The answer to the question “Who was Julius Fučík?” was self-evident in the time of state socialism. Fučík was a national hero, a martyr who laid his life on the altar of a new, happy tomorrow. Today, many people no longer remember or experience the cult of Julius Fučík, and witnesses tend to ask: why deal with Fučík at all and why exhibit it? The exhibition Notes and Faces of Julius Fučík should serve as one of the tools for finding answers to similar questions.
The story of Julius Fučík is still part of the Czech (and Czechoslovak) cultural memory. And it is almost indifferent whether it is conceived as a picture of heroic struggle for social justice and against the German occupation, or as a story of a naive communist activist who did not understand the extent of the tragedy of the Stalinist Soviet Union and an irresponsible member of the resistance.
The title of the exhibition reflects its two main and related themes: the face of Julius Fučík, ubiquitous in the space influenced by the policy of the monopoly Communist Party in the years 1945–1989, and his last literary work, Notes from the Gallows, which served him as a means of actively establishing his own interpretation of his person to future generations.
Fučík’s well-known profile picture by Max Švabinský from 1950 served as a model for many other, professional and folk depictions of the communist hero. At the exhibition, you will see it in the original – in fact an inconspicuous charcoal drawing – and you will be able to compare it with more monumental paintings and sculptures of Julius Fučík created in Czechoslovakia of that period and also abroad. At the same time, we will introduce the Notes as a material object with its own narrative. Following excited debates, its authenticity has been confirmed only in the early 1990s.
In the early 1950s, “motáky” (lit. “roll-ups”) – scrubs of paper Fučík used to write covertly his last literary work in prison, underwent an unfit intervention and were conserved and glued between two glasses not unsimilar to car windows. Currently, in cooperation with the University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague, they are gradually being opened and restored using more suitable methods. This conservation and restoration intervention, as well as the exhibition itself, is part of a joint project of the National Museum and the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes titled “The Museum of Working Class Movement in 21st Century. Presentation of the Use of the Museum Collection Created in the Era of State Socialism and the Ways of Use of Its Materials for Professional and Wide Public”.
Notes from the Gallows represents one of the most published and translated Czech books, also for its undeniable literary quality and ability to appeal to a current reader. Unfortunately, its text has been significantly manipulated since the beginning of its reading, and Fučík’s exceptional testimony has been adapted to ideological goals. However, our intention is not to pass judgment on Fučík’s “real life”, but rather to acquaint you with circumstances of the origin and changes of the Julius Fučík cult and roles of its individual actors. We would like to offer an unencumbered, critical reading of Fučík’s work and myth. Using his example, we will also try to look at the phenomenon of heroism in the 20th century in general and recall the never-ending danger of ideological interpretations of stories and historical events.