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  • Jüdische Tradition im Kaiserreich und in der Weimarer Republik: Zur Geschichte des jüdischen Museumswesens in Deutschland
  • Karin Walter
Jüdische Tradition im Kaiserreich und in der Weimarer Republik: Zur Geschichte des jüdischen Museumswesens in Deutschland, by Katharina Rauschenberger. Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung Hannover, 2002. 332 pp. fi38.

This valuable compendium is the first to combine detailed histories of the museums and exhibitions in Germany that represented Jewish culture and art objects in the time between 1895 and their destruction by the Nazis in 1938. This ambitious book is based on a Ph.D. dissertation completed at the Technology University of Berlin. It presents the [End Page 172] history of the development of this kind of museum and exhibition, including the sources of their funding, their institutionalization, and statements of their respective concepts, as well as the influence of the general theory on the Jewish field and also the role of the concept of the exhibition in Jewish culture (p. 22). The question the author asks is: Does the museum make any contribution to the special position of the Jews in German society?

Rauschenberger’s analysis is based on different sources: contemporary self-portraits from the museums, catalogs, newspaper reviews, and publications of the museum experts. In addition she also considers the publications of the museum associations and the regional Jewish and non-Jewish newspapers (p. 25).

The selected institutions are represented in chronological succession beginning with the different reasons for their foundation in connection with the general history of the respective museums. As the author emphasizes, these comparisons are essential for estimating the position of the Jewish institutions. The analysis begins with the first similar projects in other European countries: the Exposition Universelle in 1878 in Paris, the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibion in London in 1887, and the foundation of Jewish museums in Vienna in 1895 and in Prague in 1905. Their different strategies of collection were continued in the German foundation: there are several reasons to collect and exhibit Jewish art and culture. Rauschenberger compares similar institutions: their history, their kind of collections, their institutional structures and personalities.

Beginning with three main communities (Frankfurt/Main, Hamburg, and Berlin), Rauschenberg points out how each of them competed to be the leading institution and therefore tried to develop a universal concept of the most important Jewish terms and objects. These concepts are interwoven with the question of the definition of “Jewish”: do the artists or craftsmen of the objects have to be Jewish, or is it enough that the object could be used in a Jewish home or in a synagogue? This question is also discussed in the next chapter, which summarizes museums on the former borders of Germany: the Alsatian museum in Strasbourg and the collection of the Jewish community in Danzig. “The treatment of Jewish culture under the aspects of religious folk art and history”—that for Rauschenberg is the critical idea in analyzing the history of the Jewish department in the Hessischen Landesmuseum in Kassel and the activities of a union for a Jewish museum in Breslau. The other important question is about the best place to exhibit Jewish culture, in a special Jewish museum or as a part of the common history in a department of the regional museum.

Chapter six describes a number of exhibitions summarized under the heading “Jewish museums in the context between concern for a memorial and protection of the local history and geography.” First of all was a patriotic exhibition 1925 in Cologne; the occasion was the thousand-year celebration of the city on the Rhine. Out of this exhibit arose the Jewish department of the international News exhibition “Pressa” in 1928, also presented in Cologne, and other activities in museums to show Jewish life in Mainz and [End Page 173] Worms. In Bavaria Jewish folk art was represented in local museums. The Luipoldmuseum in Würzburg exhibited a singular example, the original interior of a synagogue from a village near the city, which was rebuilt in the museum. (It was destroyed by a bomb attack in the second world war.)

The last chapter collects Jewish exhibitions which were represented in a non-Jewish context: at the museums...

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