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Jewish Monuments of the Czech Republic

Jewish Monuments of the Czech Republic

A Photographic Journey by Ivan Prokop

July 28, 2011 to October 27, 2011
On display on the 7th floor

Photographer Ivan Prokop was born in Prague in 1954. His hauntingly beautiful photographs of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues in the Czech Republic appear in a recently published travel guide entitled Nine Jewish Journeys – Walking the Monuments of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. Thirteen photos are in this exhibit. For Prokop, who works mostly in the entertainment arena, the process of discovering and photographing the region’s Jewish heritage sites has been eye-opening. He encountered many local residents who were ignorant about Jewish sites and wished to remain so, and others who were serving as their enthusiastic stewards.

The history of Jewish life in the Czech lands is a tumultuous one, characterized by anti-Semitic persecution along with interludes of tolerance. In the early centuries of Jewish settlement, the population endured Crusades, periodic expulsions, and massacres fueled by blood libels and allegations of desecration of the host (the sacramental Eucharist bread). Under Rudolf II (1576-1612), Prague became a locus for Hebrew printing and Jewish scholars and mystics. Well-known Jewish figures of the era include astronomer David Gans, financier Mordechai Meisel, and Talmudic scholar and mystic Rabbi Judah Loew, creator of the mythic Golem.

With the Enlightenment, the Jews began to take on new occupations in business and industry and to move out of the confines of the ghetto. By governmental edict, they became assimilated to the ruling German culture, adapting German family names and establishing schools that taught in the German language. They gradually gained civil and political rights, and by 1867 they were completely emancipated. By the end of the century, a Czech nationalist consciousness had grown among the Jews; many had also become more secular. Following World War I and the creation of the republic of Czechoslovakia, Jewish national and cultural autonomy was established by the Zionists. During the interwar period, Jews also played an important role in the economy as pioneers in the textile and paper industries.

With the Nazi rise to power, Czech Jews faced increasing anti-Semitic persecution. Ultimately, over 80,000 Czech Jews were deported to concentration camps; many were interned in Theresienstadt (or Terezin) and later transferred to death camps in the East. After the war, the small Jewish community that remained faced religious repression under Communism. Since the end of the Cold War, there has been a resurgence of Jewish life in the Czech Republic.  

Visitor Info

Sunday-Monday 10 am- 5 pm
Wednesday 10 am - 5 pm
Thursday 10 am- 6 pm
Friday 10 am - 3 pm
Closed to the public Tuesdays, Saturdays, and Jewish and secular holidays.

Free and open to the public


These photographs are on loan from the photographer and presented in cooperation with the Consulate General of the Czech Republic of Chicago and the American Jewish Committee.