Exhibition honoring Leo Herrmann, who saved thousands of Czechoslovak citizens from Nazism

Press Release Public Exhibition

The main author of the exhibition is Zbyněk Tarant from the Department of Middle-Eastern Studies at the Faculty of Arts of the University of West Bohemia.

After the Munich Agreement in September 1938, the organization of legal emigration of Czechoslovak Jews to British Mandate Palestine began. Leo Herrmann thereby contributed to the rescue of 2,506 people from Nazism. On Thursday, March 14, 2024, a panel exhibition about his life and work, prepared by Zbyněk Tarant from the Department of Near Eastern Studies at the Faculty of Arts of the University of West Bohemia in Pilsen (FF UWB), will be unveiled at the Multifunctional Center LArt in Lanškroun.

As the General Secretary of the Zionist development agency Keren ha-Jesod, journalist, and film producer, Leo Herrmann was a true Renaissance figure. His project, known in history as the Czechoslovak Transfer, contributed to the rescue of key figures such as Max Brod and Felix Weltsch. Now, people will learn about Herrmann's life and work through an exhibition in his hometown of Lanškroun.

As Zbyněk Tarant from the Department of Middle-Eastern Studies, the exhibition's main author, explains, "The general public and experts alike may know the famous story of Max Brod's thrilling journey from Czechoslovakia on the night of 14-15 March 1939, when the Nazi occupation was already beginning. Many also know that it was Max Brod who smuggled Franz Kafka's archive on this fateful journey. But the story of Leo Herrmann, the discreet official who helped negotiate and arrange the trip, has fallen into obscurity. If it weren't for Leo Herrmann, we probably wouldn't even know Franz Kafka today."

The story and background of this exciting operation, which was one of the largest such rescue operations for Czechoslovak Jews in the first months of World War II, forms the core of the exhibition, which is based on the author's own archival research. In addition to Herrmann's own role in the so-called Czechoslovak Transfer, however, the exhibition will also recall his journalistic and cultural activities in the Jewish national movement of the 1920s and 1930s, including his passion for the craft of filmmaking, which led him to produce the first-ever sound film shot in what is now Israel and Palestine.

The main aim of the exhibition is to expand public awareness of this forgotten personality using previously unpublished documents. "A surprising common feature of the personalities who contributed to the rescue of Czechoslovak Jews during the war is the fact that their stories have been forgotten for many years," says Zbyněk Tarant: "Just like in the case of Nicolas Winton or Marie Schmolka, Leo Herrmann fell into oblivion after the war. In Herrmann's case, it was due to a combination of historical circumstances. Herrmann was a German-speaking Jew, and his legacy thus became a collateral casualty of the postwar disdain for all things German in Czechoslovakia. Post-war Israel, in turn, was still finding its way to come to terms with the events of the Holocaust. Herrmann died in 1951, and at that time similar rescue programs were still received with ambivalence in Israel."

Commemorating a forgotten figure in her hometown is thus the main goal of the exhibition. "Herrmann's symbolic memorial is are the thousands of living Israelis with Czech roots, many of whom still maintain strong contacts with our country," Tarant adds.

The opening of the exhibition, which is being held under the auspices of the Mayor of Lanškroun and in cooperation with the Lanškroun City Museum, will take place in Lanškroun's LArt Multifunctional Center on March 14, 2024 at 6:00 pm. The exhibition will be preceded by a short presentation by the author.

Faculty of Arts


08. 03. 2024