Jewish Museum in Prague
Founded in 1906, the Jewish Museum in Prague is one of the oldest Jewish museums in Central Europe. It was closed on 15 March 1939 after the German occupation of Bohemia and Moravia. At that date the Museum's holdings comprised 1,101 objects (in addition to folk and religious artefacts, books and archive documents, 309 pictures and engravings). The mass deportations of the Jewish population to Terezín began towards the end of 1941.
The same year the German occupying forces founded the Treuhandstelle, an organisation set up to collect deportees' belongings in the Prague Jewish Community, to which the administration of the Museum's collections had been transferred. From the autumn of that year the synagogues of Prague were used to store confiscated Jewish property from the communities and synagogues which had been liquidated. In 1941 books and religious objects from Prague synagogues were taken to the Pinkas synagogue.
It was thanks to Dr. Karel Stein, head of the administration of the provincial communities, that a way to save Jewish objects from destruction or loss was found. In May 1942 the Nazi authorities accepted his proposal that a central museum be established, to house the confiscated collections from individuals and from the Jewish Museums of Prague and Mikulov, Judaica from Prague and objects from Bohemia and Moravia (but not from the Sudeten border region, annexed in September 1938).
On 3 August 1942 the Central Jewish Museum began functioning in Jáchymova Street. The Central Jewish Museum incorporated the collections of the Jewish museums of Mikulov and Mladá Boleslav. The deliveries of objects from the Jewish communities were catalogued in the museum. The Museum staff were then ordered to organise exhibitions in the evacuated synagogues. Between autumn 1944 and February 1945 the Museum staff were deported to Terezin and Auschwitz.
After the war, the Jewish Museum in Prague was administered by the Council of Jewish Communities in Czechoslovakia, under Dr. Hana Volavková. Efforts were made to return confiscated objects to communities and individuals, but the restitution was halted during the Communist regime from 1950 to 1994 when the museum was run by the State. The political change led to a restriction in the activities of the Museum. During this period a number of items were illegally sold on both sides of the borders of Czechoslovakia, destroyed, or stolen. The collapse in 1989 of the Communist regime had beneficial effects on the Museum's range of activities. Following the appointment to the Directorship of the Museum of Dr. Ludmila Kybalova in the same year, regional exhibitions and exhibitions in Israel, the USA and Europe were set up. On 1 October 1994 the Museum was given back to the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, under Dr. Leo Pavlát, the new director. In 1995 an exhibition was organised in the Maisel Synagogue. The following year the Memorial to the Jewish victims from the Czech lands was reopened. In the autumn of 2000 the National Gallery of Prague moved some of the most valuable artworks in their collections to the Jewish Museum in Prague. A list and images of these works are available on the Museum website.
Between 1942-44 the Nazi shipment of confiscated books to Prague included approximately 46,000 books and some sheet music. In 1945 a further 100,000 books were received from the Terezín ghetto library, which included works from private and public Jewish libraries throughout occupied Europe, including the Rabbinic Seminaries in Berlin and Breslau, and the Jewish Community in Vienna. Some of these books were incorporated in the library holdings of the Museum. In 1947 the library received another shipment of books which had been hidden by the Nazi authorities before the end of the war in several mansions (Mimon, Nový Falkenburg, Nový Perkštejn and Houska). Many of these were removed from the Museum in 1945-50 and returned to original owners or to various Jewish communities. In total, over 190,000 books were shipped to the Jewish Museum during the war, and around 158,000 of these were eventually returned. The Jewish Museum library now maintains over 100,000 volumes, including both looted shipments and direct acquisitions.
Since May 2001, the Jewish Museum in Prague has begun intensive provenance research on its collections. This work should be completed by the end of June 2004. It has requested that no claims be made until this process has been completed. To identify which collection items were part of the Central Jewish Museum, it is using the 101,000 cards produced by the Nazis to catalogue the items they had confiscated. These cards were used primarily for filing information on folk and ceremonial artefacts, books and archive material. For the most part, there are no clear records pointing to the books' origins or how they came into the collection. But it is likely that the majority of the post-war shipments originated from the Terezín library and the Mimon depot.
Jewish Museum in Prague
U Staré Skoly 1
Praha 1,110 00, Czech Republic
Tel: +420 (0) 224 819 456
Fax: +420 (0) 224 819 458
Open Monday-Friday 9-4
Jewish Museum in Prague
<www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/arestit.htm>, accessed 20 November 2002. Link updated 17 July 2007.