Thursday 25 July 2013

Background to Busting the Myth

For those of you who have asked for more details about the Memorial Scrolls Trust's current initiative to remove the myth of the Nazis creating a 'museum of an extinct race' in Prague during World War Two from the history of the Czech Scrolls, may I present our main source.

Magda Veselska, Head of Collections Management at the Jewish Museum in Prague, has written a monograph on the history of the museum,  "The Ark of Memory:  The Journey of the Prague Jewish Museum through the turbulent 20th Century". Ms Veselska has had complete access to the archives and has thoroughly researched the extant information. Details of the contents of the book may be found here. Although the writing is in Czech, there is an English summary at the end. In the summary, Ms Veselska states:

"Journalistic and publicity texts, however, frequently refer to the Prague museum as the “museum of an extinct race”, which it was allegedly supposed to be. There is no support for such a claim in the preserved archival documents. More than a characteristic of an alleged propaganda objective of the Nazis in Prague, it is an attempt to provide an additional explanation for the wartime events; from the perspective of the Prague museum, this refers more to the outcome of the wartime events rather than to any clearly defined aim. The form of the “museum of an extinct race” slogan was influenced by several authors and did not become definitively established until the 1960s."

So there is no documentary evidence of any Nazi intentions, plans or acts to collect artefacts in order to set up a museum with the aforementioned theme. There IS evidence that a project to catalogue and preserve Czech Jewish artefacts was developed within the Jewish community, long before the arrival of the Nazis. Veselska writes:

"“Related to the efforts aimed at putting together a representative museum collection was an endeavour to systematically document the Jewish cultural heritage in the Czech lands and to collect the information in one central institution (the museum), which was brought about by the rapid process of assimilation of the Czech Jews. The first project involving a detailed documentation of all the movable and immovable properties belonging to Jews was prepared by the Jewish Museum in Prague in collaboration with the umbrella organization of Jewish religious communities in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia at the beginning of the 1930’s".

As they realised how dire the situation was becoming, the Prague Jewish community staff working at the museum saw an opportunity to preserve the movable assets of the Jewish communities under the rule of the Protectorate by using the museum as a repository to keep them safe during the war. It is thanks to the efforts of these Jews - people like Tobias Jacobovits (former librarian of the Prague Jewish community) and Josef Polak (the chief curator) - that the scrolls for which we care survived to tell their story. We owe it to them all to make sure we get it right.

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