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Czech Jews Outraged by Book Calling for Transfer of Judaica

February 9, 1999
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Czech Jewish leaders are outraged by a book endorsed by Jewish organizations that calls for Nazi-looted Judaica currently housed in the Prague Jewish Museum to be moved to Israel.

The book, “The Last Chapter of the Holocaust?” by Itamar Levin, also slanders the museum and insults the reputation of Czech Jewry, the leaders add.

Levin’s book details the looting, dispersal and destruction of Jewish property after the Holocaust in a number of European countries.

A revised and updated edition was released at the end of 1998 by the Jewish Agency for Israel in cooperation with the World Jewish Restitution Organization and included a foreword by Jewish Agency Chairman Avraham Burg.

Written in scathing tones, the book charges that the Prague Jewish Museum keeps precious Jewish ritual items and other relics looted by the Nazis “stashed away” and “left to rot” in Czech cellars, where they are “exposed to damp and gnawing mice” and kept far from both public view and scholarly research.

The book quotes an anonymous source who asserts that “those who collaborated with the Germans should not be allowed to retain the property of the people who were massacred in those countries.”

Czech-Israeli relations, it suggests, should be contingent on whether Prague recognizes Israel as “rightful heir” of the museum collections.

Calling the book “insulting not only to the museum but first of all to the Czech Jewish community,” Tomas Kraus, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, said in a telephone interview that he had protested to WJRO Vice Chairman Naphtali Lavie and expects an apology.

Leo Pavlat, the museum’s director, said in an interview, “I can refute all the allegations, but I cannot refute the potential damage to our museum, both in the Jewish and non-Jewish world.”

Pavlat spoke with JTA at a recent international conference on Jewish heritage in Paris, where he distributed a point-by-point, nearly 60-page rebuttal of what he termed “false claims and libelous accusations.”

Pavlat listed 63 specific errors, ranging from the book’s historical background about the Czech Republic to its descriptions of the size, condition and provenance of the museum’s collection.

In Jerusalem, Lavie said he had not seen the list, but added that he had spoken with museum officials about their complaints.

Lavie suggested that the officials “go over each point with the author,” he told JTA. “If a correction is warranted, it will be issued.”

The Prague Jewish Museum was founded in 1906. Today, it houses what is considered the richest collection of Judaica in Europe.

It consists of about 39,000 items, most of which were looted by the Nazis and brought to Prague from more than 150 destroyed Czech Jewish communities — but not, as the Levin book states, from other countries in Europe.

During the war, the Nazis maintained a Central Jewish Museum in Prague. According to Pavlat, Czech Jewish leaders encouraged the collection of Judaica in Prague as a means of safeguarding it.

To imply collaboration with the Germans, Pavlat wrote in his rebuttal to the book, “is an insult of the most outrageous kind.”

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