The Jewish Museum in Prague was created in 1906 and at the time the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia the collection contained some 760 items. Although the German authorities immediately began to enforce racial anti-Jewish laws the day the Protectorate was established, the Jewish Museum in Prague continued to exist. In September 1941, the Nazis banned the holding of Jewish services and in December 1941 it became a storehouse for items taken from the empty Prague synagogues.
Following instructions from the Nazi Zentralstelle in 1942 for all communities in Bohema and Moravia to send their “historically valuable” items to the Jewish Museum in Prague, some members of Prague’s Jewish community persuaded the Nazis to allow them bring other religious treasures from the deserted communities and destroyed synagogues to the comparative safety of Prague. More than 212,000 artefacts were brought to the Museum. Among them were about 1,800 Torah scrolls. Each item was meticulously recorded. labelled and entered on a card index by the Museum’s staff with a description and the place it had come from. The Nazis’ interest in the museum most probably developed from a number of practical problems that had to be resolved. The main reason is clear - the museum enabled the Nazis to gain in a short period of time in-depth knowledge about confiscated Jewish objects that were of particular value. It is clear that the Nazis had no experts for such specialist work as the registration and evaluation of confiscated Jewish artefacts that were of artistic or historical value. It is possible that the Nazis saw the museum as a special department for the collection, documentation, storage and evaluation of confiscated Jewish property.
After the War
After the war some fifty Jewish congregations re-established themselves in the Czech Republic and were provided with religious artefacts, not necessarily from their own communities. When the Communists took over the government of the country in 1948, Jewish communal life was again stifled, and most synagogues were closed. Their possessions went to the newly refounded Jewish Museum of Prague. The scrolls were transferred and warehoused in the ruined synagogue at Michle outside Prague where they remained until they came to London in 1964.
Some of those involved with the Museum were:
- Karel Stein 1906 - 1961
- František Weidmann 1910 - 1944
- Salomon Hugo Lieben 1881 - 1942
- Alfred Engel 1881 - 1944
- Dr.Tobias Jakobovits 1887 - 1944
- Josef Polák 1886 - 1945
- František Zelenka 1904 - 1944
- Hana Volavková 1904 - 1985