identification of original owners
Project for identifying the original owners of books
In recent years, the Jewish Museum in Prague has done extensive provenance research on its collections of books in order to
identify their original owners. Launched in 2001, this systematic research has involved examining all the museum’s books
and periodicals, apart from those in the Historical Library of the Prague Jewish Community, recently purchased titles, and
books of clear provenance that were acquired differently. The aim of the physical inspection of books has been to trace and
identify the pre-war ownership records of individuals and organizations (signatures, ex libris, marginal notes, stamps, etc.)
and to determine which books in the museum’s collections may originally not have been owned by the museum. The findings
have been entered in a separate database of the original book owners, which is now part of the Aleph electronic library system.
Due to time constraints, only book identification marks (shelf-numbers and accession numbers), information about the owner
(abbreviations for institutions, names for individuals) and types of ownership records have been included in the database.
Work is still continuing on the final form of the database, which involves adding bibliographical information about the books
and scanning ownership records.
The database is of use not only for charting the origin of books in the museum’s collections, but also for providing documentary material in the event of restitution claims. In dealing with the latter, the museum’s library follows the procedure set out for mitigating the property-related injustices that occurred during the Holocaust and the Second World War. It should be pointed out that identification of an owner's name does not mean with certainty that this is the owner from whom the book in question was stolen during the Second World War.
Establishing legal ownership of books is subject to further research and examination.
Investigating ownership history of objects in the Visual arts collection
Given that no single reliable source exists that would make possible an unequivocal determination of the last legitimate owners of all the objects incorporated from the warehouses of the Prague Treuhandstelle into collection by the curators of the Central Jewish Museum over 1942–45, and given the fact that the majority of these objects – paintings, prints, drawings, photographs, or sculptures – have no specific provenance clues, the Jewish Museum in Prague calls on anyone who knows or thinks that a family member was deported to either Łódź or Terezín (Theresienstadt) from the territory of the so-called Oberlandratsbezirk Prag (the Prague administrative district of the Protectorate that encompassed the city of Prague and its immediate environs, such as Zbraslav, Roztoky, etc.) to request that background research be undertaken, a service the JMP’s professional staff performs free of charge and once a request has been submitted. This has been our policy to date, and it will continue to be so. The research entails examining all available sources and all the relevant data and information that could help in identifying any work(s) of art in our collections. For us to begin this research, the following minimum information is required: full name and date of birth, or at least year of birth, of the person(s) deported.