Preliminary report for the Holocaust Era Assets Conference (Prague, June 28–30, 2009)


www.holocausteraassets.eu
 
Introductory Remark
The Jewish Museum in Prague (JMP) is the only institution in the Czech Republic focusing exclusively on documenting, preserving, researching, and promoting all aspects of Jewish life and cultural heritage in the Czech lands from the period of the early Jewish settlement to the present. As a privately owned Jewish institution, the JMP holds an exclusive position among other national cultural institutions, which are mostly owned by the state or under the purview of regional or municipal governments. According to its mission articulated at the very founding of the museum in 1906, the JMP should not be merely a museum of Fine and Decorative Arts. Given its extensive archival and library collections (almost 600 current meters of archival documents and more than 130,000 volumes), as well as its specific approach to documentation, collecting, and researching of holdings (more than 40,000 objects), the JMP should be considered a museum of social and cultural history and of the presence of Czech and Moravian Jewry, with its prime task to serve the community whose experience and identity it features. It is only logical that with such a broad definition of its raison d'être, the JMP considers provenance research and education, remembrance, and research of the Shoah an integral part of its professional activity. A detailed report on activities undertaken in the realm of restitution of immovable communal property (b) is to be requested from the Federation of the Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic.
 

JEWISH MUSEUM IN PRAGUE'S EDUCATION & CULTURE CENTER
 
The Education and Culture Centre of the Jewish Museum in Prague (ECC) was founded in August 1996. The ECC provides the general public with detailed information on Judaism and the history of the Jewish people, with particular emphasis on the history of the Jews in the Czech lands. Apart from various cultural events (lectures, discussions, readings, screenings, concerts, exhibitions, etc.) and apart from the general education program on Jewish tradition, history, and culture, the ECC also offers special projects focusing on the history of anti-Semitism and the Shoah. One of the EEC's principal tasks is to address especially the younger generation's awareness of the Jewish presence in the Czech Republic. By introducing contemporary aspects of Jewish life in all its diversity, the EEC's programs aim to stimulate intercultural exchange.
 
ECC IN NUMBERS
 
- Total number of lectures and workshops organized for elementary, secondary, and high school students on annual basis: c. 600.
- Average attendance to these programs: 13,000 students a year.
- Total number of other cultural programs and events for a general audience: more than 100 a year with c. 2,000 attendees.
 
CURRENT ECC PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
 
Projects focusing on the history of the Shoah, anti-Semitism, Jewish persecution and the history of WWII
 
For teachers

- How to Teach About the Holocaust?, a 3-day seminar for school teachers organized annually in cooperation with the Terezin Memorial and, since 2007, with the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), attendance of 60 teachers a year. More information at: www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/asecond.htm
 
For students
- Hana´s Suitcase, a newly developed interactive program for elementary and high schools based on the story of Hana Brady and a book by Canadian author Karen Levine, Hana's Suitcase: A True Story (Albert Whitman & Co., 2003).
- The Holocaust in Documents, an interactive program where five working groups analyze five documents, each from a different stage of the Shoah.
- Reflections: Perpetrators, Rescuers, and Others, seeking solutions for how to clearly differentiate between these groups with the help of visual (photographic) material and oral histories.
 
Traveling exhibitions

- Don’t Loose Faith in Mankind... The Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia Through the Eyes of Jewish Children, a traveling exhibition prepared and coordinated by the ECC. More information at: www.neztratitviru.net/aindex.htm.
- Neighbours Who Disappeared
, a traveling exhibition accompanied with an education program, both prepared and coordinated by the ECC. Participatory training of students as local historians by tracing and recording the true stories of some of their home towns' residents murdered during the Shoah. More information at: www.zmizeli-sousede.cz/aj/.
- Anna Frank: A History for Today, a traveling exhibition prepared and coordinated by the ECC.
- A Ghetto Named Baluty: Report from Lodz
, a traveling exhibition prepared and coordinated by the ECC.

 
Programs on Jewish History & Presence / Programs on Jewish Culture
 
For teachers
- Jews: History and Culture, a four-day seminar, held twice a year. Combining lectures with workshops, it offers a detailed survey of Jewish customs and traditions, ancient and medieval history, the history of anti-Semitism, the Shoah and its aftermath in the postwar life in Europe, and, finally, the history of the State of Israel. Nearly a hundred history and civics teachers attend the seminar each year.
 
For students
- Lectures on Jewish history from the earliest history of the Jewish people through 135 CE to the present.
- Lectures on various aspects of Jewish culture (customs and traditions, the Jewish year, the cycle of life, religion, art, etc. – including hands-on experience with Jewish ritual objects).
- Workshops on Jewish holidays and rituals.
- Workshop on the Hebrew alphabet.
More detailed information can be found at: www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/aprimary.htm .
 

Evening programs for a general audience held regularly at least twice a week
(lectures, discussions, readings, screenings, concerts, exhibitions, etc)
Updated information at: www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/acultvkc2.php .
 

 
THE SHOAH HISTORY DEPARTMENT OF THE JEWISH MUSEUM IN PRAGUE
 
The JMP Shoah History Department houses one of the most precious archival collections related to Jewish persecution in the Czech lands and to the history of the Terezín (Theresienstadt) ghetto. Included in its archives are the parts of the Terezín ghetto's economic records and documentation about the process of expropriating the Jews in the Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia. The archive consists of two main collections: Terezín (containing documents on the history of the Terezín ghetto) and Documents of Persecution (documenting all other aspects of the Holocaust of Bohemian and Moravian Jews). The kernel of these collections was established as a result of the Documentation project launched immediately after the end of WWII and later enhanced by further acquisitions, obtained either individually or by public calls such as the recent project Help Search for Neighbours who Disappeared.
The department has been systematically collecting the testimonies of Shoah survivors since the early 1990s, thereby developing one of the most significant oral history collections in the Czech Republic. Over the time the collection has steadily grown, its recordings (mostly in Czech) have been digitized, indexed, transcribed, and authorized by those interviewed. To the extent allowed by privacy legislation and interviewee consent, the collection is accessible for the public and is regularly used by researchers, educators, journalists, and filmmakers.
Apart from administering and processing important archival and oral history collections, the department is responsible for documenting and updating the names and dates covering the walls of the Pinkas Synagogue, which in the 1950s became a memorial to the Bohemian and Moravian Jews who perished during the Shoah. For political and ideological reasons the Communist authorities kept the memorial closed to the public in the 1970s and 1980s, and the inscriptions on the walls, severely damaged during this period, had to be recreated from scratch in the 1990s. The reconstruction of these inscriptions was undertaken on the basis of the verified archival data collected by the department, and the memorial was reopened in 1996. Information about the Shoah victims is also accessible through an electronic database, which is frequently used by researchers, educators, and students, especially those involved in local commemorative projects.
In addition to the tasks described above, the department staff carry out systematic research on various aspects of the Shoah related to the history of the Czech lands. Of particular note are the recent research and exhibitions that explored the fate of Bohemian and Moravian Jews deported to little known ghettos and camps on the territory of today's Baltic states, eastern Poland, and Belarus.
The holdings of the Shoah History Department do not contain any confiscated property.
 

IMPORTANT EXHIBITION PROJECTS
Silenced Tones: The Life and Work of the Czech Jewish Composers Gideon Klein and Egon Ledeč
(April 16 – June 15, 2003, Jewish Museum in Prague – Robert Guttmann Gallery)
More information can be found at: www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/atony.htm
 
Long-Lost Faces: Recollection of Holocaust Victims in Documents and Photographs
(October 16, 2003 – January 23, 2004, Jewish Museum in Prague – Robert Guttmann Gallery)
More information can be found at: www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/alostfaces.htm.
 
"Since then I believed in fate..." Transports of Protectorate Jews to the Baltic States, 1942
(April 14 – July 10, 2005, Jewish Museum in Prague – Robert Guttmann Gallery)
More information can be found at: www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/abelivein.htm.
 
"Since then I believe in fate..." Transports of Protectorate Jews to Poland 1941–1942
(May 3 – July 22, 2007, Jewish Museum in Prague – Robert Guttmann Gallery)
More information can be found at: www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/aodtedoby.htm.
 
JEWISH MUSEUM IN PRAGUE'S COLLECTION DEPARTMENT AND LIBRARY
 
"Looted Art" vs. "Judaica"

Given the history and structure of the JMP's collections as well as the JMP's mission, it is quite difficult (if not impossible) to draw a clear line between the "Looted Art" and "Judaica" category. In one way or another, all items collected over the various stages of the JMP's existence are to be considered as objects of Jewish interest, if using the term Judaica seems too daring to some museum professionals. Even those items that were not primarily created as Jewish ritual objects, but found their way into the JMP collection for their secondary use and history of ownership, are to be looked at and valued for their relation to the Jewish cultural framework. Moreover, the term Judaica is more of an art-market label similar to other terms as Hebraica, Americana, militaria, personalia, and so forth. In the context of provenance research and restitution, it is much more appropriate to speak of "Jewish ritual objects" or, even more generally, of "Jewish communal/corporate property."
 
General Remark on the JMP Restitution Policy and Practice
As mentioned in the beginning of this report, the JMP regards provenance research as an integral part of its professional activity. The reason for this is at least threefold:
 
1) high professional and moral standards
 
2) its status as an exclusively Jewish organization whose history was significantly marked by the Shoah and whose position as a custodian of the precious legacy of Czech and Moravian Jewry within the context of the global Jewish community represents one of the basic principles of its existence
 
3) the fact that a museum of social and cultural history cannot survive as a mere treasury of decontextualized objects kept in its collections solely for their aesthetic or financial value.
 
For all the reasons stated above the JMP has always acted as a responsible custodian of the sequestered property, emphasizing its provenance as one of the main factors of the objects' value. In this context, it is important to see its provenance research and restitution efforts as a continuum, a process that was started long before the Washington Conference. The first wave of provenance verification and restitution was initiated right after the end of WWII. It was interrupted only by the Communist putsch in 1948 (followed by the JMP's nationalization in 1950), to be resumed immediately after the ceding of state control in 1994.
 
1942– 1945 [the war period]
Jewish professionals working for the Central Jewish Museum (CJM, during 1942–1945 under the close supervision of the Central Office for Regulation of the Jewish Question) and the Jewish Council of Elders (JCE, the former Jewish Community of Prague, also renamed and controlled by the Nazis) considered all objects that were included in the CJM inventory to be potentially reclaimable by their original owners, individual or communal. The CJM was regarded only as a temporary and relatively safe harbour for the sequestered property from all over the Protectorate. This also explains why the CJM staff so diligently marked down every single provenance clue (transport numbers of original owners or names of the regional collecting points) in the war-time inventory. Even though recording provenance clues had not been possible in every single case, a relatively large percentage of records did contain verifiable provenance clues that enabled the restitution process to begin right after the end of the war.
 
1945–1948/50 [the post-war period]
1. Restitution process launched immediately after the war by the first post-war JMP director Dr. Hana Volavková, objects restituted to those original owners (or surviving family members) who were able to provide specifications of (credible oral witness of a third person was also taken as sufficient proof).
 
2. Publication of original owners' names and their transport numbers under which were listed the objects registered in the CJM inventory that remained unreclaimed in 1946. Lists were published in the Bulletin of Jewish Religious Communities (Věstník židovských náboženských obcí, 1947–1948). A complete list of names of original owners who were still entitled to submit a claim for their property held in the JMP depository was published again in 1948 in the form of a 26-page booklet: Seznam majitelů předmětů uskladněných v Židovském museu, Prague: Národní správa Židovské rady starších v Praze V, Josefovská 7 [National Administration of the Jewish Council of Elders in Prague, Josefovská Street 7], 1948.
 
3. Redistribution of Jewish ritual objects, including books, to the renewed Jewish communities through the Council of Jewish Religious Communities (CJRC).
(In 1947 there were 53 renewed Jewish communities in the Czech lands of which only 3 remained in function in 1962, while the rest became reduced to 30 or 40 "synagogue congregations", often not even the size of a minyan.)
 
4. Redistribution of books:
a) Transfer of c. 50,000 books to The Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem (1947–1950).
b) Transfer of 65,115 to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (1946).
c) Transfer of 34,900 to The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (1947).
 
1948/50–1994 [the state-owned museum period, the 1948–1989 period of Communist totalitarianism]
Any activities aimed at redressing the material injustices from the Holocaust period (provenance research, restitution) practically ceased. After 1989 there was one case of restitution of an identified object to an individual claimant:
1991
A. Kurka, A Woman Knitting with a Dog, 1927, oil on wooden panel (acquired by the CJM from the Treuhandstelle on November 3, 1944, i.d. 95.351), restitution to the original owner.
 
1994–1998 [pre-Washington]
1. Provenance research resumed along with consolidation of the JMP collection; the first systematic assessment of losses from the Communist period (collection audit) conducted in 1994–1996.
2. Identification of 61 artworks transferred to the National Gallery in Prague at the nationalization of the JMP in 1950/51; first negotiations over the return of these artworks to the JMP (works were returned only with Law No. 212/2000 Coll. to mitigate certain property-related injustices caused by the Holocaust, which came into effect on July 21, 2000).
 
3. Institutional claims – restituted artworks:
1994
The former collection of the pre-war Jewish Museum in Prešov, Slovakia handed over to the state-owned Slovak National Museum on the basis of the agreement between the governments of the Czech Republic and Slovakia on the exchange of some cultural heritage assets from 1994 [Dohoda mezi vládou ČR a SR o výměně některých předmětů kulturního dědictví] and the agreement on collaboration in administration and mutual settlement concerning cultural heritage assets in the hands and under the administration of the Czech Republic and Slovakia from 1993 [Dohoda mezi vládou ČR a SR o spolupráci a postupu při správě a vzájemném vypořádání předmětů a hodnot kulturního dědictví, které se nacházejí na území nebo ve správě ČR a SR].
1997
Three pieces of 19th century furniture deposited at the JMP between 1966–1969 (transfer of objects between state-owned institutions, i.d. 174.288, 174.289, s.n. [70.605]), restituted to the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague.
 
4. Individual claims – restituted artworks:
1995
167 drawings and 3 sketchbooks by Friedrich Taussig (Bedřich Fritta) restituted to the heirs of the artist.
1998
Maxim Kopf, Portrait of a Young Lady, 1928, oil on canvas, acquired by the CJM from the Treuhandstelle between 1942–1944, i.d. 27.189.
Unknown artist, Portrait of a Man, c. 1890, acquired by the CJM from the Treuhandstelle between 1942–1944, i. d. 27.200.
Adolf Henke, Bust of a Man with Beard and Glasses, bronze relief, 1916, acquired by the CJM between 1942–1944, i.d. 27.307, restituted to the family of Gustav and Marta Beer of Prague
 
1998–2008 [post-Washington]
1. Two JMP staff members (Curator of Visual Arts Michaela Hájková Sidenberg and Head Registrar Magda Veselská) became members of the team of experts within the framework of the Czech Government Working Commission for Explaining Questions Related to the Aryanization of Jewish Property; they also co-authored the first report describing the mechanisms of art-looting and assessing the quantity of the artworks looted or relinquished under duress in Czech public collections (1999–2000); the unpublished report as well as the team's files containing relevant documents amassed during the year of intensive research were handed over to the newly established Documentation Centre of Property Transfers of Cultural Assets of WWII Victims (Fall 2001).
 
2. Organization of an exhibition of artworks returned to the JMP from the National Gallery in Prague (Restituted Works of Art: The Collection of Dr. Emil Freund, Jewish Museum in Prague – Robert Guttmann Gallery, September 6, 2001 – January 6, 2002, curated by Michaela Hájková Sidenberg), see: www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/aobrazy.htm ; at the same time the JMP has published all 61 artworks transferred from the National Gallery on the main Czech restitution website www.restitution-art.cz.
 
3. The JMP introducing its own restitution regulations to address claims for objects still in its holdings; informing potential claimants about the history and structure of the JMP collections and about the procedure for filing and processing claims; inviting potential claimants to submit their claims; providing research assistance to those who are not able to determine what specific objects that once belonged to their clearly identified relatives could be found in the JMP collection (it should be noted that according to JMP restitution policy there are no deadlines for submitting claims, and, unlike with the most recent Czech Restitution Act No. 212/2000 Coll. that came into effect on July 21, 2000, extended family members are recognized as rightful claimants and no protectionist restrictions are applied in order to prevent in rem restitution, unless imposed on the claimed items by a third party; Complete information regarding provenance research and restitution procedures can be read at www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/artrestit.htm).
 
4. Active search for Dr. Emil Freund's family; cooperation with the Art Loss Register in London; identification of potential claimants in the U.S. with the help of the New York office of the ALR and journalists from The Chicago Tribune; filing a lawsuit against the Czech state's decision to impose cultural heritage status on 13 of the 32 artworks identified as formerly belonging to Emil Freund's collection; finalizing the restitution claim of Freund's heirs and restituting the 32 artworks to Emil Freud's family on December 18, 2008.
 
5. Continuous extensive research of owner's marks, dedications, ex libris and other provenance clues in the JMP library collection (in progress); publication of the war-time history of the library collection in an exhibition catalogue Hope Is on the Next Page: 100 Years of the Library of the Jewish Museum in Prague published for the eponymous exhibition curated by JMP librarian Michal Bušek (Jewish Museum in Prague – Robert Guttmann Gallery, August 9 – October 21, 2007, www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/aknihovna.htm), publication of three seminal conference papers on provenance research in the JMP library and the war-time history of the library collection:
Braunová, Andrea, "Origin of the Book Collection of the Library of the Jewish Museum in Prague", in: Judaica Bohemiae, XXXVI, Prague: Jewish Museum in Prague, 2001, pp. 160–172.
Bušek, Michal, " Identifying Owners of Books Held by the Jewish Museum in Prague", in: Vitalizing Memory: International Perspectives on Provenance Research, Washington, DC: American Association of Museums, 2005, pp. 138–142.
Bušek, Michal, "Identifying Owners of Books Held by the Jewish Museum in Prague", in: Borak, Mečislav (ed.) The Future of the Lost Cultural Heritage, Prague: Documentation Centre for Property Transfers of the Cultural Assets of WWII Victims, 2006, pp. 104–112.
 
6. Digitization (scanning) of the war-time inventory (130,000 catalogue cards = c. 200,000 scans, 1999–2006).
 
7. Computerizing relevant entries (provenance clues from the war-time inventory and other relevant details concerning the description of objects; translation into Czech, completed in 2005), computerizing of postwar catalogue entries and acquisition books (in progress).
 
8. Continuation of provenance research while re-visiting existing catalogue entries (in progress).
 
9. Assessing losses from the period of 1945–1994; preparing for registration with the Art Loss Register in London (in progress).
 
10. Information exchange with other colleagues and institutions
Active conference attendance:
Vilnius International Forum on Holocaust-Era Looted Cultural Assets, October 2000 (Leo Pavlát, Michaela Hájková Sidenberg)
Prague, conference organized by the Institute of the Terezín Iniciative, JMP – Education and Cultural Centre, November 2000
(Magda Veselská, Michaela Hájková Sidenberg)
International Provenance research Colloquium, Washington DC 2004
"The Future of the Lost Cultural Heritage", international academic conference organized by the Documentation Centre for Property Transfers of the Cultural Assets of WWII Victims, Český Krumlov 2005
"Raub und Restitution", Jewish Museum Berlin, January 2009
(Michaela Sidenberg)
 
11. Institutional claims – restituted artworks:
No institutional claims registered after 1998.
 
12. Individual claims – restituted artworks:
 
2006
a) Restitution of two paintings to the original owner from the Kolben family:
Adolf Wiesner, Portrait of Malvina Kolben, 1920, oil on canvas, acquired by the CJM from the Treuhandstelle between 1942–1944, i.d. 27.813.
Adolf Wiesner, Portrait of Engineer Emil Kolben, oil on canvas, acquired by the CJM from the Treuhandstelle between 1942–1944, i.d. 27.814.
 
b) Restitution of two paintings to the family of Dr. Emanuel Herrmann and heirs of the late Mrs. Margit Herrmann:
C[arl] Vogl, Portrait of an Elderly Woman with a Prayer Book, 1845, oil on canvas, acquired by the CJM from the Treuhandstelle on June 8, 1944, i.d. 79.573.
C[arl] Vogl, Portrait of a Man, 1845, oil on canvas, acquired by the CJM from the Treuhandstelle on May 12, 1944, i.d. 82.133.
 
2008
a) Restitution of 23 paintings to the original owner from the Kolben family;
20 paintings by Hans Kolben acquired by the CJM from the Treuhnandstelle between 1942–1944 and three further paintings as specified here below:
E. Cihak, Portrait of an Old Woman from the Kolben Family, 1907, oil on canvas, i.d. 27.810.
E. Cihak, Portrait of an Old Man from the Kolben Family, 1907, oil on canvas, i.d. 27.811.
Maxim Kopf, The Holy Grail, 1921, oil on canvas, acquired by the CJM from the Treuhandstelle on January 1, 1944, i.d. 73.001.
 
b) Restitution of 32 artworks by French, Czech, and Slovak artists of the first four decades of the 20th century (18 paintings, 13 drawings, and 1 sculpture) to the family of Dr. Emil Freund, a detailed list can be found at
http://www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/arestit.htm#7.1.
 
c) Restitution of five Hebrew prints from 1878–1934 to the family of Naftali Zvi Kartagener, a detailed list can be found at www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/arestit.htm#8.
 
13. Claims in progress
The JMP has currently no registered institutional claims. There is one individual claim for artworks currently in progress (46 prints and drawings by Hella Guth, a detailed list can be found at www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/arestit.htm#7.2).
 
* * *
CONTACT INFORMATON
Jewish Museum in Prague
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110 00 Prague 1
Czech Republic
Phone: +420-222 749 211
Fax: +420-222 749 300
www.jewishmuseum.cz
 

[email] Leo Pavlát, JMP Director

[email] Michal Bušek, JMP Librarian

[email] Michal Frankl, Head of the JMP Shoah History Department

[email] Miroslava Ludvíková, JMP Education and Culture Centre

[email] Michaela Sidenberg, Visual Art Collection Curator, JMP Collection Department

[email] Magda Veselská, Head Registrar, JMP Collection Department


 

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