The Jewish Museum in Prague is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, with a year-long programme of concerts, theatre performances and exhibitions. The events will celebrate the centuries of Jewish life in the Czech Lands, and the substantial cultural contribution of the Jewish community, a community which was decimated by the Holocaust. Rob Cameron spoke to Leo Pavlat, director of the Jewish Museum.
"It's a living Jewish community. Of course it's much better than it was during the Communist regime, we can speak about a revival of Jewish life in this country. But in no way is there a chance of comparing it with pre-war life in this country, because 80,000 Jews were killed and if you include the Communist era, it's absolutely clear that we cannot be in the position in which the Jewish community had been before the war."
We're standing in the beautifully-restored Spanish Synagogue in the heart of Prague's Jewish Town. Prague is home to many unique Jewish monuments. Are these monuments to a dead culture, simply tourist attractions, or are they part of a living culture which is still an important part of Czech society today?
"I wouldn't say it's a dead culture because any museum is a dead culture. Of course we present objects which have are no longer in use in synagogues, but at the same time they are very eloquent. They speak about the history of Czech Jews and at the same time they symbolise people who were killed during the war. Knowing that we can say a lot about contemporary life in this world, and of course we can use all these documents and objects in projects and programmes which actually speak about contemporary life."
There is a terrible irony of history that Prague has such a rich assortment of Jewish artefacts largely due to the Nazis, and due to Hitler, who wanted to create a Museum of an Extinct Race in Prague. Can you tell me more about how that came about?
"Actually your assumption that the Nazis wanted to establish a Museum of an Extinct Race is an assumption. There are no documents proving that."
So it's something of a myth, that Hitler wanted a museum of the people whom he had annihilated?
"I wouldn't say a myth. We don't know what the Nazis really wanted. But it's absolutely clear that the idea of establishing a wartime Jewish Museum in Prague did not originate with the Nazis."
Does Jewish culture still play an important role in Czech life today?
"It depends. There are of course some very important cultural events organised by the Jewish community, by the Jewish Museum, which are appreciated by everybody. At the same time, compared to the pre-war situation, it's absolutely clear that there are not so many brilliant Jewish artists like the ones who lived before the war."
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