The Schach synagogue in Holesov, CZ, was already used as a Jewish museum under Communism. (This photo is from 2006). Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber
I’m delighted to report that an essay I wrote about Jewish museums in Europe under communism has been published in the latest volume of Studies in Contemporary Jewry: Visualizing and Exhibiting Jewish Space and History (edited by Richard I. Cohen, Oxford University Press).
The OUP web site notes that the volume is probably the first in English that is devoted to Jewish museums and exhibitions in the 20th century, with special attention given to the period after the Holocaust.
[It] examines the visual revolution that has overtaken Jewish cultural life in the twentieth century onwards, with special attention given to the evolution of Jewish museums. Bringing together leading curators and scholars,Visualizing and Exhibiting Jewish Space and History treats various forms of Jewish representation in museums in Europe and the United States before the Second World War and inquires into the nature and proliferation of Jewish museums following the Holocaust and the fall of Communism in Western and Eastern Europe. In addition, a pair of essays dedicated to six exhibitions that took place in Israel in 2008 to mark six decades of Israeli art raises significant issues on the relationship between art and gender, and art and politics. An introductory essay highlights the dramatic transformation in the appreciation of the visual in Jewish culture. The scope of the symposium offers one of the first scholarly attempts to treat this theme in several countries.
I’m proud to be part of this! In my essay I describe the role played by Jewish museums under Communism in Poland, Czech Republic, Yugoslavia, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria: they were, I wrote, "often political places of memory shaped by both the absence of Jews and the pressures of Cold War ideology."
These museums, I wrote,
fulfilled several roles, consciously or not. Though they differed in size, administrative status, and type of location, they all served to conserve the “precious legacy” of the past, to memorialize (if only for a limited audience) the destroyed Jewish people and their world, and (in some cases) also to portray and/or illustrate the Jewish experience during the Holocaust. They were often among the few if not the only institutions to do so in countries whose Jewish populations were, for the most part, annihilated during the Second World War—and where, to varying degrees, postwar Jewish life and expression were suppressed by the Communist state and “collective amnesia” about Jews and the Jewish past generally “seemed to be much stronger than collective memory.” Yet these museums were often inadequately funded and understaffed. Moreover, given official pressures, their exhibits and/or operational policies implicitly and sometimes overtly reflected the prevailing party lines toward Jews, though these lines changed somewhat over the years depending on local developments or external “anti-Zionist” and other directives from Moscow.
Table of Contents:
The Visual Revolution in Jewish Life — An Overview, Richard I. Cohen
Displaying Judaica in 18th-Century Central Europe: A Non-Jewish Curiosity, Michael Korey
Collecting Community: The Berlin Jewish Museum as Narrator between Past and Present, 1906-1939, Tobias Metzler
Jewish Museums in the Federal Republic of Germany, Inka Bertz
Post-trauma “Precious Legacies”: Jewish Museums in Eastern Europe after the Holocaust and before the Fall of Communism, Ruth Ellen Gruber
From Wandering Jew to Immigrant Ethnic: Musealizing Jewish Immigration, Robin Ostow
Six Exhibitions, Six Decades: Toward the Recanonization of Contemporary Israeli Art,Ruth Direktor
In Between Past and Future: Time and Relatedness in the Six Decades Exhibitions,Osnat Zukerman Rechter
A Matrix of Matrilineal Memory in the Museum: Charlotte Salomon and Chantal Akerman in Berlin, Lisa Saltzman
Between Two Worlds: Ghost Stories under Glass in Vienna and Chicago, Abigail Glogower and Margaret Olin
Thoughts on the Role of a European Jewish Museum in the 21st Century, Felicitas Heimann-Jelinek
“The Forces of Darkness”: Leonard Woolf, Isaiah Berlin, and English Antisemitism,Elliott Horowitz
It’s Not All Religious Fundamentalism, Chaim I. Waxman
One Step before the Abyss: Recent Scholarship on the Jews in Occupied Soviet Territories during the Second World War, Kiril Feferman