dealing with Jewish themes – Mikulov
Newsletter 3/98 included a feature on the synagogue in Rychnov nad Kněžnou
and the exhibition which has been installed here in co-operation with
the Jewish Museum in Prague. We shall now focus on the regional exhibition
in the town of Mikulov.
Mikulov is a protected cultural site in South Moravia, about 210km to
the south-east of Prague. The first record of a Jewish settlement here
dates back to the second half of the 14th century. The Jewish community
in Mikulov emerged in the 15th century and was second only to Prague in
terms of size until the mid-19th century. In 1848 there were 3,670 Jews
From the 16th to the second half of the 19th century, Mikulov was the
centre of the Moravian provincial rabbis. Among the prominent personages
who officiated here are, for example, Rabbi Loew and David Abraham Oppenheim,
both of whom are buried in the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, and Lipman
ben Natan ha-Levi Heller, known as Yom Tov, who later became the provincial
rabbi of Bohemia.
The partial emancipation of Jews living in the Czech Lands in 1848 led,
among other things, tothe migration of the Jewish population. Jews started
to leave Mikulov for other towns, which resulted in the decline of the
Jewish community here. In 1937 there were only 437 Jews living in this
town. The community was revived after the Second World War, but only for
a short time.
Despite the persecution of Jews in the Second World War, a great number
of Jewish sites in Mikulov remained intact – including part of the Jewish
quarter, the Old (Upper) Synagogue and the large Jewish cemetery.
In 1936, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, the Jewish
Museum for Moravia and Silesia was opened in Mikulov. In view of the unsettled
political situation, the museum was transferred in May 1938 to Brno, later
becoming part of the Central Jewish Museum in Prague. One of the directors
of the pre-war museum, Prof. Alfred Engel (1881-1944), was involved in
the project to set up a war-time Central Jewish museum in Prague.
The Upper Synagogue (see photograph) was built about 1550. After being
seriously damaged by fire in 1719 it had to undergo conversion. It was
reopened in 1723, from which period originates the present Baroque appearance
of the synagogue. Divine services were held here until 1938, when it was
closed. During the Nazi occupation and immediately after the war it was
used as a storehouse and in 1960 it was taken over by the State, which
oversaw its restoration in 1977-88. The Upper Synagogue is now a listed
At present, the synagogue is the venue for concerts and exhibitions held
by the Regional Museum in Mikulov. An exhibition devoted to the history
of the local Jewish community opened here in 1995, to which the Jewish
Museum in Prague loaned a number of items from its collection – synagogal
textiles (Torah binders, mantles, curtains and valances), metal artefacts
(e.g., a silver pointer, Hanukkah lamps, a Torah shield and crown) and
an Esther scroll dating from the turn of the 18th century. All of these
items derive from South Moravia.
The Cultural and Educational
Centre (CEC) in 1999
The CEC has again prepared a number of attractive programmes for its visitors.
In addition to two final lectures from the series Jewish Authors in European
Literature, these involve regular meetings with the Chief Rabbi of the
Czech Republic, Karol Sidon. In his series, The Jewish Year, the Rabbi
explains and puts into a broader context certain aspects of Jewish holidays.
For example, Shavuoth is marked by an interpretation of “The Torah – A
Guide through Life”, the 17 Tamuz Fast is linked to the lecture “Exile
and Redemption”, Sukkoth is covered by the topic “Israel and Nation”,
while Hanukkah is dealt with by the topic “Emancipation and Assimilation”.
Also to continue is the series Jewish Painters and Sculptors in Czech
Art, in which Czech specialists acquaint the general public with such
artists as Robert Guttman, František Zelenka and Robert Piesen. The series
Rabbinic Personages covers the life and work of such prominent rabbis
as Israel-Baal Shem Tov, Dov Ber Mezirich, Loew and David Oppenheim.
The CEC programme offer for 1999 includes four new series. The Jewish
Community in Slovakia in the 20th Century is the title of a series of
lectures by Peter Salner from the Jewish community of Bratislava, acquainting
the Czech public with the development and status of Slovak Jews. A series
of Czech and foreign films dealing with Jewish themes has been prepared
in co-operation with the Czech National Film Archive. The series Jewish
Music with interpretation, which features Czech group and solo concerts,
is bound to provoke great interest – some of the concerts are to be held
in the recently opened Spanish Synagogue. September will see the launch
of a series of lectures on the theme Jewish Figures in Czech Science,
Technology and Industry.
As we have previously pointed out, the CEC is actively involved in the
field of school education. In its attempt to make Jewish themes more accessible,
it is systematically focusing on teacher training projects, especially
in co-operation with history teachers. As part of the Be-shalom project,
which is being financially supported by the Open Society Fund, the CEC
and various faculties of education are creating a new study module for
teaching tolerance. The CEC will again provide regular one-day seminars
for regional educational centres and faculties of education, at which
CEC lecturers will talk about Jewish history and culture. As part of the
teacher training programme, there will be a spring seminar on the theme
The History of the State of Israel, held in collaboration with the Institute
of World History at the Charles University Philosophy Faculty.
One of the projects which the CEC has prepared for University students
and school pupils is Lost Neighbours, which focuses on an awareness of
the history of Jewish settlement in various regions of the country, from
the period before Second World War up until the present. The Jewish Year
is a project aimed at elementary school pupils, acquaints them in an engaging
and informal way with Jewish holidays, customs and traditions. Also included
in the school programmes is the Anti-Bias Curriculum project, which deals
with teaching tolerance at kindergartens. The CEC enjoys the support of
the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, which is mainly involved in providing
financial and organisational assistance for the renewal of Jewish education
in post-Communist countries.
One of the last concrete projects initiated by the CEC, which also received
financial support from the Foundation, is the theatre show Jonah and the
Others. This is a production aimed at pre-school children and based on
three loosely related Biblical stories about Abraham, Jonah and Queen
Esther. By following the fate of these Biblical characters, children are
brought in touch with distant Jewish history and are introduced in an
engaging way to Jewish traditions and universal principles of faith, love
and humility. The play, which was premiered in January 1999 in the Theatre
Minor, was written and directed by Vida Neuwirthová, a member of both
the Theatre Minor and the Jewish Community of Prague.
New exhibition of paintings
by Viktor Munk
At the end of March 1999, in the prayer hall of the Spanish Synagogue
(a 1930s annex), the Jewish Museum in Prague opened a temporary exhibition
of paintings by the Czech naive artist Viktor Munk (1928 - 1997). In his
youth Munk shared the fate of the majority of Czech Jews, being imprisoned
in Terezín and then sent to Auschwitz. After the hardships of the war
he returned to Czechoslovakia, where he settled in Central Bohemia. The
paintings displayed in the prayer hall are mostly from the 1960s and 1970s.
The exhibition is curated by Dr. Arno Pařík and runs until May 1999.
On Itamar Levin’s text
about the Jewish Museum in Prague
At the end of 1998 the Jewish Agency for Israel, in co-operation with
the World Jewish Restitution Organization, published a second revised
and update edition of Itamar Levin’s The Last Chapter of the Holocaust?.
This publication deals with the fate of Jewish property since the end
of Second World War in Central and Eastern European countries. Among other
things, the author considers the state in which Jewish artefacts and sites
are in and the care they receive. In this connection, I.Levin makes a
number of subjective and prejudicial allegations against the Jewish Museum
in Prague which are based on incorrect and even fictitious information.
An illustration of the way I. Levin deviates from the facts is his claim
that in the cellar of a church 50km from Prague are stored some 3,000
curtains of the Ark, “exposed to damp and gnawing mice”. In actual fact,
the synagogue textiles, including curtains, are stored in a synagogue
approximately 80km from Prague, which has undergone complete reconstruction.
The security, air-conditioning and technical conditions of this alleged
“church” are of an extremely high standard, widely praised in September
1998 by a group of specialists in the field of museology.
In view of the seriousness of the misinformation contained in I. Levin’s
publication, the Director of the Jewish Museum in Prague, Leo Pavlát,
prepared a detailed commentary which clearly refutes all the allegations
and mistakes made by I.Levin. This commentary is complemented by the Museum’s
report for 1997, photographic documentation of Museum work and letters
of praise from prominent Museum visitors. It can be found under the title
Report on Itamar Levin’s “The Last Chapter of the Holocaust?" on the Jewish
Museum’s web-site at http://www.jewishmuseum.cz.
of the Jewish Museum in Australia
The exhibition Precious Legacy: Treasures from the Jewish Museum in Prague
was held in the Sydney Powerhouse Museum from December 1998 – February
1999, attracting great interest from the Australian public. This large
travelling exhibition, drawn from the collections of the Jewish Museum,
was the first of its kind in Australia. It included over 300 exhibits
– rare prints and manuscripts (the earliest of which dating from the 16th
century), pictures, glass, porcelain, silver artefacts, synagogue textiles
(curtains, mantles, valances) and children’s drawings. As to the subject-matter
of the exhibition, this was devised in very broad terms – as can be seen
from the various thematic sections: Jewish holidays, family life, Jewish
education, the burial society, the work of Jewish artists and of children
imprisoned in the Terezín Ghetto. The exhibition was complemented by a
section devoted to the life of the Jewish community in Australia, expressing
the continuity of ethnic Jewish life. The curator of the exhibition was
Jana Vytrhlíková from the Powerhouse Museum, who also prepared an attractive
Visits to the Jewish Museum
January - The historic sites of the former Jewish Town were viewed
with interest by the Swedish Culture Minister Marita Ulvskog, who was
accompanied by representatives of the Jewish community of Stockholm.
March - The director of the Jewish museum welcomed a delegation
of the Northamerican Board of Rabbis headed by rabbi Jay Y. Rosenbaum.
Jewish Museum material
Due to the great interest shown by visitors in the recently opened Spanish
Synagogue, we have prepared a set of postcards depicting its interior.
For more information on how
to buy the postcards write to:
Židovské muzeum v Praze,
110 00 Praha 1,
fax: 004202 2310681,