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TO JAN. 7, 2000
Ten years after the Velvet Revolution, Jewish culture in Slovakia is once again on the upswing—a reality documented by two new exhibits. One, “Franz Kafka and Prague,” consists of photographs of Prague taken by Slovak photojournalist Karol Kallay; the other, “The Mausoleum of the Chatam Sofer,” includes recent photographs and artifacts relating to the life and death of Moshe Schreiber, a major Orthodox rabbi and scholar in 18th- and 19th-century Bratislava. The Prague photographs are in color, but, like much of Kafka’s work, the images are dark and moody. What light shines into Prague’s spires and hidden courtyards is either hazy, partially blocked, or fading. Beyond the obvious Czecho-Slovak connection, the two exhibits share two other thematic links. One is graveyards: Some of Kallay’s most memorable images are of cemeteries—veritable forests of headstones spilling headlong out of the frame—and photographs of Bratislava’s buried rabbinic mausoleums form the core of the Chatam Sofer exhibit. The second link is the bitter legacy of Nazism. Kafka’s writings were banned by the Nazis—and while a small group of activists in Bratislava miraculously worked out a deal with Nazi road-builders to move most Jewish graves out of harm’s way and to protect the rabbinic mausoleums within a cement shell. Within that shell, they weathered the fall of Nazism and Communism to become important destinations for pilgrimage. At the B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum, 1640 Rhode Island Ave., NW. Open through Jan. 7, 10 am-5 pm Sundays through Thursdays, Fridays 10 am-3:30 pm. 202-857-6583. FREE. (Louis Jacobson)