by Sir Nicolas G. Winton
In March the Educational and Cultural Centre welcomed a prominent guest
– Sir Nicolas Winton from London. In 1938-39 this former London stockbroker
played a key role in the rescue of a group of 664 Czechoslovakian children,
most of whom were Jewish. He organised several transports from Prague
to England, thanks to which these children avoided the fate that befell
their families, the overwhelming majority of whom were killed in the war.
Before he could bring the children to England he was involved in difficult
negotiations with the English Home Office and later with the Nazi authorities.
Preparing the actual list of children was difficult enough, as it was
naturally hard for parents to be separated from them. Once in England
the children were accommodated in families which looked after them until
the end of the war. After the war most of ”Winton’s Children“ did not
return to Czechoslovakia and Nicolas Winton continued in his job as a
stockbroker, without anybody being aware of his tremendous activities.
It was not until 50 years after the war that Nicolas Winton was discovered
by his ”children“, who were then able to thank him for rescuing their
Sir Winton came to Prague in 1991, when he was welcomed by President Václav
Havel, and again in March 1998 to take part in a documentary on his war-time
activities with the Slovakian director Matej Mináč and the writer Jiří
Hubač. The latter visit was organised by the Educational and Cultural
Centre, which also arranged for Sir Winton to give a special talk. He
spoke to a full audience at the Centre about all that had taken place
and answered many questions. Also present at his talk were many of those
whom he had rescued 60 years ago.
Building and restoration work in the Spanish Synagogue has now entered
the final phase. At present, work is being completed on the restoration
of protected murals and on the painting of the whole area of the synagogue.
Window–panes have been restored and refitted, and work is continuing on
the restoration of the Torah Ark. New wooden panels are being installed
in the main nave and restorers are now applying paintwork on the basis
of the original.
In 1935 the south section of the synagogue was enlarged with a modern
extension (the area behind the front entrance to the synagogue), which
until the Second World War was used as a winter synagogue. Repair work
is also taking place in this part of the interior – i.e., heating installation,
paintwork, the laying of a new floor and repairs to the Torah Ark. After
the reopening, the hall and the small gallery of the winter synagogue
will be used to house temporary exhibitions.
As part of the overall refurbishment of the Spanish Synagogue, the rare
organ dating from 1880 is also being restored and repaired. After it has
been installed it will once again be used at planned concerts.
Preparations are already well under way for an historic exhibition that
is to open in the Spanish Synagogue at the end of the year. This will
cover the history of the Czech Jews from the late 18th century up to the
present. The Jewish Museum would like to express its thanks to Prague
City Hall which provided funds for the realisation of this project.
As we have mentioned in earlier issues, building and restoration costs
for the Spanish Synagogue are considerable, which is why the Jewish Museum
would welcome any kind of financial assistance. Donations may be sent
to the following address: The Jewish Museum in Prague, bank account no.
195420830257/0100, Ko-merční banka a.s., Spálená 51, 110 00 Praha 1, Czech
Jewish Museum visitor services
The Jewish Museum in Prague is responsible for looking after the following
architecturally and historically valuable sights – the Pinkas, Maisel,
Klaus and Spanish Synagogues, the Old Jewish Cemetery and the Ceremonial
Hall. These are all situated in what was the former Jewish Town of Prague.
Since 1971 the whole area has formed part of a specially protected zone
(Prague Monument Reservation) and is now listed as a world heritage sight
(UNESCO). Alongside the Prague Castle, the Jewish Museum is one of the
most visited historical sights in Prague. Each year it receives about
600,000 visitors from all across the world. It is encouraging that many
of them are young people – about a half of all foreign visitors and two-thirds
of Czech visitors. The relatively high number of visitors from Czech secondary
schools and universities can be largely put down to the activities of
the Educational and Cultural Centre of the museum, which prepares attractive
educational and cultural programmes. One of the basic goals of the Jewish
Museum is thereby being accomplished: to systematically fill the more
than forty-year vacuum in the area of information on Judaism and Jewish
In 1995 the Museum introduced an automatic ticket booking system through
the Reservation Centre, which caters both for individuals and groups.
The computerised system of ticket allocation means that the movement of
visitors can be regulated throughout the whole area of the Museum, which
considerably limits crowding at individual sights. Previous overcrowding
was frustrating for visitors and detrimental to the actual sights and
exhibits. Tickets can be booked through the Reservation Centre for entrance
to all the historic sights of the Museum – the Maisel, Pinkas and Klaus
Synagogues, the Old New Cemetery and the Ceremonial Hall, in addition
to the Old New Synagogue which is managed by the Prague Jewish Community.
Advance booking is not, however, obligatory. Tickets can be bought immediately
prior to visiting the Museum at the Reservation Centre, in the Maisel
or Pinkas Synagogues or at the Matana tourist agency in Maiselova Street.
The Reservation Centre also provides Museum guides who are able to offer
their services in English, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Russian and
Spanish. In order to increase the knowledge of guides and thereby improve
the services available to visitors, the Jewish Museum has a programme
of special lectures and tests. On successfully completing this programme,
guides are awarded a licence for showing visitors around Museum sights.
Around 1300 licences have been issued since the introduction of this system
in 1995. In view of the gradual expansion of Jewish Museum exhibitions,
the Educational and Cultural Centre has now prepared a programme of new
courses and tests which guides will have to complete in order to receive
the new licence which will be required as of July 1999. In this way, the
knowledge of the guides is developed and further checked.
The Jewish Museum seeks to make all sights accessible to people with disabilities.
However, as the historical monuments are protected under the planning
process, it is difficult and sometimes even impossible to carry out additional
structural changes. This is why the museum can not always guarantee disabled
access to its sights. Nevertheless, the museum tries to do all it can
through its Reservation Centre to meet the needs of disabled visitors
and to ensure they have access to practically all the major exhibitions.
Disabled access will be provided to the Spanish Synagogue which is expected
to be open in late 1998.
The address of the Reservation
U Starého hřbitova 3a,
110 00 Praha 1,
tel: 00420 2 / 231 7191, fax: / 231 7181,
Museum Opening Hours:
every day except Saturdays and Jewish holidays.
January – March: 9 AM – 4.30 PM;
April – October: 9 AM – 6 PM;
November – December: 9 AM – 4.30 PM.
Activities of the Educational
and Cultural Centre
Since the beginning of 1998, the Centre has been holding an interesting
lecture series, to which contribute leading Czech and foreign experts
from the field of Hebrew and Jewish studies and literary history as well
as representatives of the Jewish Community in Prague. Those interested
in Jewish issues can select a number of absorbing lectures from the following
series: The Jewish Year – on Jewish festivals and related customs, Jewish
Thinking – on questions of Jewish ethics, philosophy, the Bible, Talmud
and Cabbala, Jewish Authors in European Literature, and the extremely
topical film cycle The 50th Anniversary of Israel. The Centre is also
the venue for film screenings organised by the Bejt Praha community. In
addition, there are regular concerts performed by the local music groups
Mishpacha, Ester, Klezmerim and Sharbilach.
In April and May of this year several external cultural events were organised
by the Centre, to which contributed various other institutions. All these
events met with great audience response. In collaboration with the Archa
Theatre the Centre prepared for friends and associates of the Jewish Museum
a special theatre performance entitled Sladký Theresienstadt (Sweet Theresienstadt)
– a play by the Czech writer and theatre director Arnošt Goldflam (directed
by Damien Gray). This was attended by a number of prominent figures from
the world of culture and politics, such as the President of the Czech
Senate, Dr. Petr Pithart; the Czech Minister of the Interior, Dr. Cyril
Svoboda; Member of the Czech Parliament, Dr. Jiří Payne; and representatives
of the diplomatic corps in the Czech Republic.
The second cultural event, to which the Jewish Museum contributed via
the Educational Centre, was the 4th International Book Fair Book World.
This took place in Prague on 21–24 May 1998 under the auspices of the
Czech Minister of the Culture and Prague City Hall. The main guest country
of the book fair was Israel. The Centre held an official function to mark
the occasion with the Israeli writer Ruth Elias, whose book Hope Helped
Me Survive has just been published in the Czech language for the second
time. The Centre also organised a one–day conference on Czech Jewish Literature,
Jewish Themes and Translation, which involved the participation of leading
Czech critics, writers and translators. The morning seminar, which was
chaired by the director of the Educational and Cultural Centre, Dr. Pojar,
involved contributions from, amongst others, Dr. Jiřina Šedinová; the
writer, Ivan Klíma; Professor Eduard Goldstücker; Dr. Bedřich Nosek; the
translator, J. Vacek; the Chief Rabbi, Karol Sidon; and the writer and
director of Sefer Publishers, Jiří Daníček. The conference was also attended
by a number of prominent guests from Israel, notably the writers and translators,
Victor Fischl and Ruth Bondy, and the director of the Institute for the
Translation of Hebrew Literature, Nilli Cohen. In collaboration with the
publishing house of the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities, Sefer,
and with the Terezín Initiative Foundation, the Jewish Museum in Prague
then displayed its recent publications to visitors of the Fair.
Visits to the Museum
In April the Jewish Museum was visited by a number of prominent
political representatives from abroad. These included, amongst others,
the General Secretary of the West European Union, José Cutileira; the
French Minister for European Affairs, Pierre Moscovici; the Latvian Ambassador
to the Czech Republic, Aija Odina; and the Council of the Indian Embassy.
In May the Jewish Museum was visited by ambassadors of ten South
American States; the Vice Mayor of Jerusalem, Jehudit Huebner; and the
Israeli writer, Efraim Kishon.
Czech towns in Israel
March 1998 saw the opening of the travelling exhibition Roots of the Jewish
Nation in Bohemia and Moravia in the Tel Aviv Town Hall. This highlighted
a number of Bohemian and Moravian towns and included two panels of photographs
depicting the interiors and exteriors of historical buildings of the Jewish
Museum in Prague. After Tel Aviv, the exhibition appeared in Haifa and
Museum publications and
The Jewish Museum has published a new issue of the journal Judaica Bohemiae,
which includes the following contributions:
a) essays and articles:
Alexandr Putík: Fight for a conversion in Kolín, Bohemia in the
year 5426/1666. A contribution on the subject of reverberations in Bohemia
of Shabbatai Zevi’s messianic appearance.
Lenka Matušíková: The duties of Prague Jews in the late 17th century.
Abraham David: The Prague MAHARAL and his participation in Jewish-Christian
Michal Frankl: Can we, the Czech Catholics, be anti-Semites? Anti-Semitism
at the dawn of the Czech Christian-Social Movement.
Václav Štěpán: Anti-Semitism in the nationalist movement in Těšínsko.
David Chaloupka: Hugo Steiner-Prag and the sets for the opera Golem
by Eugen d’Albert.
Anna Hyndráková – Anna Lorencová: A systematic collection of memories
compiled by the Jewish Museum in Prague – Part V.
Andrea Braunová – Daniel Polakovič: Additions to the catalogue
of Prague Hebrew prints from the collection of the Jewish Museum in Prague.
Leo Pavlát: Activities of the Jewish Museum in 1997.
Jiří Fiedler: Catalogue of Jewish Communities.
If you would like to purchase
Judaica Bohemiae issues, you can write to:
The Jewish Museum in Prague,
110 00 Prague 1,
fax: 00420–2–2310681, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org