Czech exhibition maps little-known history of those who survived Nazi concentration camps
A new exhibition at the Jewish Museum in Prague shows postwar Czechoslovakia as a crossroads for thousands of homeless Jewish people who fled pogroms after the end of the Second World War or headed to Palestine and the West. The exhibition opened today at the Robert Guttman Gallery on U Staré školy Street in Prague and will be there until 23 August 2015.
The exhibition follows a previous offering about Jewish refugees fleeing the First World War. Called "Shattered Hopes" (Zmařené naděje), it presents little-known aspects of the history of the Czech lands after the Second World War connected with the return of survivors from concentration camps and the transit of tens of thousands of Jewish refugees through Czech territory.
The exhibition was designed by documentary filmmaker Martin Šmok. Visitors will see photographs of children's shelters, of the renewal of Jewish religious life, the return of the Chief Rabbi of Palestine to Prague, and the celebration of the Feast of Hanukkah in 1945. At this time in postwar Europe, which had already been thrashed by the large-scale movement of displaced persons, political refugees and whole populations, new borders were being drawn.
In the east, the number of physical attacks on returnees multiplied, and new anti-Jewish pogroms broke out in many places. Thanks to its geographical position, Czechoslovakia became a crossroads of hope for thousands of homeless Jewish people, particularly those fleeing Poland, but also those fleeing Hungary, Romania, and the Soviet Union.
Some of these refugees wanted to settle in the Czech lands, while others were heading across Czechoslovakia for the Western-occupied zones of Austria or Germany and dreaming of travel to America or Palestine. Their hopes of a new and informed world without hatred and without the constant repetition of nationalist and racist stereotypes were frequently confronted with the reality of the persistence of bureaucracy and propaganda.
Prejudices were too deeply-entrenched in postwar Czechoslovakia. After the communist putsch, anti-Jewish sloganeering returned to Czechoslovakia at the beginning of the 1950s in full force.
The Jewish Museum in Prague celebrated its 109th anniversary this year - the original intent of its establishment in 1906 was to preserve valuable art objects from synagogues that had been destroyed during the clearance of Prague's Jewish ghetto. During the Second World War, the Nazis supervised the storage at the museum of equipment confiscated from destroyed Jewish communities and synagogues all over the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
After 1948 the museum was forcibly nationalized and became state property. It was not able to fully dedicate itself to its mission as a museum until the 1990s.
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