Jewish Museum in Prague
History of the Jews in Bohemia and Moravia - Part II
Part II: From Emancipation to the Present
The permanent exhibition which opened in the Spanish Synagogue on 25 November 1998 is dedicated to the history of the Jews in Bohemia and Moravia from emancipation to the present. It follows on from the first part of the historical exhibition (from the establishment of Jewish settlements until 1780), which is housed in the Maisel Synagogue.
The exhibition is installed along the perimeter of the main hall of the ground floor of the Spanish Synagogue and in the upper-floor gallery.
On the ground floor, visitors can become acquainted with the history of the Jews from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries, when the Czech lands formed part of the Habsburg Empire. The gradual broadening of Jewish freedoms from the reforms of Joseph II to the proclamation of full political emancipation in 1867 are illustrated primarily through archive documents and small printed books of the day. Portraits of prominent figures, together with examples of their works, highlight traditional Jewish learning, enlightenment, education and science from the late 18th and first half of the 19th centuries. A separate vitrine is dedicated to attempts at service reform, which in the 1830s were focused on the Old Shul, where several of the most prominent representatives of Jewish enlightenment and science were active as preachers. The composer of the Czech national anthem, František Škroup, was choirmaster here between 1836 and 1845.
For a considerable part of the Jewish population, the culmination of the emancipation process meant complete assimilation. In the Czech lands this involved initially German assimilation, both in terms of language and culture. In the exhibition, this is illustrated primarily by the books of Moses Israel Landau and Pascheles and Brandeis Publishing Houses. The problems of Czech assimilation are reflected in a vitrine dedicated to the Czech-Jewish Movement. A wave of anti-Semitism at the end of the 19th century put in doubt the possibility of settling the Jewish question by means of assimilation. It was at this time that the Jewish national movement - Zionism - was formed. This exhibition covers the cultural, social and sporting activities of Zionist associations and organizations. The contribution of the Jews to the development of industry is represented by a number of prominent, and still thriving, enterprises, which were founded by Jewish entrepreneurs (for example, a match factory in Sušice, Moser Glass Works in Karlovy Vary, ČKD Factory in Prague).
The part of the exhibition that is located in the west gallery deals with the Jews in the Czechoslovak Republic (1918-1938). During this time, Jewish nationhood was recognized by the state and the Jews played a major role in the political and economic life of the country. The exhibition spotlights, above all, prominent figures from the world of culture - writers and poets who wrote in German and Czech, scientists and artists. The connected part of the exhibition in the north gallery is dedicated to the Holocaust of Bohemian and Moravian Jews (1939-1945). Archive sources and photographs from the Museum’s collections document the persecution of the Jews in the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, mass transports, and life in the Terezín ghetto. The last two vitrines contain a brief outline of the history of Jews in the Czech lands after 1945 and a look at relations between Czechoslovakia and Israel. The exhibits featured in the southern gallery deal with the history and rebuilding of the Prague ghetto, together with other Jewish sites in Bohemia and Moravia. The remaining part of the exhibition includes a brief introduction to the history of the Jewish museums in Prague and Mikulov in the period before the Second World War, the war-time Central Jewish Museum and related activities of the Jewish Museum in Prague from 1945 until the present day.