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Lieben, Salomon Hugo

(1881–1942), Jewish scholar, founder of the Jewish Museum in Prague. Salomon Lieben was born in Prague, studied in Germany and at the German University in Prague, and taught Jewish religion at various secondary schools in Prague. He was actively involved with that city’s Jewish community and in its ḥevrah kadisha’, the burial society.

Lieben belonged to the generation of Jewish scholars who sought—in the tradition of Wissenschaft des Judentums—to maintain Jewish identity and to reconstruct Jewish history in a time of rapid assimilation and secularization. He wrote a number of significant studies and compiled editions of documents on early modern Jewish history (seventeenth–nineteenth centuries) in Czech lands, particularly about Prague. His scholarly publications include studies relating to Maria Theresa’s expulsion of Jews from Prague in 1744–1745; articles on David Oppenheim; and a work on the Prague Talmudist and preacher El‘azar Fleckeles. Lieben also proved—by means of critical analysis—that the Ramshak Chronicle, allegedly an ancient document describing Jewish history in Bohemia, was an early nineteenth-century forgery. Lieben published articles in scholarly journals such as the Ročenka Společnosti pro dějiny židů v Československé republice (Jahrbuch der Gesellschaft für Geschichte der Juden in der Tschechoslowakischen Republik), Jahrbuch der Jüdisch-Literarischen Gesellschaft, and the Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums. He also wrote a number of articles for contemporary Jewish encyclopedia projects such as the Jüdisches Lexikon and the Encyclopaedia Judaica.

Lieben showed intense interest in the material and documentary relics of traditional Jewish life in Bohemia and Moravia—the “endangered witnesses of the past,” as he expressed it in 1933 in his introduction to a publication of the Monument Commission of Jewish communities in the Czech lands, which attempted to rescue such objects from declining Jewish communities in the countryside (O židovských památkách v Československé republice [On Jewish Historical Sites in the Czechoslovak Republic]). While confronted with the complete rebuilding (1897–1906) of Prague’s Jewish Town (the so-called asanace, during which the ghetto was torn down to make room for a modern and more sanitary neighborhood), Lieben initiated a project to save precious objects from demolished synagogues. His efforts served as the basis for founding the Jewish Museum in Prague in 1906. Lieben oversaw most of the activities of the nascent museum, organized acquisitions, and prepared the first exhibitions. He worked in the museum until his death—even during World War II, when the Germans turned it into a repository of representative objects collected from destroyed Jewish communities.

Suggested Reading

Vladimír Sadek, “Salomon Hugo Lieben: Founder of the Prague Jewish Museum,” Judaica bohemiae 22.1 (1986): 3–8.