with the specialist and administrative
centre of the Museum. Its basement was covered with water, which destroyed
the vast majority of the chairs in storage (used in concerts and services
of the conservative congregation Beith Praha). The flooded areas were
disinfected and dried out.
Old Jewish cemetery (oldest
tombstone from 1439)
The cemetery was not flooded, but the raised level of groundwater threatened
the stability of the trees and pathways. On the basis of an expert assessment,
certain trees will have to be cut down in the interest of safety. In view
of repairs to the Pinkas Synagogue, which borders the cemetery, it will
not be possible to use the former visitor route on a long-term basis;
it will therefore be necessary to prepare an alternative route.
Jáchymova Street 3
The Museum's spare bookshelves were damaged in the flooded basement. No
books, however, were stored here at the time of the floods.
Smíchov Synagogue (built in
In no way did the floods damage the ongoing preparatory work connected
with the repair and reconstruction of this synagogue, which is to serve
as a Jewish archive and a depository for artworks. According to the original
plan, the main building works were to have been launched at the end of
this year and completed in 2003. The time frame for repairs and reconstruction
will not be decided until all damage has been assessed and the insurance
Prague, 27 August 2002
Director of the Jewish Museum in Prague
The Jewish Museum in Prague would like to thank all those who helped
and are continuing to help us deal with the effects of the devastating
floods. Our thanks go to the many volunteers (over 80) and institutions
which helped the Museum immediately after the floods: the fire fighters
from Znojmo, the Jewish Community in Brno, the Brno Railway Construction
Company, the Mahler Hotel from Jihlava, Johnson&Johnson s.r.o.
Praha, PSJ Holding a.s. from Jihlava and Hotel Marriot.
HOW YOU CAN SUPPORT
The Jewish Museum in Prague would appreciate any support for the
renovation of Jewish monu-ments damaged by the devastating floods.
Financial donations may be sent to the Museum's account at Komerční
banka in Prague 1: no. 195420830257/0100 for $ and other foreign
currencies (except euro), no. 510091870297/0100 for the euro, no.
195414380237/0100 for the Czech crown. The use of all funds will
be publicized and, with prior consent, the donors will be mentioned
in the Museum's newsletter and on its website. You can find out
about other damaged Jewish sites at www.jewishpragueflood.cz
THE JEWISH MUSEUM IN
PRAGUE FOUNDA-TIONS has set up a special account for financial contributions
towards the renovation of the flood-
damaged Pinkas Synagogue
35 - 1930175389 (Czech Republic).
OF BOHEMIAN AND MORAVIAN SYNAGOGUES"
The Jewish Museum in Prague is preparing a unique exhibition of synagogue
textiles with the sub-title "May the Work of My Hands be Praised".
The exhibition is to take place from 26 March 2003 to 22 June 2002 in
the Imperial Stables of Prague Castle.
This comprehensive exhibition of synagogue textiles, which features over
150 items from the Muse- um's collections, is without parallel in terms
of scale and concept, as it will be presenting an extraordinary group
of textiles from the late 16th to the early 20th centuries. The collection
itself has had an eventful history: like the vast majority of the Museum's
artefacts, it was established during World War II in connection with the
shipment of confiscated Jewish property from over 150 Bohemian and Moravian
communities. This gave rise to a quite unique set of textiles which is
without parallel in any other specialised museum. To date, it has never
been researched in any systematic way and only minor studies have been
published (in the Museum's journal Judaica Bohemiae and for smaller thematic
The aim of the exhibition is to acquaint the professional and general
public as fully as possible with the whole range of the Museum's textiles,
focusing on the period in question and on the techniques of textile fabrication
employed. The exhibition will be accompanied by a beautifully designed
in English, which will highlight all the exhibits in texts and reproductions
and include other selected objects amounting to one thousand catalogue
items. The catalogue will comprise a total of 500 full-colour reproductions,
which will provide a comprehensive illustration of the riches of the collection.
accompanying essays are by a group of authors, scholars and experts. We
will keep you informed about the exhibition preparations in the next newsletter
and on the Museum's website.
EDUCATION AND CULTURE CENTRE
(ECC) - PLANNED PROJECTS
A series of evening lectures entitled The Jewish Minority in the Czechoslovak
Republic in the 1920s will be launched in October 2002 at the ECC, and
the lecture series of the Chief Rabbi Karol Sidon and Rabbi Saši Pećarić
will be continuing. A volume of lectures from the series American Jewish
Literature will be published at the end of 2002.
In the 2002/03 school year, the ECC's educational programmes will be expanded
to include the Noah's Ark workshop (connected with a tour of the Old Jewish
Cemetery and the Klausen Synagogue), which is intended mainly for 6 to
11-year-old school children.
17 September saw the opening in Klatovy of the travelling exhibition Anna
Frank Legacy for the Present, which has been organized by the ECC in association
with the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. From 7 October the exhibition
will be installed in Jičín. The exhibition is complemented by a panel
display entitled The Story of Children Drawings from the Terezín Ghetto
and, in Klatovy, by the Lost Neighbours exhibition (as mentioned in Newsletter
1/2002). In November it will form part of the seminar How to Teach about
the Holocaust, which will be held in Terezín.
- Alan Gill, The American Joint Distribution Committee
- Steve Hoffman, Director of the United Jewish Communities
- Iveta Šulca, Latvian Ambassador to the Czech Republic
- Günther Verheugen, European Commissioner for EU Expansion
- President of the Czech Republic Václav Havel and the First Lady Dagmar
- Serge Cwajgenbaum, Secretary General of the European Jewish Congress
- Rabbi Aba Dunner, President of the Conference of European Rabbis