Old Jewish Poscards
Spanish Synagogue, 1 March -
31 August 2000
Postcards featuring Jewish subject matter are a mere fragment of the
thematically diverse range of the postcards from the period 1898 to 1938.
They capture the long lost world of European Jewry, who at the beginning
of the 20th century experienced a culmination of their long-standing
efforts to achieve emancipation and equality. This world was almost
completely destroyed by the catastrophe of the Shoah during the Second
World War. It was therefore postcards that preserved, albeit unwittingly,
the richest picture of the life of pre-war Jewish communities, their
sites, customs and traditions. The majority of postcards featuring Jewish
subject matter, however, have not been preserved - they served the needs
of the day, and it was with the day that they most often disappeared. The
rest are dispersed across collections throughout the world.
The aim of this exhibition is to show the full range of themes and genres
covered by pre-war Jewish postcards from both Bohemia and Europe as a
whole. We have selected around 450 Jewish postcards from a single private
collection and arranged them into 30 thematic groups. The majority are
topographic in nature, featuring synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and other
Jewish sites. As it was not possible to include every geographic area in
our selection, we have focused primarily on postcards from Central and
Eastern Europe, where Jewish settlements were the most populous and
culturally unique. Special attention is devoted to postcards that feature
Jewish motifs from Prague, lesser known synagogues in Bohemia and Moravia,
the former ghetto and synagogues in Bratislava, and the environment of
traditional Jewish communities in Slovakia and Ruthenia.
The second half of the exhibition documents various areas of Jewish life.
One of the most interesting thematic groups is that of postcards depicting
original settlements, ghettos and Jewish streets, particularly in Galicia
and Ruthenia. A related group of photographic postcards capture the
expressive faces of the elderly and of children from hadarim (Jewish
schools) in traditional dress, Jewish shops and individuals carrying out
typical Jewish trades - pedlars, hawkers, second hand dealers, tailors,
musicians and knife-grinders. An integral part of the picture of Jewish
life a century ago also included Karlovy Vary and Marianske Lazne, where
regular visits by Hassidic Rabbis from Galicia and their disciples would
attract great attention.
Other postcards depict traditional scenes from Jewish festivals and
religious life - men dressed in their best clothes on their way to the
synagogue with their children on the Sabbath, elderly men with prayer
shawls during morning services. Many of these are connected to the
celebration of the Sabbath - the lighting of candles at the beginning,
prayers and family rest, and the Havdalah ceremony marking the close of
the Sabbath. Others recall the poetic ceremony of the blessing of the new
moon. Many were intended as greetings-cards to mark the most important
Jewish festivals - New Year and the Day of Atonement. These include
traditional Hebrew greetings and show, for example, a river bank scene
during the New Year Tashlikh ceremony, and an old man with a white rooster
for the Kaparot ceremony. Much more uncommon are the greetings-cards for
the Spring festival Pesach, commemorating the liberation from slavery in
Egypt. There are only a few greetings-cards to mark the festivals Simhath
Torah, Sukkoth, Hanukkah and Purim.
Important moments in an individual's life were also occasions to be
congratulated upon, which was why they also appeared on postcards - in
particular, a religious wedding with all the traditions involved (the
huppah or wedding canopy, dance and music), the circumcision of a new-born
son, and the bar mitzvah (when a boy reaches the age of 13). Original
postcards designed by Jewish artists were also used as greetings-cards.
Much of the work of these artists has survived only on postcards.
For a fuller picture, we have also selected examples of postcards that are
humorous, sport-oriented or Zionist, and those that feature sites in the
Holy Land, in addition to postcards that are anti-Semitic.
For a long time, large museums failed to pay sufficient attention to the
collecting of postcards. The collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague
include only a small set of postcards bearing photographs of Prague Jewish
sites, in addition to postcards issued by the Museum itself. On the other
hand, there is a long-established tradition of privately collecting
postcards. It was not long after the invention of postcards that they
began to be collected, exhibited and exchanged with great fervour. František
Bányai's collection of Jewish postcards is one of the most interesting of
its kind. We are grateful that he was willing to put part of his
collection on public display.
Exhibition curator: Dr. Arno Parik
Installation: Pavel Brach