Present at the establishment of the Jewish Museum in Prague in 1906 were the historian Dr. Hugo Lieben and Dr. Augustin Stein, the representative of the Czech Jewish movement and later head of the Prague Jewish Community. The original aim was to preserve valuable artefacts from the Prague synagogues that had been demolished during the reconstruction of the Jewish Town at the beginning of the 20th century. The Museum was closed to the public after the Nazi occupation of Bohemia and Moravia on 15 March 1939. In 1942 the Nazis established the Central Jewish Museum, to which were shipped artefacts from all the liquidated Jewish communities and synagogues of Bohemia and Moravia. Its founding was proposed by Dr. Stein who, in co-operation with other specialist members of staff, sought to save the Jewish objects that were being conficated by the Nazis. Following long negotiations, the Nazis approved the project to set up a central museum, albeit guided by different motives than the Museum´s founders.
After World War II, the Jewish Museum came under the administration of the Council of Jewish Communities in Czechoslovakia. In 1950, ownership was transferred to the State, which, as of 1948, was in the hands of the communists. As a result, the Museum was markedly restricted in its preservation, exhibition and educational activities.
The collapse of the communist regime in 1989 created the necessary conditions that led to a change in the Museum´s status. On October 1, 1994, the Museum buildings and collections were returned to the Jewish Community of Prague and the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic respectively. At the same time, the Jewish Museum took on new life as a non-state organization.
THE SITES AND COLLECTIONS
The Museum oversees the following sites: The Maisel Synagogue, Pinkas Synagogue, Klausen Synagogue, Ceremonial Hall (Prague Burial Society Building), Spanish Synagogue and the Robert Guttmann Gallery.
The MAISEL SYNAGOGE was built in 1590-92 by the Mayor of the Jewish Town, Mordechai Maisel, who funded the extensive Renaissance reconstruction of the ghetto. The Maisel Synagogue is currently used by the Jewish Museum as an exhibition venue and depository. It is the location of the first part of the permanent exhibition "History of the Jews in Bohemia and Moravia – from the First Settlements to the Emancipation".
The SPANISH SYNAGOGE was built in 1868 on the site of the oldest Prague Jewish house of prayer (the Old Shul). By reopening the Spanish Synagogue – closed for over 20 years – on the 130th anniversary of its establishment, the Jewish Museum in Prague has completed one of its most ambitious projects to date. The synagogue houses the second part of the permanent exhibition "History of the Jews in Bohemia and Moravia". The exhibition "Synagogue Silver from Bohemia and Moravia" is shown in the upper-floor prayer hall.
The PINKAS SYNAGOGE was built in 1535 by Aaron Meshullam. After the Second World War, it was turned into a Memorial to the Jewish Victims of the Holocaust from Bohemia and Moravia. On its walls there are inscribed the names of the Jewish victims, their personal data, and the names of the communities to which they belonged. In 1968, however, the Memorial had to be closed and the inscriptions were removed. Finally, in 1992-4, the 80,000 names of the Jewish victims of Bohemia and Moravia were rewritten on its walls. This synagogue also houses a permanent exhibition "Children’s Drawings from Terezín 1942-1944", the drawings of children housed in the Terezín transit camp before, in most cases, being transferred to extermination camps.
The KLAUSEN SYNAGOGE takes its name from the German word "Klaus" meaning "small building", the name referring to the three smaller buildings originally on the site. The present building of the synagogue was completed in 1694. The synagogue also houses the first part of the permanent exhibition "Jewish Customs and Traditions".
The FORMER CEREMONIAL HALL and mortuary of the Old Jewish Cemetery was built in a pseudo-Romanesque style in 1911-12. As part of the Jewish Museum, the Ceremonial Hall of the Prague Burial Society Hevrah Kaddishah (founded in 1564) later became an exhibition venue. On the ground and upper floors of the Hall there is housed the second section of the permanent exhibition "Jewish Customs and Traditions".
The ROBERT GUTTMANN GALLERY is used for temporary exhibitions from the Museum collections as well as for external exhibitions.