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Category Archives: Museums

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Source: The Washington Post, June 12, 2016

Almost everywhere you turn, it seems, people have their eyes glued to smartphone screens playing Pokémon Go. Since its launch last week, the app has quickly become a cultural phenomenon that has fans of all ages hunting around their neighborhoods for collectible digital creatures that appear on players’ screens as they explore real-world locations.

But there’s at least one place that would really like to keep Pokémon out: the Holocaust Museum.

The museum, along with many other landmarks, is a “PokéStop” within the game — a place where players can get free in-game items. There are three PokéStops associated with various parts of the museum.

“Playing the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism,” Andrew Hollinger, the museum’s communications director, told The Post. “We are trying to find out if we can get the museum excluded from the game.”

The Holocaust Museum’s plight highlights how apps that layer a digital world on top of the real one can create awkward situations, especially since the owners of the physical locations often cannot weigh in on how their spaces are being used.

One image circulating online appears to show a player encountering an unsettling digital critter inside the museum: a Pokémon called Koffing that emits poisonous gas floating by a sign for the museum’s Helena Rubinstein Auditorium. The auditorium shows the testimonials of Jews who survived the gas chambers.

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The image, which appears to have originated from a now deleted post on the photo-sharing site imgur, might be a hoax: That particular Pokémon didn’t appear nearby when this Post reporter visited the museum Monday afternoon, although the specific Pokémon that appears in each location does vary from time to time. Hollinger said that the museum is concerned about the potential Koffing appearance.

Niantic did not immediately respond to inquiries about the alleged Koffing sighting or if there was any way to honor the Holocaust Museum’s request to stop Pokémon from popping up inside its building.

Hollinger stressed that the museum is generally pro-technology and encourages visitors to use social media to share how their experiences with the exhibits moved them. “But this game falls very much outside that,” he said.

On Monday afternoon, there were plenty of people inside the museum who seemed to be distracted from its haunting exhibits as they tried to “catch ’em all,” as the Pokémon slogan goes. A player even used a lure module, a beacon that attracts Pokémon to a specific PokéStop, on the museum’s marker — making double-headed bird-like creatures dubbed Doduos and rodent-like Rattatas practically swarm on users’ screens.

The player behind the lure, a 30-year-old visiting from North Carolina named Dustin who declined to share his last name with The Post for privacy reasons, was excited to catch a crustacean-like Krabby while waiting in the museum’s lobby with a group of friends to pick up tickets for a scheduled tour.

Although the museum is uncomfortable with its Pokémon infestation, most of the players building up their digital critter collection inside the building at least didn’t seem to mean any disrespect.-Andrew Peterson

“It’s not like we came here to play,” said Angie, a 37-year-old member of Dustin’s group who also declined to share her last name for privacy reasons, “But gotta catch ’em all.”

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Source: The Times of Israel, February 10, 2015

Prominent Jewish rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center on Monday condemned an Estonian modern art exhibition for making light of the Holocaust, claims the curator denied.

The “My Poland: On Recalling and Forgetting” exhibition in eastern Estonia features eight works of contemporary art — ranging from photography to video to installation — that address the aftermath of World War II in Poland, 70 years on.

One staged video [by Artur Żmijewski] shows a group of naked adults playing tag in the gas chamber of a concentration camp. Another artist restages a photograph from the camp’s 1945 liberation by replacing the survivors with random smiling people.

“While the exhibition attempts to deal with trauma through humor, the result is a sickening mockery of the mass murder of European Jewry and the important ongoing efforts to commemorate the victims’ memory and impart the lessons of the Holocaust,” Efraim Zuroff, director of the Center’s Jerusalem office, said in a statement.

Exhibition curator Rael Artel told AFP that it was not the artists’ intention to make jokes: “These are not humorous works.”

“They (the Wiesenthal Center) have totally missed the point. I think these statements are emotional …

“I was hoping that, maybe through these works, we could have a kind of starting point to approach this very unpleasant and uncomfortable historical event,” she added.

The exhibition runs until March 29 at the Tartu Art Museum in the eastern city of Tartu.

Polish police have launched an investigation after pairs of shoes belonging to Holocaust victims were stolen from the Majdanek death camp.

Museum authorities at the camp reported a thief, or thieves, had removed eight pairs of shoes from a display at the former Nazi facility, which claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people during its years of operation in German-occupied Poland.

Museums on the sites of Nazi camps now issue frequent complaints of numerous acts of vandalism and theft.

In July, a German teacher was arrested in Poland for stealing items from Auschwitz, but the most notable incident occurred in 2009 when three thieves stole the notorious “Arbeit Mact Frei” sign from the gates of the same camp.

The Majdanek museum said somebody, most probably a visitor as there was no sign of forced entry into the barrack housing the permanent exhibition, had cut through a metal mesh protecting the exhibits and removed six pairs of adult shoes and two children’s pairs.

Its gas chambers consumed the lives of at least some 78,000 people, the vast majority of them Jewish, but some historians argue this figure is far too conservative.

“The shoe exhibit has a strong emotional impact, and it is in this barrack, Number 52a, that visitors realise just how many people died during Reinhard,” said Agnieszka Kowalczyk-Nowak, a Majdanek museum spokeswoman.

“In this barrack we only have the shoes of the victims, and that shows the massive nature of the crime.

“It is difficult to place a material value on the stolen items, but their real worth is their historical value,” she added.

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Source: ABC News, October 15, 2014

Images of emaciated and mangled bodies from recent history in Syria were publicly displayed for the first time Wednesday at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, documenting the work of a former Syrian military photographer who defected and has testified in Congress about witnessing mass killings.

A small exhibit, entitled “Genocide: The Threat Continues,” features a dozen images from an archive of 55,000 pictures smuggled out of Syria. The photographer, codenamed “Caesar,” testified in July that he witnessed a “genocidal massacre” and photographed more than 10,000 bodies as part of his job. He warned a similar fate could befall 150,000 more people who remain incarcerated by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.

Some images at the museum show dozens of bodies lined up or piled atop one another with their faces obscured. Others show the effects of depravation and torture, including electrocution, gouged out eyes and removed genitals, said Cameron Hudson, the director of the museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide. They’re powerful images, and viewers are immediately reminded of the Holocaust, he said.

“They show a side of the Syrian regime that hasn’t really been really seen. You might have heard about it, read about it, but when you’re confronted with these images, they’re impossible to ignore,” Hudson said.

The museum relied on forensic examinations of the photographs conducted by the FBI and by former prosecutors and forensic experts of the International Criminal Court to verify the authenticity of the images. The U.S. State Department has cited the FBI’s examination as well, though the results have not been publicly released.

Syrian opposition groups hope to use the images to prosecute Assad’s regime for war crimes.

The photos were shown to the U.N. Security Council in April. At the time, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said the images “indicate that the Assad regime has carried out systematic, widespread and industrial killing.”

Syria’s Justice Ministry dismissed the images as “lacking objectiveness and professionalism.”

At the museum, the images of Syrian corpses from detention centers share striking similarities with those of concentration camps during the Holocaust, Hudson said, showing evidence of starvation and emaciated bodies. They are the result of long-term detention, not battlefield deaths, he said.

“You don’t wither away and die like that on a battlefield” Hudson said. “You don’t get that in a matter of days or weeks. It’s months and months of depravation that causes the human body to wither away like that.”

Daniel Sturm, 23, of Portland, Oregon, visited the museum for the first time Wednesday with his mother. He follows news out of Syria but said he and most people don’t know what’s happening on the ground. So he was impressed to see the images, he said.

“When you look at that, that is absolutely systematic killing,” Sturm said. “No emotion to it. Just ‘let’s get rid of that situation.'”

It’s important to remember genocide didn’t end with the Holocaust and is a real threat in Syria, Hudson said.

The museum decided to exhibit the images for the foreseeable future because its scholars have long studied how witnesses who escaped Nazi Germany and reported atrocities to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and other officials in Washington, only to be ignored.

“We realized that this person, Caesar, the Syrian who escaped, he was a witness,” Hudson said. “We felt an obligation to tell his story as someone who showed real courage in coming forward and escaping and trying to tell the story of what he saw.”

Source: Dafna Arad, Haaretz, October 2, 2014

A 1996 exhibit at Yad Vashem, “No Child’s Play: Children in the Holocaust: Creativity and Play,” was supposed to be temporary. It would include children’s artifacts from the Holocaust like dolls, toys and drawings.

The title was taken from the book “Rules of Life: A Childhood of Dignity” by Janusz Korczak, the Polish-Jewish pediatrician famous for accompanying the orphans under his care to Treblinka.

The exhibit was supposed to be open for three months, but it’s still there, maybe because it’s painful to close an exhibit that touches the hearts of young ones. Included are children’s descriptions of the toys they played with during the Holocaust – toys that their parents improvised or that they made themselves. There are also teddy bears and board games.

But the exhibit is finally being closed – in six months. Some artifacts will become part of a larger exhibit at Yad Vashem. The new version won’t just deal with play and creativity, but with the entire world of childhood during the Holocaust. Still, the old exhibit will be remembered as a classic.

“While this is perhaps the most difficult exhibit imaginable, it contains nothing frightening. At first glance the objects are old children’s games,” says Yehudit Inbar, the exhibit’s curator and director of Yad Vashem’s museums.

“My daughter was 8 when she helped me one summer at Yad Vashem. About this exhibit she said, ‘There were children like me in the Holocaust.’ That’s all right; a person doesn’t have to understand the story at that age.”

Inbar says she wanted to find a way to humanize the Holocaust. All Yad Vashem had was a Monopoly set from Theresienstadt and a doll dressed as a Jewish prisoner. She thought about putting the Monopoly game in a display case, putting down a rug and books, and inviting child visitors to read and write about it.

“But then I said to myself, ‘What are a game and toys doing here? People were murdered in the Holocaust. Who played back then?’ I was afraid the survivors would be angry with me,” Inbar says.

“When I told Prof. Israel Gutman, a Holocaust survivor and a researcher in the field, that I was afraid the toys were a sensitive point, his eyes filled with tears. He asked me to do the exhibit and said he would speak with anyone who had a problem with it.”

Monopoly sets with a twist

So Inbar sent letters to Holocaust survivors who had been children during the war. At first they treated the idea of play during the Holocaust as if it were a heinous accusation. One survivor living in Haifa was furious, so Inbar phoned her.

“Afterward she constantly sent me little letters with her memories of the games she had played,” Inbar says. “The exhibit grew to include several dolls and teddy bears and countless stories.”

As Inbar puts it, children have a unique way of thinking and enormous potential. “Sometimes I think we grown-ups block their creativity,” she says.

“What interests me is how the Jews behaved during the Holocaust as human beings in a crisis …. You couldn’t survive for a minute during the Holocaust if you didn’t have help.”

Yad Vashem has three Monopoly sets from the Holocaust. The first one, which a father made for his newborn daughter in Hungary in 1941, is based on the streets of Budapest.

“He was taken for forced labor shortly afterward and never returned,” Inbar notes. “The cards in the game refer to events of the war – ‘Pay a hunger tax,’ ‘Your wallet is stolen on the train,’ ‘Pay a sick tax,’ and so on.”

The second Monopoly set is from Theresienstadt. It was made in 1943 in a graphics workshop, where people worked for the Nazis during the day and for the children at night. Children who were destined for Auschwitz and Treblinka would pass the games on to kids who stayed in the ghetto.

“The big prize in these games is a day of rest. The children in Theresienstadt lived through this Monopoly game and learned about the situation they were in. The game is based on a bird’s-eye view of the ghetto,” Inbar says.

“From it they learned the locations of the main kitchen, the prison, the storage building and the parents’ house – all the information and an element of play. The game was made in such a way that it could be colored. For small children, it was an experience of drawing.”

There is also a Monopoly set that a child played with in the Shanghai ghetto, where Jews had fled the Nazis. But it’s simply an ordinary set that survived the Holocaust with the people.

A teddy bear like no other

Walking around the exhibit, it’s clear the curator knows the story of every item she worked so hard to collect. She still weeps at the most painful stories.

“We searched for items all over the world,” Inbar says. “At survivors’ conventions in Eastern Europe, at associations of child survivors in the United States. The items always arrived as a result of personal connections, and each one is heavily charged.”

Inbar calls Fred Lessing’s tattered teddy bear “the Mona Lisa of Yad Vashem.” Lessing, who survived the Holocaust as a boy in the Netherlands and is now a psychologist in the United States, never parted with the cuddly toy until the exhibit was set up.

“As a psychologist, Lessing gave workshops to American Jews who had survived the Holocaust as children. He always went to the workshops with his teddy bear, which had survived the Holocaust with him,” Inbar says.

“Ann Shore, the head of the Hidden Child Foundation in the United States, told me about it and said ‘Yehudit, you don’t have a chance. He never gives that teddy bear up for anything.’

Still, Inbar phoned him and told him about the exhibit, which would only last three months. Through the teddy bear Yad Vashem could tell Lessing’s story.

During the Holocaust, Lessing’s mother hid each of her three children in a different place. At Fred’s hiding place, a dog grabbed the bear and tore its head off. Fred was ill with diphtheria, had a very high fever and was near death. His mother showed up despite the danger, and Fred asked her to make a new head for his friend, whom Fred simply called Bear.

“She took a piece from the lining of his jacket and somehow sewed a new head from it, with eyes. Today the teddy bear looks like a fetus. All its fur is gone,” Inbar says.

“Since then, all the world’s leaders have been photographed with Fred Lessing’s bear. I always ask if I can take their pictures so I can send them to Lessing. When Margaret Thatcher was here, she broke down in tears. Tony Blair, all the chiefs of staff, all the who’s who.”

When Inbar and colleagues were invited to a child survivors’ conference in Seattle, they took the teddy bear with them so Lessing could be reunited with it.

“We left a note in its display case saying that the teddy bear had gone on a family visit,” Inbar says. “We prepared a special box for it, went and met with Fred, and he took Bear to sleep with him that night. In the morning he said ‘Bear is yours.’”

The people at Yad Vashem correspond with Lessing to this day.

“We send him greetings from children who stand near it, hugging the little box and crying. Only rarely do people pass by Lessing’s teddy bear without stopping. Sometimes when I’m about to leave the office in the evening I feel sad that I’m leaving the teddy bear alone in his glass box,” Inbar says.

“But the next morning I’m always happy to see him again. In many ways, this teddy bear carries within him the essence of the Holocaust, that terrible pain.” –Dafna Arad

Mannequins

Source: Samuel G. Freedman, Eight Mannequins at a Wisconsin Museum Tell of a Holocaust Tragedy, The New York Times, September 26, 2014

MILWAUKEE — Eight female mannequins stand in an exhibition room of the Jewish Museum Milwaukee here, clad in smart and urbane apparel, the sort that might have come from a “Thin Man” film, or something with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. The clothing went on display about two weeks ago. The fashions are both text and textile, a story of life and death told in fabric, and a recollection during the High Holy Days of mortality and persecution.

The story began decades ago with a family divided between two continents and two destinies. For the purposes of the exhibition, “Stitching History From the Holocaust,” it also started on the day in 1997 when a lawyer named Burton Strnad introduced himself to Kathie Bernstein, an archivist collecting photographs and artifacts from Milwaukee’s Jewish community.

Mr. Strnad (pronounced STRAH-nod) had moved his mother into an assisted-living facility and was cleaning out the house. In the basement, he found several items that he thought might interest Ms. Bernstein. One was a letter, dated Dec. 11, 1939, and cleared by Nazi censors in Czechoslovakia, and another was a packet of dress designs.

The letter had been written by Paul Strnad in Prague to his cousin in Milwaukee, Alvin Strnad, Burton’s father. In careful language, crafted to slip through the censor, Paul asked Alvin for help getting him and his wife sponsorship to immigrate to America, which would mean escaping from Czechoslovakia’s German occupiers. Paul’s hope was that someone in Milwaukee would offer his wife a job as a dressmaker. The eight colored drawings in the packet — for an evening gown, two coats, two suits and several daytime dresses — were meant to support the appeal.

Ms. Bernstein recorded the donation and assured Burton Strnad, “We’ll use it one day.” As compelling as the material was, it left gaping questions. Paul Strnad’s letter had not mentioned his wife’s name, though he had included a snapshot of them both. Who were these people? What had happened to them?

Years passed, and Ms. Bernstein’s growing archive became the core of the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, which opened in 2008. “We had a concept of what we wanted our Holocaust area to be,” said Ellie Gettinger, the museum’s education director. “We wanted to make it very local and very personal, because we knew most of our visitors would not be Jewish.”

So the Strnad letter, photograph and clothing designs went into a display case in the museum’s permanent collection. Soon after, Ms. Gettinger’s mother came for a visit. “You could do more than that,” she told her daughter of the sketches. “You could make them.”

What sounded at first like maternal second-guessing wound up inspiring Ms. Gettinger to plunge into research. In the online database of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, she found a “page of testimony” identifying a Holocaust victim named Hedvika Strnad. The document, which had been submitted by a niece in the 1990s, stated that Hedvika was married to Paul Strnad and had worked as a “Lady Taylor.”

That confirmation provided enough incentive for the museum to develop an exhibition on Paul and Hedvika Strnad, as well as their American relatives. The challenge was to transform Hedvika’s drawings into three-dimensional reality.

In the fall of 2012, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater had done a production of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” giving a special performance at the Jewish museum. The show had required period costumes. So a year later, as work commenced on the Strnad exhibition, Ms. Bernstein and her staff turned to the theater’s costume artists.

Jessica Hartman Jaeger at the repertory theater assigned a dozen people from the costume shop to the task. Over nearly 3,000 hours spread across 10 months, they matched the colors in the drawings; determined the likely fabrics, like rayon and bouclé; extrapolated the sketches into patterns; and assembled the dresses and coats with matching hats and shoes.

To Ms. Jaeger, these looked like clothes meant for fun, similar to what a young woman might have worn for a day of shopping or a movie matinee. Yet all the spunk and verve they exuded stood in contrast to what had befallen the Strnads. Unable to get out of Czechoslovakia because of the United States’ tight restrictions on immigrants and refugees, they were interned in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, deported to the Warsaw ghetto and killed without any record.

“I felt so inadequate,” Ms. Jaeger recalled. “You want to do justice to the designer. You want her vision to be realized. But you can’t talk to her about it. And the reason why is tragic.”

Even as the dresses were being made, another piece of history dropped into place. Ms. Gettinger had been searching for the niece who had filed the Yad Vashem form, Brigitte Neumann Rohaczek, and ultimately found her listed in a footnote to a German-language book about the Kindertransport, which had rescued Jewish children. She wrote to the author: No reply.

At about this point, in late 2013, a college student studying abroad in Germany, Tyler Grasee, contacted Ms. Gettinger asking for a summer internship. She put him to work trying to find Ms. Rohaczek. Within weeks, Mr. Grasee had her address and telephone number in Nuremberg.

Mr. Grasee then interviewed Ms. Rohaczek, and from her memory poured palpable details of Hedvika. She liked to be called Hedy; she had red hair; she smoked; she owned a dressmaking shop. Sometimes she had her seamstresses make clothes for Brigitte’s dolls. Ms. Rohaczek also gave the museum a letter from Paul to her father, with a handwritten note from Hedy at the bottom.

This summer, Burton’s adult daughter Karen came from Texas to meet with the museum’s staff. While in Milwaukee, Karen Strnad went through boxes and photo albums in her mother’s home. In one, she found the last piece of the exhibition’s mosaic: a letter from Paul to his cousin Alvin, dated October 1938, just after the Munich Agreement handed over parts of Czechoslovakia to Hitler.

“What a catastrophe has overtaken our country,” Paul wrote, “a catastrophe which has upset our whole life.”

When “Stitching History From the Holocaust” opened, 17 members of the Strnad family, some of whom had never met, attended. Last summer, Karen Strnad and Ms. Rohaczek traveled to the village where Paul Strnad was born. And on every dress and coat in the exhibition is a small, posthumous design label, with “Hedy” sewn in script modeled on her handwriting.

“There’s this Hebrew word, ‘hineni,’ that means, ‘I am here,’ and I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” Karen Strnad said. “Now I can say ‘hineni’ and be looking at a family member I’ve never known about before. I can say ‘hineni’ about Hedy’s creations. These dresses are artifacts of the history of my family. They are keeping them spiritually alive.” —Samuel G. Freedman

Holocaust Tourist

Glasgow filmmaker Jes Benstock brings a wry, quizzical voice and a surprising mix of animation and live action to consider the contemporary legacy of the Holocaust in Poland.

A whistle-stop tour from Auschwitz hot-dogs to Krakow’s kitsch Judaica that asks: how is dark tourism changing history?

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From Amber Wilkinson’s review on Eye for Film, November 23, 2006:

“I didn’t want to make a film about the holocaust,” says Benstock at the outset, “but if you’re a film-maker and Jewish it comes with the job description.”

It is the nature of ‘holocaust tourism’ that interests – or perhaps that should be ‘unsettles’ – Benstock. Is it right that tourist shops have sprung up to cash in on visitors to Auschwitz? The town of Krakow is a bustling hub of tourism. Holidaymakers eat in Jewish-themed bars and restaurants before making a ‘pilgrimage’ to the death camp. But is pilgrimage the right word, or is this just another stop off on the tourist trail “blazed by Hollywood”?

Benstock has assembled an impressive set of interviewees, from a sculptor who laments the commercialisation of his craft, to professor of the faith and member of the Auschwitz committee Jonathan Webber and several people who work and maintain Auschwitz. Each paints a bleak picture of a tragedy, if not forgotten, then diminished somehow.

Benstock cleverly mixes animation and live footage to hold the attention and the use of quick cuts between kitsch ornaments, people smiling for the camera under the infamous Arbeit Machs Frei sign and letting children run about without a thought for those on a true pilgrimage of remembrance shine a startling light on our ignorance.

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The Holocaust Visual Archive is proud to present a short clip from the film, published with permission of the author Jes Benstock and of The National Center for Jewish Film – Brandeis University, that we warmly thank.

To buy the DVD or arrange a screening, visit this page.

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50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus tells the story of Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus, a Jewish couple from Philadelphia who traveled to Nazi-controlled Vienna in spring 1939 to save a group of children. Amidst the impending horrors of the Holocaust, they put themselves in harm’s way to bring what would become the single largest-known group of children allowed into the U.S. during that time. Narrated by Alan Alda, with Mamie Gummer reading from the memoir of Mrs. Kraus, this documentary, co-presented by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, debuts on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Monday, April 8, on HBO.

Several years before he began filming in 2010, first-time filmmaker Steven Pressman received Eleanor Kraus’ unpublished memoir from his wife, Liz Perle, who was the Krauses’ granddaughter. Written decades earlier, the manuscript spelled out in rich detail the Krauses’ amazing mission. 50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus weaves together excerpts from Eleanor’s journals, archival footage of Vienna and Berlin under Hitler’s rule and rare photographs of the children who would be rescued. In addition to interviews with Holocaust historians, including Paul Shapiro, director of the Center for Advanced Holocaust studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Krauses’ granddaughter, much of this bittersweet tale is told by some of the surviving children, who are now in their 70s and 80s. Watch the trailer.

Source: HBO.

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Source: Haaretz, March 30, 2013.

Nearly 70 years after the Holocaust, there is no more sensitive an issue in German life as the role of Jews. With fewer than 200,000 Jews among Germany’s 82 million people, few Germans born after World War II know any Jews or much about them. To help educate postwar generations, an exhibit at the Jewish Museum features a Jewish man or woman seated inside a glass box for two hours a day through August to answer visitors’ questions about Jews and Jewish life. The base of the box asks: “Are there still Jews in Germany?” “A lot of our visitors don’t know any Jews and have questions they want to ask,” museum official Tina Luedecke said. “With this exhibition we offer an opportunity for those people to know more about Jews and Jewish life.” But not everybody thinks putting a Jew on display is the best way to build understanding and mutual respect.

Since the exhibit — “The Whole Truth, everything you wanted to know about Jews” — opened this month, the “Jew in the Box,” as it is popularly known, has drawn sharp criticism within the Jewish community — especially in the city where the Nazis orchestrated the slaughter of 6 million Jews until Adolf Hitler’s defeat in 1945. “Why don’t they give him a banana and a glass of water, turn up the heat and make the Jew feel really cozy in his glass box,” prominent Berlin Jewish community figure Stephan Kramer told The Associated Press. “They actually asked me if I wanted to participate. But I told them I’m not available.”

The exhibit is reminiscent of Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann sitting in a glass booth at the 1961 trial in Israel which led to his execution. And it’s certainly more provocative than British actress Tilda Swinton sleeping in a glass box at a recent performance at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Eran Levy, an Israeli who has lived in Berlin for years, was horrified by the idea of presenting a Jew as a museum piece, even if to answer Germans’ questions about Jewish life. “It’s a horrible thing to do — completely degrading and not helpful,” he said. “The Jewish Museum absolutely missed the point if they wanted to do anything to improve the relations between Germans and Jews.” But several of the volunteers, including both German Jews and Israelis living in Berlin, said the experience in the box is little different from what they go through as Jews living in the country that produced the Nazis. “With so few of us, you almost inevitably feel like an exhibition piece,” volunteer Leeor Englander said. “Once you’ve been ‘outed’ as a Jew, you always have to be the expert and answer all questions regarding anything related to religion, Israel, the Holocaust and so on.”

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Museum curator Miriam Goldmann, who is Jewish, believes the exhibit’s provocative “in your face” approach is the best way to overcome the emotional barriers and deal with a subject that remains painful for both Jews and non-Jews. “We wanted to provoke, that’s true, and some people may find the show outrageous or objectionable,” Goldmann said. “But that’s fine by us.” The provocative style is evident in other parts of the special exhibition, including some that openly raise many stereotypes of Jews widespread not only in Germany but elsewhere in Europe. One includes a placard that asks “how you recognize a Jew?” It’s next to an assortment of yarmulkes, black hats and women’s hair covers hanging from the ceiling on thin threads. Another asks if Jews consider themselves the chosen people. It includes a poem by Jewish author Leonard Fein: “How odd of God to choose the Jews. But how on earth could we refuse?” Yet another invites visitors to express their opinion to such questions as “are Jews particularly good looking, influential, intelligent, animal loving or business savvy?”

Despite the criticisms, the “Jew in the Box” has proven a big hit among visitors.

Read the full article.

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Maximilian Schell in The Man in the Glass Booth

 

Identification Card, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington DC.
From the “Education” Section of the USHMM website: “Designed as small booklets to be carried through the exhibition, the cards help visitors to personalize the historical events of the time. (…) The Museum has developed nearly 600 identification cards. Approximately half of them are about Holocaust survivors. These cards describe the experiences of those who hid or were rescued, as well as those who survived internment in ghettos and camps. The other half represent the experiences of people who died. (…) To create the identification cards, a team of five Museum staff members interviewed 130 survivors of the Holocaust. The survivors described their own experiences as well as those of relatives who died during the Holocaust. The identification cards were developed from those interviews and from other oral histories and written memoirs. Each identification card has four sections. The first section provides a biographical sketch of the person. The second describes the individual’s experiences from 1933 to 1939, while the third describes events during the war years. The final section describes the fate of the individual and explains the circumstances – to the extent that they are known – in which the individual either died or survived”.

The “story-telling” conception of the USHMM Identity Card Project parallels the dynamics of spectator’s identification with the characters of a film and equates the Museum visit to a cinematic experience. Below, page from the Chicago Tribune TV Week (16-22 April 1978) introducing to the first airing of NBC’s miniseries Holocaust through the list of the main characters.