10 Stars - new museum to remember Jewish life in Czech towns

Illustrative photo: Oleg Fetisov

A unique new museum is due to open in the Czech Republic next autumn – rather ten museums in one, spread out in ten towns and cities across the country. Called ’10 Stars’, the museum will be housed in synagogues and will tell the story of local Jewish communities which all but vanished in the Holocaust.

Úštěk Synagogue,  photo: archive of ČRo 7 - Radio Prague
Ten towns, ten synagogues, ten stars on a map of the Czech Republic, from Krnov in northeast Moravia to Plzen in West Bohemia. The ‘10 Stars’ Jewish museum will be ten museums in one; visitors will be issued with a little passport and encouraged to obtain stamps in each one.

In total 15 buildings – 10 synagogues and a handful of former rabbi’s houses and Jewish schools – are currently being renovated ahead of the museum’s launch next October. It’s being financed by a European Union programme with some funds provided by the Culture Ministry. Jan Kindermann is the project’s co-ordinator.

“The programme is about breathing life into historical monuments. Each of the ten synagogues we’ve chosen once served as the centre of the local Jewish community. Though obviously thanks to the Holocaust those communities – with the exception of Plzen – no longer exist. Wherever possible we’ve also chosen other locations as well as synagogues – former rabbi’s houses, Jewish schools and so on.”

Photo: archive of ČRo 7 - Radio Prague
The 10 Stars museum will be located in both well-known Jewish destinations – such as the synagogue in Mikulov, South Moravia, and lesser known venues; few, for example, will have heard of the town of Úštěk, or visited its medieval rabbi’s house. The Plzen museum will be located not in the city’s magnificent Great Synagogue – the second largest in Europe - but in the much less well known Old Synagogue nearby.

As well as saving these monuments from the elements and building a home for a new museum, the project will also create new venues for educational and cultural events in towns where Jews were once very much part of local life. Jan Kindermann says there’s still a great deal of amongst Czechs in the country’s Jewish past.

“In general there’s a lot of interest in Jewish culture within Czech society, even if the great boom in interest that started in the early 1990s is beginning to fade away now. That’s only natural – in the early 90s it was something new, something that had been kept well under wraps during the communist era. But in any event I think Jewish culture remains a source of inspiration and enrichment for Czech society and I think a lot of people are interested in it.”

Photo: CzechTourism
In all the locations but Plzen, however, there is no longer a functioning Jewish community. Czechoslovakia’s Jewish population was decimated in the Holocaust. The walls of Prague’s Pinkas synagogue contain the names of 80,000 Bohemian and Moravian Jews who died in the camps; tens of thousands more were deported from Slovakia and Ruthenia.