Jiří Fiedler – Archivist on a Bicycle


The Jewish Museum in Prague has prepared a Czech translation of the English-language e-book Archivist on a Bicycle, which commemorates the life and invaluable work of the Czech historian and translator Jiří Fiedler – a tireless documenter of Jewish sites in the Czech lands during the Communist regime, who published a wealth of material on this subject after the Velvet Revolution.

Jiří Fiedler’s life came to a tragic end in 2014, when he and his wife were brutally murdered in their apartment by a man visiting under the pretext of asking for specialist advice. This tragic event was covered in the local and international media. His obituary was published, for example, in The New York Times.

Co-authored by Dušan Karpatský, Mark Talisman, Leo Pavlát and Rabbi Norman Patz, among others, the e-book Archivist on a Bicycle is a very pleasant read. Not only is it a tribute to the memory of a most interesting person with a distinct sense of humour; it is also an exploration of the circumstances under which the Jewish community operated during the period of Czechoslovak Normalization.

“At a time of destruction, Jiří Fiedler did what, under normal circumstances, specialist institutions should have devoted their time to. On account of his work, he earned the animosity of the secret police and aroused the suspicion of others. At a time when the Jewish cultural heritage in Bohemia and Moravia was treated with utter contempt, he produced a trove of work that can be drawn on by future generations of researchers in the area of Jewish topography”, said Leo Pavlát, the director of the Jewish Museum in Prague.

The original English-language version of the book was initiated by Czech-born American writer and journalist Helen Epstein, who first came into contact with Jiří Fiedler in 1990 when trying to find information about the Czech Jewish community. Over the years, they met in person many times during her research work and became friends.

Helen Epstein was born in Prague in 1947. After the coming to power of the Communist regime, she emigrated with her family to the USA, where she lived in New York. She graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. She then became a freelance journalist and also taught courses in creative writing, Jewish studies, women’s studies, and European studies. Her books Children of the Holocaust, Where She Came From and The Long Half-Lives of Love and Trauma have also been published in Czech.

Archivist on a Bicycle: Jiří Fiedler

CV of Jiří Fiedler

 

Jiří Fiedler was born on the 4th of March 1935 in Olomouc. He graduated from the Philosophy Faculty of Charles University in Prague. During the Communist regime he worked as a copy editor, mainly for the children's publishing house Albatros. He was also an acclaimed translator of Serbo-Croatian and Polish literature.

From the 1970s onwards, Jiří Fiedler documented Jewish monuments in Bohemia and Moravia, purely out of his own interest. In the process, he collected thousands of photographs of synagogues, cemeteries, rabbi’s houses and former Jewish schools, many of which sites were subsequently destroyed. In addition to pictorial material, he also obtained factual information that was carefully excerpted from countless archival sources, literary works, memoirs and chronicles.

After the Velvet Revolution, he published the book Jewish Sights in Bohemia and Moravia (in Czech and English), which to this day provides a definitive source of information about Jewish settlements in this region. In 1996 he became employed as a specialist by the Jewish Museum in Prague, where he further developed the results of his many years of research. His findings were gradually transferred to an electronic encyclopaedia of Jewish communities in Bohemia and Moravia, which is still being continually updated and specified – it now has as many as 1,670 entries. Without all the information that Jiří Fiedler selflessly and tirelessly gathered together, several of the Museum’s projects would never have come to fruition. In addition, he facilitated the work of numerous researchers in the Czech Republic and abroad, helpfully responding to countless questions and making valuable corrections to their texts.

Jiří Fiedler was employed at the Jewish Museum in Prague until the end of 2012 but continued to work closely on an external basis. Preferring to stay away from the public spotlight, he remained modestly hidden behind his vast work. His tragic death came as an irreparable blow for Czech Jewish history and for all of his many colleagues.

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