Jewish houses lost to Nazis focus of new Brno exhibition

A new exhibition at the temporary Moravian Jewish Museum in Brno highlights some of the city’s houses that used to belong to Jewish owners before being confiscated by the Nazis and tells the stories of eight families who lived in them.

Photo: Little Mehrin Museum

A large-scale map of Brno in the Little Mehrin Museum is dotted with 715 dark blue spots, each of them marking a house that belonged to Jewish owners prior to the Second World War.

One of the families was that of Edit Löwy. They originally came from Znojmo and had two houses built on Brno’s Botanická Street as investment properties. After the occupation of Znojmo, the family fled to Brno, and eventually had both of their houses confiscated by the Nazis, explains Táňa Klementová, the author of the exhibition:

Exhibition Our houses in Little Mehrin | Photo: Tomáš Kremr,  Czech Radio

“The houses were bought, or perhaps we should say Aryanised, by the Emigration Fund for Bohemia and Moravia. This was a Nazi agency that acquired over 700 houses in Brno by forced purchase. You could say it actually stole them. There is a purchase contract for each house with an estimated price that was paid, but at that time, the Jewish owners could no longer access their bank accounts.”

The seven other houses presented at the exhibition tell a similar story. The Nazis used or rented the confiscated buildings and used the profits to finance the transport of Jews to concentration camps.

Edita Löwy’s mother Anna, whose portrait is also part of the exhibition, was murdered in one of the camps. Last year, Anna’s granddaughter Ann Altman brought the painting to Brno from the United States:

“This picture is very important to me. It’s a portrait of my grandmother Anna Wotzilkova, who came from Znojmo. She married my grandfather Emil Löwy. The Wotzilkas owned the brewery and my grandfather owned the mill. They were very important citizens of Znojmo and almost all the family members were murdered by the Nazis.”

Martin Reiner in the Černá Pole district where he grew up | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

The exposition at the temporary Moravian Jewish Museum changes every three months and gradually expands with new collection items. In the spring, some of the new objects will be made available in the newly-renovated cellar, using 3D technology, says the museum’s director Martin Reiner:

“We have signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Jewish Museum in Prague, and we have agreed that when the permanent museum building is built, we will get a long-term loan of various objects.

“However, we would like to exhibit some of the items now. Since we don't have the conditions to display them here, we will show them in 3D, as holograms.”

The temporary Moravian Jewish Museum will operate in Brno until the permanent museum building, designed by renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, is constructed.

Martin Reiner and his colleagues have already found a plot of land near the city’s main train station. All they need now is to secure finances for its construction.