Through the Labyrinth of Normalization at Robert Guttmann Gallery

The Jewish community was branded as an enemy of the state after the 1968 invasion

The time after the 1968 Soviet-led invasion was tough for the Jewish community in Czechoslovakia. The country was under a policy called normalization, and was forced to adopt anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist policies that scapegoated the community as the source of troubles in the communist society.

The new exhibition Through the Labyrinth of Normalization: The Jewish Community as a Mirror for the Majority Society, which as at Robert Guttmann Gallery until Jan. 28, 2018, uses archival documents, books, photos, video and a few objects to show official policies marginalizing and hindering the Jewish community, and also highlights some significant people from the era.

Almost anyone with any connection to the Jewish community was labeled as a Zionist, and potential enemy of the state. The Kremlin considered a Zionist anyone with Jewish ancestry or who associated with Jews. Many Czechoslovak communists adopted this formulation.

So-called Zionists fell under observation by the state security police, the StB. The cover of a typed StB manual for dealing with Zionism is shown.Citizens designated by the communist regime as Zionist, no matter if they considered themselves Jewish or not, began to encounter a variety of problems.

An enlargement of a newspaper article “exposes” the tricks of Zionism, and a video from the 1980s has an interview along the same lines, with a so-called expert relating familiar misinformation and propaganda about an alleged international conspiracy.

Other exhibits explain how it was forbidden to publicly list the number of Jews who died in World War II. One exception was a list on a wall in the Pinkas Synagogue, as it was not open to the public.

The communist state, especially after 1974, became more restrictive with how much freedom the Jewish community could have, and documents outline that as well. Several community leaders were forced out of their roles.

When important posts such as chief rabbi fell open, the state did not allow them to be filled in the hope that this would cause the congregation to break up.

Not all of the exhibition is negative. There are also copies of story books and prayer books that the state allowed to be published or which were published privately, and stories of some of the important Jewish figures in this era.

The exhibition also shows the physical destruction of Jewish sites at the time. Tombstones from Jewish cemeteries were broken up into paving stones, and two such stones on display show engraving of words and dates. Pictures show the destruction of cemeteries, legally looted for their marble and granite, and even the demolition of synagogues. The Žižkov Television Tower, for example, is on the site of a former Jewish cemetery. A small part of the cemetery remains on the side.

The exhibition coincides with the 40th anniversary of Charter 77, which was a civic initiative demanding adherence to human and civil rights. It was the most important form of resistance to the communist regime and normalization.

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