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Czech Jewish archive to open

PRAGUE, May 17 (JTA) — Researchers will be able to study hundreds of years of Czech Jewish history following the completion of an archive in a synagogue here. Prague’s Jewish Museum recently completed a $2.2 million renovation and reconstruction of the Smichov Synagogue, which was used by the Nazis as a warehouse for storing confiscated Jewish property before it fell into disrepair during the Communist era. The shul soon will house thousands of artworks and a central archive of surviving documentation from Jewish communities living in Bohemia and Moravia as far back as the mid-15th century. The move marks the museum’s last major reconstruction project to find permanent homes for its wide range of historical collections and documents, which in time also may include post-war records from Jewish communities across the Czech Republic. The director of the Jewish Museum, Leo Pavlat, said the museum finally had completed its goal of establishing long-term bases for its permanent exhibitions and archives after 10 years as an independent Jewish institution. The Jewish Museum, which is covering the cost of the project with some support from the Czech Ministry of Culture for the purchase of security equipment, brought in specialists to create optimal conditions for storage of artwork and documentation. The building’s climate, for instance, is controlled by a special computerized water-based cooling system fitted behind the shul’s walls. The original structure of the 140-year old synagogue will house the museum’s archives, most of which cover the history of Jewish communities up until 1945. The archives, which are currently being housed at a location outside Prague, gradually will be moved to their new home after cleaning over the course of this year. A new wing also has been added to house the museum’s visual art collection, which has been stored in less ideal conditions at the city’s Pinkas Synagogue. The collection, most of which was confiscated by the Nazis during the war, includes some 2,500 easel paintings, 7,500 drawings and prints, and historical photographs. Museum officials hope to start moving the artworks in before the end of May. The Smichov project, which has drawn praise by experts for its architectural and technological innovation, is not without its critics, however. Some visitors on the tour expressed reservations about using a house of prayer as an archive. Pavlat acknowledged that ideally a shul should remain a house of prayer, but he said tragic historical circumstances had forced Prague’s Jews to accept Smichov Synagogue as the best option. “Many of synagogues in Bohemia and Moravia after the war were destroyed, some of them passed on to the Christian church or converted into lecture halls, exhibition halls, concert halls or movie theaters. But because in Prague we have many large spaces for permanent exhibitions in the Old Town, we don’t need more exhibition space. There is also enough space for prayer here.”