Touring exhibitions containing original objects

All exhibitions currently available for loan abroad have caption labels and accompanying texts, and some have catalogues in Czech and English.
The terms governing the loan of exhibits and other materials are set out here.

The borrower must pay for the exhibition insurance, the shipping of exhibits by a specialist firm, the installation of the show, the costs for the Jewish Museum curator to travel and stay in the venue city.
The borrower will also be responsible for maintaining the condition of the exhibits and will be required to comply with the relevant terms concerning the display and return of the exhibits.
A separate loan agreement will be prepared for each loan, specifying the selection of exhibits and the general loan terms.

The Auschwitz Album

This exhibition features copies of all of the almost 200 photographs from the Auschwitz Album, a unique document from 1944 that depicts the systematic liquidation of Europe's Jews.
The Auschwitz Album is a unique set of photographs that documents the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in the spring of 1944. Apart from an album that shows the camp being built in 1942–1943 and three photographs that were taken secretly by inmates, there is no other authentic pictorial document that captures life in Auschwitz. Historians rightly consider the Auschwitz Album to be one of the most important testimonies on the fate of the millions who were murdered.
The Auschwitz Album documents the arrival, selection and processing of the so-called “Hungarian Transports” that came to Auschwitz-Birkenau at the end of May or the start of June 1944. According to some sources, the photographs were taken on a single day; according to others, over a period of several weeks. Many of the trains came from Berehove, Mukachevo and Uzhhorod in Carpathian Ruthenia, a former part of Czechoslovakia that was ceded to Hungary in November 1938, just as the Sudetenland had been ceded to Germany under the Munich Agreement. The rest of Carpathian Ruthenia was annexed by Hungary on 18 March 1939, three days after the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia by the German army. As is evident from the recorded testimonies of survivors, many of the deportees in the photographs spoke Yiddish at home. Nonetheless, they considered themselves to be Czechoslovakians.
Unlike the previous deportation trains, the Hungarian transports arriving at Auschwitz went directly into the Birkenau camp – on a newly built track that was completed in May 1944. The railway track was extended in order to speed up the selection process, so that the prisoners could be quickly divided into those capable of work and those to be exterminated immediately, and to make the sorting of their belongings more effective. Most of those deemed fit to work were soon taken to forced labour camps in the German Reich, so that they could be used by the German military industry, which was at risk of air raids. The others – mostly the elderly and women with children – were immediately sent to the gas chambers upon arrival. More than a million European Jews perished at Auschwitz-Birkenau, including at least 75,000 from Carpathian Ruthenia. More than a quarter of a million Jews from the former Czechoslovakia were murdered by the Nazis.
 The exhibition also describes how the album was created, how it was found by the Auschwitz survivor Lili Jacob and what happened to it after the war. A major role in its post-war fate was played by the Czech capital city and the Jewish Museum in Prague, where in 1947 copies were made of the photographs in the album. The original album was donated to Yad Vashem in 1980. Thanks to the Jewish Museum, other copies of the photographs were sent to several other European museums during the 1950s and 1960s.
The exhibition also presents new findings – previously unpublished – about the album and about Lily Jacob. Above all, it draws attention to the fact that although the album is usually talked about in connection with the transports of Hungarian Jews, the photographs actually depict citizens of pre-war Czechoslovakia. Lili Jacob herself – who found the album in the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp after the liberation –was a Czechoslovak citizen, spoke Czech fluently and lived in what was then Czechoslovakia for three years after the war. The money that Lily Jacob received in 1947 from the then State Jewish Museum – for allowing it to make copies of images from the album – enabled her to move with her husband and first-born daughter to the United States in 1948, where they began a new life. The actual photographs were first published in two Czechoslovak books from 1949 and 1956 (The Tragedy of the Jews of Slovakia and The Death Factory). The Auschwitz Album also played an important role as supporting evidence in war crime trials in Germany and Israel.
188 photographic prints on aluminium mounts for wall installation (width: 25 cm, height: 30 cm)
2 shipping crates (80 x 60 x 41 cm, weight: 50 kg each)
Accompanying texts available in not-ready-to-use format in MSWord (lender to produce their own accompanying exhibition panels)



Mazal tov – Good luck

This exhibition focuses on the course and attributes of the traditional wedding ceremony of Ashkenazi Jews. The photographs, garments, rings, contracts and many other items on display provide an overall picture of one of the most important events in the life cycle of every individual and show how the wedding has been celebrated by the Jewish community in the past and present. The exhibition was first shown in 2006 at the Jewish Museum’s Robert Guttmann Gallery in Prague. (Curator: Dana Veselská)
Total insurance value of the exhibits: approx. EUR 1 million
Although the Jewish community has been an integral part of Czech society for many centuries, the family ceremonies of this cultural and religious minority have not yet met with an appropriate level of interest and attention from the wider society. Due to a lack of specialist work on this topic in the past, the descriptions of the life of rural Jews in the literary work of Vojtěch Rakous made even more of an impression on the general public. The tragic events of the Second World War and the genocide of the Bohemian and Moravian Jewish population not only ended the centuries-long presence of the Jews in many areas of the Czech lands, but also severed family and local bonds. This permanently affected the form of local lifecycle ceremonies and also impeded their study and interpretation.
In Judaism, the wedding and marriage are closely linked to religious law. The union between a man and a woman is possible only between Jews (Jewish identity is passed on via the mother), or between a Jew and a convert to Judaism, known as a proselyte. The wedding is a precisely specified legal act, based on deep-rooted biblical and Talmudic traditions. Its precepts are independent of the rules and laws of the wider society, although its form has been influenced by many legal restrictions, particularly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Since biblical times, the form of the Jewish religious wedding has undergone only small changes. Marital union is a social contract between a man and a woman for the purpose of living together and having children. Judaism allows for divorce under certain conditions and for centuries has retained the tradition of the levirate marriage.
The Jewish wedding ceremony has always consisted of two basic portions – betrothal (Heb. Kiddushin or Erusin) and the wedding proper (Heb. Nissuin). Originally, there was a period of up to one year between the two parts, but for a long time they have been held on the same day.
The actual wedding ceremony under the baldachin (Heb. huppah) is preceded by a settling of the wedding terms (Heb. tenayim), a fast by the betrothed couple, a visit to the ritual bath (Heb. mikveh) and the signing of the wedding contract (Heb. ketubbah).
After the bedeken ceremony (veiling of the bride’s head), the groom (Heb. hatan) and bride (Heb. kalah) are brought under the canopy. The latter is usually situated inside the synagogue, although weddings used to be held outside and in the evening, with the starlit sky serving as a canopy. The betrothal ceremony begins with two male witnesses, the officiant (not necessarily a rabbi) and a minyan (quorum) of ten adult males in attendance. This involves the bride circling the groom, a blessing over wine, a blessing of the betrothal, the couple drinking wine, and the betrothal of the couple with a ring that the groom puts on the bride’s finger.
The reading of the wedding contract separates the two portions of the ceremony. This is followed by the actual wedding, which includes seven blessings (Heb. Shevah Berakhot) and the drinking of a second cup of wine. At the close of the ceremony, an item is symbolically broken as a reminder of the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem. After the couple have spent a while in privacy, it is then time for the meal and the wedding festivities, together with presents, entertainment and dancing.

May God Let Him Grow: A Child’s Birth in the Culture and Customs of Bohemian and Moravian Jews

This exhibition focuses on the main ceremonies associated with a child’s birth in Ashkenazic culture and highlights the characteristic items relating to these ceremonies, such as amulets, circumcision tools, circumcision curtains and circumcision books. Also on display are unique synagogue textiles made from the cloth which covers the new-born male during the circumcision ceremony and which is then used as a binder for a Torah scroll or as a lectern cover. The exhibition was first shown in 2009 at the Jewish Museum’s Robert Guttmann Gallery in Prague. (Curator: Dana Veselská)
Total insurance value of the exhibits: approx. EUR 700,000

The birth of a child is one of the most important events for a family and community no matter what the culture or religion. Parents the world over wish for nothing more than to bring into the world a healthy child whom they will be able to properly raise in a stable and safe community.

The Jewish community views childbirth as fulfilling the primary mission of marriage (in Genesis the Lord instructs the first couple, Adam and Eve: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth”) as well as fulfilling the covenant between God and Israel, for which the Lord blesses His people and propagates them. The wedding ceremony among Ashkenazi Jews is performed under a blue canopy embroidered with a number of small stars to symbolize the blessing bestowed by God on the patriarch Abraham: “and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven.”

For a Jewish community it was very important to anticipate the child’s sex. If a boy, then there was very little time to arrange for a mohel, who performs the ritual circumcision. The methods of determining the child’s sex pre-birth were quite similar to those practiced by the majority: if the woman experienced pain in her back, that signaled the likelihood of a boy, but if there was pain in her belly, then she would probably give birth to a girl. To protect the woman from prematurely giving birth, any number of amulets might be worn, and incantations or various forms of magic practice were also employed. In the room where the woman lay, a printed or paper-cut amulet – usually containing Psalm 121 and the names of her guardian angels – was either hung or pasted directly above the woman or on the screen separating her from the others. These amulets are known as kimpet-tsetl (from kimpet, which in Yiddish means childbed) and they served to protect the expectant mother as well as the newborn from Lilith, who, according to folklore, was Adam’s first wife and thus spurned, takes her revenge by murdering newborn infants.

Several particular rituals are performed shortly after the birth of a child. A boy is circumcised, during which he receives his name. A girl receives her name in the synagogue on the first Sabbath after birth when her father is called to the Torah, and the name chosen for the girl is then ceremoniously announced to the congregation. The first week of life of a newborn child is considered to be the time of greatest risk, and therefore the circumcision itself is preceded by special rituals. One is the Shalom Zakhar, which takes place on the evening of the first Sabbath after the birth of a boy (it is the first and only Sabbath eve in his life when he is not protected by the covenant). Family and friends gather at the home of the mother and newborn to celebrate with a festive meal, give their blessings, and welcome the newborn into the world.

In Judaism, the circumcision is an important ritual of initiation that entails removing the foreskin of the penis. The ritual is performed eights days after a boy’s birth, but only if he is healthy and able to undergo the operation. The circumcision is never performed on a child from a family with a history of blood-coagulation disorders, such as hemophilia. Among Orthodox Jews a quorum of no fewer than ten men must be present. Women may look on from their section of the synagogue. Left of the Ark is the circumcision chair or bench. One of the two seats is reserved for the prophet Elijah, whom God has appointed witness to the consummation of this especial covenant, the other is for the sandek, who is usually one of the highly esteemed members of the community, such as the rabbi. The kvatters carry in the baby boy (who is usually swaddled in a special cloth) and are greeted by the congregation saying barukh haba (Blessed Is He Who Comes). The boy is then given to the mohel, a professionally trained circumciser, who places the infant on a special pillow on the seat for Elijah. The boy on the pillow is then placed in the lap of the sandek. The mohel recites a blessing, then the boy’s father, followed by the entire congregation, recite a blessing that ends with: ""Just as he has entered into the Covenant of Abraham, so may he enter into Torah, into marriage, and into good deeds."" After that the mohel takes his instruments – a protective guard and knife – and performs the circumcision. He uses a special tube to suck some blood from the wound, and then the boy’s diaper is changed and he is clothed. A blessing is then said over a cup of wine, after which the mohel pronounces the boy’s Hebrew name (which might be different from his common secular name). The ceremony concludes with a few drops of wine placed on the boy’s lips and the mohel recites the following words from the prophet Ezekiel: “When I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you: ‘Live in spite of your blood.’ “

It was customary to use the particular fabric a child was swaddled in during the circumcision to make an object that was then donated to the synagogue upon the boy’s first visit. It took either the square form of the original swaddling, which was then made into a cover for the bimah (the reading table), or it was cut into strips that were sewn together into one long band to be used to bind the Torah scroll. Both types were embroidered, painted, or printed with a long Hebrew inscription, which identified the boy (usually naming his father as well) and giving the date of his birth. The second part of the inscription contains a benediction that echoes what is recited during the circumcision ceremony: “May the Lord grant that he grow to the Torah, the chuppah, and good deeds.” Today there are extant from Bohemia and Moravia over 1,000 circumcision Torah binders, 160 covers, and around 70 other types of textile objects on which appears the characteristic dedicatory inscription giving information about the birth. The oldest come from the latter half of the 17th century while the most recent come from right before the Second World War. Torah binders and covers from circumcision swaddling are a unique form of historical document whereby their embroidery records the births of hundreds of Jewish children.

The boy ceremoniously dedicated his circumcision object during his first visit to the synagogue. This customarily took place at the age of three or four when the boy could act relatively independently and was able to learn simple texts. The father accompanied the boy to dedicate the binder, cover, or other object to the Torah scroll as proof of his covenant with God. The ritual is called in Yiddish mappe schuletragen (bringing the binder to the synagogue). Another opportunity appropriate for donating a circumcision object to the synagogue was at the first haircut (Hebr. halakah), which generally takes place at the age of three. This ritual symbolizes the cutting of the child from the mother, a rite of passage from infancy.

The Second Life of Czech Torahs – Czech Torah scrolls and binders in the Jewish Museum in Prague and the Memorial Scrolls Centre in London

This exhibition documents a little known incident in 1964 when the former Communist regime sold to the UK a collection of more than 1,500 Torah scrolls from the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague. The exhibition includes a 17-minute documentary film in Czech and English. The exhibition is available on loan either as a series of panels only or with a group of items from the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague (Torah scrolls, silver and textile objects for the protection and adornment of the Torah scrolls, etc.). The exhibition was first shown in 2006 at the Jewish Museum’s Robert Guttmann Gallery in Prague. (Curator: Dana Veselská)
Total insurance value of the exhibition without exhibits: EUR 50,000
Total insurance value of the exhibits: approx. EUR 900,000

It would be hard to find an object that presents the Jewish culture and religion more aptly than the Torah scroll. The reading from a parchment manuscript which contains the Hebrew text of the Five Books of Moses – the Divine Teaching handed over to the people of Israel – is the central moment in the Jewish synagogue liturgy.

In the Bible, what is meant by the term ‘book’ is actually a scroll. Only in this context does Isaiah’s dictum “the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll” make sense. In the Jewish milieu, the scroll was retained as the standard book form for a long time after the codex – the bound book invented by the Romans – became widespread.

The Torah scroll (sefer Torah) is a strip of parchment that is prepared from the skin of a kosher animal. It is many metres in length and has two wooden rollers (atzei hayyim, “trees of life”) at each end. Considered to be holy, both the text and the scroll itself have a unique position within Judaism. In order to be suitable for reading in the synagogue, the Torah scroll must be written in Hebrew square script with permanent ink by a professional scribe (sofer). The scroll may have no textual errors and the letters must be legible. Certain errors and imperfections may be corrected by the scribe, but if there is extensive damage the parchment must be kept out of use.

In time, the interior arrangement of the synagogue was adapted to conform with the public reading of the Torah scroll during the worship service; notably, the Holy Ark (aron ha-kodesh) – a cabinet for the scrolls – and a reading desk were installed. Between the columns of the Ark is a lockable space for storing the Torah scrolls, along with all its appurtenances. The doors of the Ark are covered from the outside by a parokhet – a curtain that separates the holiest place of the Ark from the rest of the synagogue.
In order to fulfil the requirement that the entire congregation should hear as clearly as possible the text that is read from the Torah scroll, the parchment (with all its adornments) is ceremoniously carried to the raised platform in the centre. The reading desk is oriented towards the east and is covered with a special textile whose purpose is to protect the unrolled scroll from damage.

The relevant portion of the Torah is read as part of the synagogue liturgy during services on Mondays and Thursdays, during the morning and afternoon services on the Shabbat and during the morning services on holidays. This is a complex ceremony governed by regulations and ritual customs, which requires the presence of a minyan, a group of ten adult males. The actual reading is performed by a baal kriya, a specialist who is well-versed in recitation (cantillation).

After the reading of the weekly portion, the scroll is once again ceremoniously given its adornments. A binder is wrapped around the scroll to prevent it from unrolling. This is a narrow band of fabric, several metres in length. Across the entire length of the binder, there is usually a characterisitc dedicatory inscription, which states the name of the child, the date (and sometimes place) of birth and the names of the parents, and includes the standard benediction: May the Lord grant him to raise him to the Torah, to the wedding canopy and to good deeds.

After the parchment has been secured by the binder, the scroll is covered with a textile – the Torah mantle. The scroll is then decorated with silver ornaments. The Torah shield and the Torah pointer (yad) hang on a chain at the front of the scroll. The pointer is a rod that is often decorated and always shaped at the end like a hand with an outstretched index finger; it is used to indicate the text of the Torah that is to be read.

Torah finials – known as rimmonim (“pomegranates”) because of their shape – are placed on the protruding ends of the rollers. On ceremonial occasions, the scroll is adorned with a silver crown, instead of finials. The adorned scroll is then ceremonially carried back to the Holy Ark.

Before the Second World War, very few Torah scrolls appeared in museum collections in Bohemia and Moravia. Considering how expensive it was to make, the Torah scroll was certainly not an item that a congregation would voluntarily or gladly have given away to a museum collection. Indeed, the number of Torah scrolls owned by a particular community reflected its economic and social standing. In the collections of pre-war Jewish museums, the Torah scroll appeared more frequently in the form of a miniature souvenir.

The situation regarding the occurrence of Torah scrolls in the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague drastically changed in May 1942. The Nazi authority dealing with the Jewish question in Prague – the Central Office for Jewish Emigration – ordered the Jewish communities in the Protectorate (i.e., the historical lands of Bohemia and Moravia, not including the Sudeten border areas) to send all their liturgical objects, books and archive records to the newly established Central Jewish Museum in Prague. The impetus for founding this museum came from Prague Jewish community employees who sought to protect the properties of those who had been deported to concentration camps. They used the pre-war Prague Jewish museum collection as a starting point for the initiative. Read more about the museum's history:

Almost 1,800 Torah scrolls became part of the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague during the Second World War. A number of Jewish congregations were re-established in Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia after the war; these were provided with the necessary liturgical items, including Torah scrolls, by the Jewish Museum in Prague. The post-war years and, in particular, the subsequent period under the Communist regime, however, brought rapid change, as a result of which many of the revived congregations were again disbanded. Many of the liturgical items that had been loaned were subsequently returned to Jewish Museum in Prague.

A major impact on the Jewish Museum’s existence occurred in 1950, when it was put under state control. It was moved out of its headquarters and allotted several other buildings, most of which required renovation and repairs. A synagogue in the Prague district of Michle, which the State Jewish Museum acquired in the autumn of 1955, was chosen as a site for the storage of its collection of scrolls. The then museum director, Hana Volavková, decided to set up a museum of scrolls, which were gradually deposited there in 1956-59. This Antique-style library-cum-repository was to have been definitively completed at the beginning of the 1960s, but events took another turn.

Abroad, there was considerable interest in the Jewish Museum in Prague and its collections. Soon after the Second World War, the museum was contacted by people wishing to buy items from its collection. Hana Volavková successfully resisted such offers, pointing to the immense value of the relics of the Bohemian and Moravian victims of the Shoah. At the beginning of the 1960s, however, the Czechoslovak Communist regime undertook several initial attempts to sell liturgical items from Jewish Museum to interested parties abroad. Encouraged by its success, it then began a systematic search, via the state-owned Artia corporation, for a market for multiple copies of items in the museum’s collections.
Torah scrolls became vulnerable items. Most of them had no unique marks or features and the Jewish Museum had a large number that could not be exhibited. As a consequence, in 1963, once a suitable purchaser had been found, the museum staff were compelled to provide about 1,500 Torah scrolls from the museum’s collections for sale. The entire set was sold for a pre-arranged price, which was paid not by the person who mediated the transaction – the art dealer Eric Estorick – but by an anonymous philanthropist. In January 1964, after the agreed-upon amount had been paid, the Torah scrolls in Prague were wrapped and shipped to London. As part of the agreement between the Czechoslovak state and the new owner, the Torah scrolls were not allowed to become commercial items.

The shipment of this immense amount of important Jewish ritual items attracted great attention in London. The scrolls found refuge at Kent House, the headquarters of the recently established Jewish congregation at Westminster, of which the above mentioned philanthropist – the London lawyer and businessman Ralph Yablon – was a member. The scrolls were stored there while it was being decided how best to make use of them. Two possible options were considered: the scrolls that were in good condition or were repairable could be loaned for liturgical uses while those that were not repairable could be provided for commemorative purposes. In 1965, and for the next almost 40 years, the core of all activities relating to the care, and later distribution, of the Torah scrolls was overseen by Ruth Shaffer. The distribution of Torah scrolls entailed a number of difficulties, even though clearly defined rules had been laid down: the items were to be provided on permanent loan, not to private individuals but to congregations that were in need of them. Requests were dealt with on an individual basis and were often turned down for various reasons – as, for example, when it was suspected that the interested party had commercial designs on a Torah scroll.

The vast majority of usable Torah scrolls from Bohemia and Moravia have now been distributed to Jewish congregations, Shoah memorials, museums and libraries across the world. The rest of the scrolls are part of a collection in a small museum at Kent House which commemorates the fate of the scrolls and the history of the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia. The scrolls that the Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust has loaned to congregations are being looked after with great care. These congregations realise the value of the memory of every individual scroll and are developing a number of projects that promote knowledge of the life of the Jewish community in Bohemia and Moravia.

Representatives of these congregations often contact the Jewish Museum in Prague. They are interested in the fate of specific individuals who lived in the Jewish community from which their scroll was shipped to the museum during the war, and in the history of these communities and in other related liturgical items and archive materials in the museum’s collections. Such interest has led to the publication of books on the fate of Czech Jewish communities, educational programmes and exhibitions. The Jewish Museum in Prague is glad to become involved in all such projects and appreciates all who wish to find out about the original owners of the Torah scrolls. For these congregations are building a bridge between the past, present and future and are helping to preserve a historical memory of events that must never be forgotten.

Adolf Kohn – Painter of the Prague Ghetto

This exhibition depicts Prague’s Jewish and Old towns in paintings by Adolf Kohn (1868–1956) before and during the ghetto clearance and up until the 1930s and in period photographs. On display are 50 paintings and 30 photographs. The exhibition was first shown in 2003 at the Jewish Museum’s Robert Guttmann Gallery in Prague. (Curator: Arno Pařík)
Total insurance value of the exhibits: EUR 380,000

Adolf Kohn was born on 10 March 1868, a year after the Jews in the Habsburg Empire had been granted full equality. He stemmed from a respected Prague family; his father, Bernard, served as cantor at the Pinkas Synagogue and his elder brother, Emil Klement, was a celebrated professor of medicine at Prague University. His mother, Rozálie (née Stern), was born in the village of Kovanic in the Poděbrady region, not far from Prague. In view of his father’s position, it is likely that the family was already living in or near the Jewish Town (Josefov) when he was born. This is where Kohn spent his childhood and youth, exploring all the alleyways, yards and hidden corners of the Prague ghetto.

Kohn attended the Josefov Jewish School (then located in Břehová Street), and later on went to the Old Town high school at the Kinský Palace – Franz Kafka was a pupil here fifteen years later. Following on from his elder brother, Kohn began to study medicine at Prague University but left the course after just a few terms and changed his focus to music, studying with the famous concert maestro Mořic Wallerstein. Kohn then worked as an organist for many years, mainly in the Maisel Synagogue where he also served as choirmaster. He also played the organ in other synagogues and churches in Prague.

In August 1897, Kohn married Theresie Stein (1865-1936), a native of Nymburk . It was at this time that he witnessed the beginning of the reconstruction of the Prague ghetto, as well as the protests that were held by public figures from the world of Czech culture against the destruction of its cultural and historic sites. He may also have seen the famous master painters Jansa, Minařík and Slavíček with their pupils at work in the picturesque nooks of the ghetto. Josefov inhabitants were even more curious about the mysterious exploits of photographers such as Friedrich, Eckert and k íženecký, who, having meticulously adjusted their tripods and box cameras, would take shots of the ghetto while concealed under black cloaks. Another character Kohn would no doubt have bumped into was Zikmund Reach, the photographer and collector whose second-hand bookshop in Skořepka Street became a sanctuary for all those who knew and loved Old Prague.

The changes that were brought about by the rapid modernization of the city at the turn of the 20th century created widespread public interest in Old Prague. The Brown brothers organized protests against the planned reconstruction of Josefov and the Club for Old Prague was established soon later. It was around this time that Kohn, without any particular technical experience, set about painting his small pictures of the streets, houses and squares of the Jewish Town in an attempt to preserve their form and, in so doing, to prevent them from falling into oblivion. Apparently, he went round houses, shops and restaurants peddling his pictures for any price he could get. He hardly ever dated his works, but he often jotted down the name of the street or house on the back . As some of his pictures depict horse-drawn trams and gas lamps, it is clear that the earliest works were made before 1900. These paintings appear to have been executed with more skill and care than his later works. He continued in his artistic endeavours and, with the help of old photographs and postcards, produced hundreds of paintings of the Prague ghetto. The most valuable ones, of course, are those that depict places which are no longer to be found anywhere else and which were made during the course of the reconstruction of the ghetto.

In contrast to the work of professional artists from the end of the 19th century, who were inspired by the mysterious and somewhat gloomy atmosphere of the former ghetto, Kohn’s pictures provide a completely different view of the Jewish Town. Details of houses – windows, shop-signs, pantile roofs, dormers – goods unloaded in front of shops and street pavements were all meticulously presented in clear compositions and light pastel colours. The unmistakable atmosphere of the Jewish Town is captured in pictures of shady areas in deserted streets with narrow strips of blue sky hovering above the roofs and reflected in the top windows of houses. The unusual lighting and piercing shadows on the facades of houses in empty streets create a feeling of unsettling timelessness and nostalgia. Kohn’s work was also marked by an apparent naivety in the depiction of figurative motifs. Whenever figures appear in his street scenes, they are caught in a motionless and unnatural state, which is perhaps why they all convey the impression of loneliness.

Kohn focused almost exclusively on motifs from the Prague ghetto, creating many variations on the most prominent images – the Old-New Synagogue and the Old Jewish Cemetery. His subjects often complement and follow on from each other; when seen together from various angles and perspectives, they form a panorama of picturesque nooks and corners. Josefovská Street (now Široká) – with the New Synagogue, numerous shops and the house of Rabbi Loew – was once the main area of the Jewish Town and a dividing line between the south and north parts. The most scenic spot in the south part was Maiselova Lane, which formed the rectangular Three Wells Square at the intersection of the streets Kostečná and Jáchymova. In the Old Jewish Cemetery, Kohn mostly painted groups of tombstones around the grave of the mayor of the Jewish Town, Mordecai Maisl (1526–1601). Not far from here, in Rabínská Street, he would often depict the picturesque view of Jewish butcher shops in the shadow of the Great Court Synagogue. He also painted in the peripheral streets of Platnéřská, Kaprova and Dlouhá, which did not become part of the extended district of the Jewish Town until 1812. Individual paintings were also made in the Na Františku area, near the Ungelt courtyard, in the Old Town Square and in Na Příkopě Street. His paintings, which were almost exclusively dedicated to the former Prague ghetto still appear from time to time in antique shops in Prague.

The bulk of the reconstruction of Josefov and the adjoining parts of the Old Town – as demarcated by Platnéřská Street, the Old Town Square and Dlouhá Street – was carried out between 1896 and 1914. At around this time, a new house was built at Haštalská Street 14/752, where Kohn lived from March 1915 until the end of his life. Shortly before moving, he had apparently became involved with Anna Karasová (1891-1981), who gave birth to his daughter Markéta in October 1915. They did not marry, however, until 1918, when they had another daughter, Valérie; the youngest daughter, Věra, was born five years later. At the start of World War II, Markéta was arrested by the Gestapo, incarcerated in the Small Fortress at Terezín and deported to Auschwitz, where she died. In September 1942, the other two daughters were deported to the Terezín ghetto, where they remained until liberation. Their father was saved from deportation by his mixed marriage and by his hospitalization in 1944 in the Jewish hospital in Lublaňská Street in the Vršovice district of Prague. In March 1948 he celebrated his eightieth birthday with his family and a commemorative article about his work was published in the Prague Jewish Community Bulletin. He died in Prague on 3 April 1953 at the age of 85. He was buried in the Russian Cemetery in the Olšany district of Prague.

Robert Guttmann – Painter and Traveller of Prague

This exhibition focuses on the life and work of the Prague naïve painter Robert Guttmann (1880–1942). It documents his tireless promotion of the Jewish national movement and his walking tours in Czechoslovakia and abroad, and features examples of his work – portraits, festive compositions, paintings of Prague synagogues and paintings depicting scenes of traditional Jewish and Ruthenian life. On display are 25 paintings, 25 drawings and 20 photographs, manuscripts and archive documents. The exhibition was first shown in 2001 at the Jewish Museum’s Robert Guttmann Gallery in Prague. (Curator: Arno Pařík)
Total insurance value of the exhibits: EUR 500,000

Following the Orlická Gallery exhibition in the Rychnov nad Kněžnou Chateau in 1994, this is the largest exhibition to date of the work of famous naive artist from the First Republic, Robert Guttmann. The show features virtually all of Guttmann’s pictures from the collection of the Jewish Museum in Prague, as well as numerous pictures and caricatures of Guttmann by other artists, period photographs and documents which the Museum has managed to collect over the years.

Robert Guttmann was born on 22 April 1880 in Sušice, South Bohemia. His paternal ancestors came from Central Bohemia and his mother’s family, the Fischers, were from Moravia. Guttmann spent his childhood in Sušice and attended primary school in Planá nad Lužnicí. He went to secondary school in České Budějovice but after two troublesome years was sent home to learn the family business. He preferred to roam around the countryside, having loved flowers and animals (especially horses) since his childhood. Because of his dreamy nature he became known as “the village poet”.

Guttmann came to Prague in 1895, attending the Bergmann Business School. Having developed a fine baritone voice he wanted to become a cantor. As a keen athlete he also dreamt of being in the Olympics. For several years he attended a private art school run by the landscape painter Alois Kirnig. But all these interests were pushed aside by Guttmann’s first encounter with the burgeoning Jewish national movement which proved to be the most important experience of his life. He went to lectures held by the Maccabi Students’ Association (1893) and in 1896 read Herzl’s book , Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). In 1897 he walked all the way to the First Zionist Congress in Basle: “It was an exhilarating march—sheer ecstasy! I was 17 years old at the time and the march took 14 and a half weeks. I had some money on me, but apart from that, I sold my hand-painted postcards and mainly caricatures…”, he later recalled. By 1925 he had visited most of the Zionist congresses in various cities of Europe. But not everyone understood Guttmann’s devotion to the Zionist movement: “The local [Prague] Jews repaid me with the worst gratitude you can imagine... they told me not to appear in public as a Zionist because that would only hurt the movement... As a result of the personal animosity and antipathy I came across in Zionist circles I began to focus more intensively on painting.”

In the inter-war period Guttmann was better known in Prague for his distinct appearance than for his pictures. His opinions, photographs, caricatures and reproductions were occasionally featured in a number of Prague newspapers. In summer he would set out on long hikes to Zionist Congresses abroad or would travel throughout the country on foot. He often visited spa towns where he would sketch the guests or sell his own caricatures. But he preferred to visit Zionist organizations in Slovakia and traditional Jewish communities in Subcarpathian Ruthenia.

Guttmann’s paintings are unconventional and unclassifiable, and therefore unsettling. According to Dr. Arthur Heller, a Prague psychiatrist, they share similar traits to the works of schizophrenics, children, primitive people and certain Expressionists. They afford an insight into a secluded, sensitive soul which was drawn to nature, to the integrity of childhood and to a profound faith. Guttmann’s eccentricity and defiance may have been a way of protecting his fragile, sensitive world from outside encroachment. As an artist, he refused to be a mere reproducer of reality and defended his right to his own creative self-expression. “I am completely independent and happy that I have escaped the pedantry of the academic world and that I am free to live and rage!”.

After the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, Guttman’s lost the genial world in which he had been accustomed to live. He could go only to the ‘Jewish’ Café Roxy in Dlouhá Street, but he spent most of his time on his own in his tiny room where his newspaper clippings and pictures reminded him of better times. His last paintings (1939-41) were based on these memories, all in vivid bright colours; apart from a few earlier pictures, these are the only ones to have survived. On 16 October 1941 Guttmann was put on the first transport that left Prague for the Lodz ghetto. Ghetto life must have been incomprehensible and unbearable for such a globetrotter who had criss-crossed half of Europe on foot. He became completely apathetic and silent. He just stared into space with a hopeless, faraway look in his eyes, clutching his folder in his arms. He died at Lodz on 12 March 1942.

Biography of Robert Guttmann

1880 Born in Sušice, Southern Bohemia (20 April).
1886 Attends a Czech school in Planá nad Lužnicí; learns Hebrew and German at home.
1895 His family moves to Prague. Attends a business school on his father’s wishes. Keen to become cantor in a Synagogue. Active in sport.
1896 Discovers Theodor Herzl’s book , Der Judenstaat. Participates in lectures and discussions at the Maccabi Club. Attends an academy of art run by Alois Kirnig Makes a 102-day pilgrimage on foot to the 1st Zionist Congress in Basle, selling hand-painted postcards on the way. 1898 His father’s death prevents his participation in the 2nd Zionist Congress in Basle.
1899 Co-founds a Czech branch of the ”Zion” association. Visits the 3rd Zionist Congress in Basle.
1900 Participates in the 4th Zionist Congress in London.
1903 Participates in the 6th Zionist Congress in Basle.
1907 Participates in the 8th Zionist Congress in The Hague. In the following years visits all Zionist Congresses until 1925. Devotes himself to painting as the main source of income.
1908- 1938 A period of intense creativity, spending time in his favourite Prague cafés and travelling. Makes further journeys to France, Austria, Slovakia and Subcarpathian Ruthenia. Involved in all events connected to the Zionist movement at home and abroad. Becomes a popular subject for Prague newspapers and magazines due to his unconventional life-style and appearance.
1923 Dedicates a series of his work to President T.G.Masaryk .
1925 Completes an allegorical honorary diploma for President T.G.Masaryk . His wedding is announced in the Prague press. Has disagreements with Prague Zionists. Devotes more time to painting. Sends a donation for the opening of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
1926 Travels across Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia.
1928 Lays a wreath on the grave of Charlotte G.Masaryk ; goes on a pilgrimage to Lány. On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the establishment of Czechoslovakia (28 October), his first complete exhibition of artwork (40 oil paintings, water-colours and pastels) is held with the support of Hugo Kalista at the Monopol Publishing House on Charles Square
1930 Exhibition in Zikmund Reach’s second-hand bookshop in Skořepka Street, Prague. The Jewish Community of Prague finds him a permanent place in Lämml’s poor people’s shelter on Na Bojišti Street.
1931 Travels through Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and France.
1932 Arthur Heller publishes a monograph entitled ”Guttmann. Eine psychologische Studie über den Maler Robert Guttmann”, Litevna, Prague.
1936 -1939 Spends time in U Karasů snack bar in Žižkov where he sketches a number of pictures.
1941 (16 October) Put on the first transport (A) from Prague to Lodz ghetto
1942 Dies of hunger in the Lodz ghetto (14 March)

Vavro Oravec – A Painter of Soul

This exhibition of work by the painter and physician Vavro Oravec (1915–2009) features 36 of his paintings from the 1960s to the 1990s, which Oravec donated to the Jewish Museum in Prague in 2000. Oravec only began painting as an adult. His work retains the originality of a naive view, a unique sensitivity and a distinctive style, revealing the hidden form of things and evoking an atmosphere of a long-lost world. The exhibition was first shown in 2001 at the Jewish Museum’s Spanish Synagogue in Prague. (Curator: Arno Pařík)
Total insurance value of the exhibits: EUR 360,000

Vavro Oravec was born in the Slovakian town of Tvrdošín in 1915. He studied medicine in Bratislava (1933-38) and then worked in hospitals in Bardejov and Nitra. After the establishment of the State of Slovakia (1939) he helped out in the Jewish Council’s office in Bratislava and taught Jewish children who had been expelled from school. He never took any lessons in painting. The only art education he received was a three-month retraining course in ceramics (run by J. Horová and S. Fischerová) in Bratislava in 1940, which he attended after being prohibited from practising medicine. He was arrested in Autumn 1944 and deported to Auschwitz, from where he was sent to the concentration camps Gross Rosen and Blechhammer.

After the end of the war Vavro Oravec left for Prague where he studied stomatology at Charles University. In 1948 he began to work as a dentist in a health centre in Prague. In his free time he tried his hand at painting, attending a course of drawing lessons under Jan Bauch. He later sought out the advice of friends from the May 57 group of painters (R .Fremund, R. Piesen, J. Kolínská,
J. Balcar, Z. Sekal and others). He first exhibited his work together with a group of doctor painters in 1955 in the E. F. Burian Theatre. It was at this time that he began to paint in a more systematic way. Helped on by a natural talent, he was soon to master the basics of painting, but never lost his original naiveté, unique sensibility and distinctness of expression.

Three one-man shows in 1959, 1962 and 1965 came about as a result of his own artistic development and personal outlook . He painted slowly, patiently, with great focus and intensity. He never acquired the technical assuredness and skill of a professional painter, a shortcoming he turned to his advantage. He was forced to explore and discover everything for himself, to contemplate with a sense of humility and an awareness of life. His work does not reveal any marked development or dramatic change; it is as if he keeps returning to a narrow yet focused range of themes, while using new means to discover qualities that until now have been hidden. Jaromír Pecirka said of Vavro Oravec’s work in 1959: “There is something mysterious in his if the remnants or echoes of some ancient culture were hidden within...the patina of something that is not new, something that was experienced and cherished not only by the artist but by his ancestors...”.

For a long time, his work was almost exclusively centred around portraits. These are imaginary portraits, based on a deep sense of affinity. The sorrowful faces of children and young girls reflect his war-time experiences. After the occupation of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 he emigrated to Bern, Switzerland. In exile new themes emerged in his paintings recalling the terrifying experience from Auschwitz and the death marches. He created portraits of his ancestors, relatives and friends, as well as stylised self-portraits that seem to depict mental states rather than outward appearances. From the very beginning, however, his portraits of his kindred spirit Franz Kafka were predominant. These were later followed by portraits of other authors, such as Marcel Proust, Robert Walser, Hermann Hesse and Ernst Troller, as well as his favourite artists Amedeo Modigliani, Marc Chagall, Paul Klee and Karel Černý.

His work is created in privacy, in an enclosed space, in isolation and concentration, as the result of an ever deepening experience and awareness. His paintings take form slowly, emerging in silence from oblivion, revealing hidden faces and objects that seemed to be lost. Colours are layered in a similar way to human experience, memories and dreams. His paintings radiate an indefinable magic sensibility, evocative of dreams and a silent immersion into a world either long since past or existing somewhere on the other side of our consciousness. They focus on simple things and incorporate childhood memories, moments of despair and happiness forever fixed. They are a reflection of his soul and his life. Through his art he seeks a pathway to himself, to forgotten events, people and objects, to their hidden meanings and significance which are hopelessly eluding the rest of us in the hustle and bustle of life.

Biographical details:

22.6.1915 Born in Tvrdošín, Slovakia
1933-38 Studied medicine in Bratislava and worked in hospitals in Bardejov a Nitra
1940 Attended a ceramics course run by J. Horová and S. Fischerová in Bratislava
1941-42 Helped out in the Jewish Council’s office in Bratislava and taught Jewish children
1944 Arrested in Autumn, deported to Auschwitz, Gross Rosen and Blech- hammer concentration camps
1945 Worked as a doctor in hospitals in Košice and Bratislava
1945-47 Studied at the Medical Faculty of Charles University in Prague
1948-68 Dentist in a health centre in Prague
1955 Began to paint systematically
1963 Member of May 57 Group
1968 Emigrated in September to Bern, Switzerland
1969-76 Worked as a dentist in a health centre in Bern
1976 Went into retirement, devoting himself to art

Long-lost Faces – Recollections of Holocaust Victims in Documents and Photographs

This exhibition is the outcome of the successful “Help Search for Neighbours who Disappeared” project. Through a series of appeals and interviews in the press and on the radio and television, the Jewish Museum in Prague asked the public to provide mementos, photographs, documents and other material that recall the lives and fate of their pre-war Jewish relatives or friends. The exhibition seeks to remind present and future generations of the people who once lived among us and who became innocent victims of one of the greatest crimes in the history of mankind. The exhibition was first shown in 2004 at the Jewish Museum’s Robert Guttmann Gallery in Prague. (Curator: Jana Šplíchalová)
Total insurance value of the exhibits: EUR 15,000

The response from the public was overwhelming, with hundreds of related visits to the Museum in the course of two years. Often, very valuable material was handed over to staff at the Holocaust department. Many people donated documents to the Museum, while others enabled them to be copied.

Some of the donors found out more detailed information about the fate of their family and friends while visiting the Museum, where they had the opportunity to access a computer index with basic personal data on the victims and information on their deportation to Terezín and further east. Many faces in photographs were identified only on the basis of collating information from the database, documents and the reminiscences of donors. In the course of this search, donors heard, often for the first time, about certain lesser-known concentration camps, ghettos and extermination centres in eastern Poland, the Baltic States and Belarus

In this way we managed to bring together not only documents of an official nature, such as public notices, bulletins and forms from the period of the Nazi occupation, but also a wide range of personal items – portraits, family and school photographs, personal documents, birth and wedding certificates, reports, identification cards, passports and membership cards, as well as official and illegal correspondence from home, Terezín and other Nazi camps and ghettos. Valuable sources for illustrating the everyday life of Jewish inmates also include diaries, scrapbooks, poems and personal narratives. There is also a completely separate group of memorial objects.

All these documents are being stored in the Holocaust department where they will be available for researchers and historians and, gradually, will also be used in the course of other visits.

The exhibition “Long-lost Faces” acquaints the public only with a fraction of what has been brought together as part of the project. The exhibition curators have tried to create a cross-section that will present as well as possible the variety of the material and, at the same time, recall the life stories of people who, until the onset of persecution, lived ordinary family lives, enjoyed friendships, love and pleasure, but also had everyday worries, studied, worked, and had good times in general… Without reason, their fates were severed and, in many cases, their children were not allowed to reach adulthood.

Our respect and warm thanks go to all those who have not forgotten and who do not want to forget about their murdered Jewish relatives, friends and neighbours and who deserve praise for gathering together these valuable documents.