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Jewish Museum in Prague, Czech Republic

The Jewish Museum in Prague (Czech: Židovské muzeum v Praze) is a museum of Jewish heritage in the Czech Republic. The Jewish Museum in Prague is one of the oldest and continually existing Jewish museums in the world. Its collection of Judaica is one of the largest in the world, about 40,000 objects, 100,000 books, and a copious archive of Czech and Moravian Jewish community histories. He manages a large collection of judaics and a rich book and archive fund. Most of the exhibits come from the property of Jewish communities and families that were slaughtered during the Holocaust. In addition to its tragic war fate, the collection is also unique because it comes from a single territory. In its summary, it gives a holistic picture of the life and history of the Jews in the region of Bohemia and Moravia and is the bearer of their cultural and spiritual memory. The museum is housed in Prague’s synagogues and other Jewish monuments.

The museum’s historic synagogues, the Ceremonial Hall and the Old Jewish Cemetery provides a unique cultural experience for visitors – one of the greatest on offer in the Czech capital. The Jewish Museum in Prague is the largest museum of its kind in Europe. In addition to its permanent exhibitions, the museum focuses on the past and present, culture and education of the Jewish culture in the Czech Republic in many other ways – paying special attention to the organizing of cultural and educational programmes for the general public. Research work also forms a key part of the museum’s activities.

The Jewish Museum in Prague was founded in 1906 by historian Dr. Hugo Lieben (1881–1942) and Dr. Augustin Stein (1854–1937), who later became the head of the Prague Jewish Community. Its purpose was to document history and customs of the Jewish population of the Czech lands, as well as to preserve artifacts from Prague synagogues demolished at the beginning of the 20th century.

When the Nazis instituted the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in part of the former Czechoslovakia, the museum became the Central Bureau for Jewish Emigration. (Its name was later changed to the Central Bureau for Arrangement of the Jewish Question in Bohemia and Moravia.) Karel Stein (1906–1961), an employee of the Jewish community in Prague, suggested that properties of the community be stored in the museum. These properties were considered valuable works of art by Nazis and therefore acceptable for preservation. Because of the initiative of the Jewish community, many objects were collected, and the Museum was professionally led by Josef Polák.

Around 80 000 Czech and Moravian Jews fell victim to the Second World War and so afterwards there was almost nobody to claim the confiscated objects, preserved in the Museum. Endowed with a new vocation, ensuing from the historical fact of the Holocaust, the Museum re-established its activity on 13 May 1945, under the administration of Jewish Religious Communities Council and under the leadership of Hana Volavková. Its first exhibition after the War took place on 26 June 1945.

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On 25 February 1948, after less than 3 years of post war freedom, the Communists staged a coup d’état and took over the government of Czechoslovakia. Out of the Communist regime’s initiative the Jewish Museum became state property on 4th April 1950 and its name was changed respectively to the State Jewish Museum. During the Communist dictatorship, until its very fall in November 1989, the raison d’être of the Museum was constantly disputed on ideological grounds. The topics seemingly related to the “campaign for peace and against fascism“ (favourite clichés of the Communists) were allowed. Nevertheless, pretensed campaign against another adversary, Zionism, restrained the functioning of the Museum nearly to the point of preclusion, regarding research, exhibiting, publishing and cooperation with foreign experts alike. Moreover, activity of the Museum was followed closely by the state organs. However, the concern of the state did not include conditions of the Museum collections and buildings.

After the Velvet Revolution, in 1994, the buildings used by the Museum, as well as the Old Jewish Cemetery, returned to possession of the Jewish Community of Prague and the Museum’s collections were restituted to the Federation of Jewish Communities as the legal successor of the ceased Jewish Communities. In the same year Mr. Leo Pavlát became the director of the successively re-established Jewish Museum in Prague.

Since 1996 in Prague and since 2006 in Brno, an independent department has been developing the educational and educational activities of the Jewish Museum in Prague.

In February 2014, the Museum opened the Information and Booking Center in Maisel Street with a multimedia information area and a range of additional services.

With visitors between 550,000-600,000 visitors a year, this is one of the most sought-after sights in the Czech Republic.