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  • Chrismukkah as Happy Ending?The Weihnukka Exhibition at the Jewish Museum Berlin as German-Jewish Integration Fantasy

In the mid-1940s, a little girl on the South Side of Chicago really, really wanted a Christmas tree. This commonplace request was complicated by just one thing: the girl, like most of her neighbors, was Jewish. The temper tantrum must have been ferocious, because the girl somehow got her mother to give in. A tree was procured and smuggled down the alley into the apartment, lest the neighbors get wind of the shande. The girl enjoyed her Christmas tree, alongside her Hanukkah menorah, until one day she developed a fever, and the tree was hastily stuffed into a closet before the pediatrician, Dr. Rosen-bloom, arrived.

The stress of this secret Christmas was ultimately too much bother, so this would be my mother’s one and only “Chrismukkah” celebration. Of course, she didn’t know to call it that, nor did she know that craving a Christmas tree placed her on a historical continuum with her German-Jewish ancestors, some of whom might have celebrated the hybrid holiday called “Weihnukka” (from Weihnachten, German for “Christmas.”) Weihnukka was not an actual holiday but referred instead to the practice of some assimilated—but not converted—Jews who adopted Christmas rituals in the private sphere. In some German-Jewish bourgeois homes of the Wilhelmine era, trees, advent calendars, wreaths and other, mostly superficial trappings of the holiday co-existed, if not usurped, the rituals of Judaism’s winter holiday, Hanukkah. To the extent the term was used at all, Weihnukka was probably mostly heard mockingly by Jews who were embarrassed by this behavior.1 The Christmas these Jews celebrated was less about the birth of Jesus Christ than it was about fitting in with neighbors. Christmas was widely seen as belonging to and defining of the German nation rather than a religious festival, and therefore celebrating the holiday was just something that “real” Germans did, regardless of their religion. While some German-Jews no doubt experienced feelings of embarrassment, even shame, at assimilating Christmas into their family traditions, others achieved what was certainly the main objective: a sense of normalcy as Germans while maintaining self-identification as Jewish. [End Page 57]

For one assimilated Jewish-German child, Christmas was so fully part of his normal family life that the tree in the gute Stube appeared without question each December. It was only after National Socialist racial laws required him to attend special Jewish-only schools that he learned that Jews actually celebrate Hanukkah, not Christmas. Not coincidentally, these are the recollections of Michael Blumenthal, a Jew from Oranienburg, just north of Berlin, who would escape fascism and later became Treasury Secretary under U.S. President Jimmy Carter and who now heads the Jewish Museum Berlin.2 The cultural-historical oddity of German-Jewish Christmas celebrations was the subject of a temporary exhibit at the museum. The show, titled “Weihnukka: Geschichten von Weihnachten und Chanukka” (Chrismukkah: Stories of Christmas and Hanukkah), was on display from October 2005 to January 2006. Now, even several years later, it is apparent that the Weihnukka show can be read as a significant moment along a line of the continuity and discontinuity of Jewish, German, and “Jewish-German” identity.

The exhibit mostly featured artifacts and texts documenting nineteenth-and early-twentieth- century holiday practices, explaining Hanukkah for non-Jewish museum visitors, and casting Christmas as a celebration in the German-nationalist context of the era.3 While the fraught navigation of Jewish-German identity in Gründerzeit Germany is at the core of the exhibit, what captured my attention were the elements of contemporary American popular culture used to conclude the show. The museum administration contends that they were included merely to bring this cultural history up to date for visitors.4 This was no doubt their intention, and yet I will argue that these American aspects of the Weihnukka exhibit have important functions and meanings beyond the superficial level of visitor experience. I look back, then, at this exhibit, in order to interrogate its implications for global identity and even the traditional idea of diaspora in the context of today’s German-Jewish community, and what this temporary exhibit tells us about the ongoing function of the Jewish Museum Berlin itself in constructing a popular understanding of Jewish-German identity for Germans (and Jews in Germany) today.5

The Weihnukka exhibit enjoyed great popular appeal. Some 44,000 visitors toured the show during its four-month run, which made it one of the most successful temporary exhibits in the then five-year-old museum’s history.6 Attendance was probably boosted by the fortunate coincidence of the two holidays that year: in 2005, the first night of Hanukkah fell on December 25. The direct overlap between Hanukkah and Christmas helped make the temporary holiday market the museum erected in its courtyard a particularly popular magnet for visitors (The market would become a regular feature of the museum most winters.) The inclusion of Hanukkah-themed items in this otherwise traditional German Christmas market format charmed the media and made easy work for newspaper copyeditors who titled stories with incongruous holiday pairings like “koscherer Glühwein zum Weihnachststollen” (“Kosher Mulled Wine with Christmas Stollen.”)7 The lighthearted tone of the press coverage matched the breezy relationship with all things Jewish, bordering on philosemitism, that pervaded in those first calm years following the initial [End Page 58] upheaval of the Berlin Republic, the newly unified German state.8 Bagel shops, klezmer concerts, Hanukkah menorahs (chanukia) at the Brandenburg Gate: all things culturally Jewish were in demand in Berlin as the new/old capital of Germany sought to rediscover its pre-war cosmopolitanism.9 Locals and tourists alike seemed unconcerned that the menorahs were put up by Chabad-Lubavitch, headquartered in Brooklyn, or that modern bagels are as American as chop suey, and klezmer music was never part of pre-Shoah German-Jewish culture.10 Authenticity has always been a dubious criterion with which to value cultural trends. These imports were welcomed and greeted as hopeful signs of a new era of reconciliation in the German-Jewish relationship, as was the opening of the American Jewish Committee office at the historic Leipziger Platz, or the Jewish-affiliated Touro College, the first American college to receive accreditation in Berlin, starting to offer an MA in Holocaust Commemoration and Tolerance, with courses taught mostly in German.

As Katrin Pieper points out, such historicism is not merely blurry nostalgia for pre-Holocaust German-Jewish culture: it competes in the public (non-Jewish) eye with the reality of contemporary Jewish-German life, threatening to displace that reality with wishful thinking about both the past and the present.11 Iris Weiss bitingly adds:

The themes of Jewish Disneyland are romanticism, exoticization, folklorization and historicization of everything Jewish. As a result, that which is really Jewish becomes (or is made) invisible. The fictions of Jewish Disneyland increasingly become the measure of reality for the media, which present them as “Jewish culture.” Real Jews, insofar as they are still around, cannot match the fictional image. They are therefore a disappointment.12

A comical example of this form of displacement was seen in 2009, when German actress Veronika Ferres was invited to light the fifth candle on the massive Hanukkah display at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. Why was this honor given to Ferres, a Gentile? Apparently, because she had recently played a Holocaust survivor in a movie. As the satirical essayist Henryk M. Broder quipped, Ferres was fortunate not to have been cast as a concentration camp guard instead!13

But if the most visible symbols and trappings of Jewishness in Germany are imported from abroad, what of the Jews in Germany themselves? Well, most of them were now imports too. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the immigration of Russian Jews to the West, and especially to Germany, increased exponentially. The small and relatively stable (if not dormant) Jewish community of the former West Germany has seen an influx of some 190,000 Jews from the USSR since 1989, about 80,000 of whom have been “integrated” into the Jewish community, according to the Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland (Central Council of Jews in Germany.)14 However, many—maybe most—of these Russian Jews might not even be Jewish, according to the standards of that very same official German-Jewish community. Sander Gilman, writing in 2006, estimates that as many as eighty percent of the Russian Jewish émigrés do not meet the orthodox Jewish criteria used by the community to determine Jewishness.15 [End Page 59]

In Berlin, the largest of Germany’s Jewish communities with over 11,000 members, active, public Jewish life has increased visibly since unification. Six community-affiliated (and some independent) synagogues, ranging from “liberal” (Reform, leaning toward Conservative) to Orthodox, hold regular services. The community’s network of schools has expanded, as have the cultural opportunities for members. It is unlikely much of this growth would have been possible without the immigrant population from the former Soviet Union, something the Berlin community acknowledges on its web site.16 So, without meaning to diminish or judge the local organic and developing forms that Jewishness and Judaism take in Germany today, it seems more than fair to say that the “resurgent” German-Jewish culture and community of late are, strictly speaking, neither authentically German nor halachically Jewish. This is neither good nor bad but simply true, and perhaps these facts are rather trivial in their broader historical context; the more interesting question is not how Jewish they are in Germany, but rather does today’s German-Jewishness present us with a modified idea of a universal Jewish community that is different from traditional notions of a diasporaic community, defined as exiled from Jerusalem, and therefore lacking, wandering, and impermanent? Instead, today’s German-Jewish community implies a sense of identity not defined by lack but by a local hybridity of global impulses, a way of being German-Jewish by not being merely German-Jewish or Jewish in Germany.

The idea of the “universal” Jew in this essay incorporates such multinational and multicultural identities as one finds among Jews in Germany today into a meaning of diaspora that is appropriate for a world with manifold Jewish “centers” and “homes.” Laurence Silberstein and others have documented the new sense of multivalent Jewish identities, applying theories of hybridity to contemporary Jewish worlds in a rejection of essentialist definitions.17 Similarly, the traditional idea of diaspora as a Jewish identity in exile no longer applies here; neither does the political concept of diaspora, dependent as that is on the concept of the State of Israel as the arbiter and fruition of Jewish national feeling. Instead, the universal Jew can be said to inhabit a “post-Zionist” world where Israel still has mythic power for Judaism but a more problematic role as the center of Jewish cultural, political, and geographic identity.18

By my use of the concept of “universal” Jew, I wish also to distinguish this contemporary or even post-modern understanding of global from older characterizations of diaspora Jews as rootless wanderers. Although some Jews have attempted to turn necessity into a virtue and declare the unfixed, vulnerable condition of diaspora Jews a cultural advantage, the historical experience of this wandering has been famously disastrous.19 The “universal” Jew is mobile, but not homeless. With a relatively secure—relative to the historical condition of exile-like diaspora—place in whatever society is chosen or just happens to be home, the idea of diaspora is diminished to near-irrelevance. What remains significant is the status as a minority and the latent danger that always entails.

I have been describing my sense of the “universal” Jew in generic form. The notion of universality or multivalent identities in the specific German context [End Page 60] looks slightly different, and here I mean the idea of universality not necessarily as an argument that this is how Jews in Germany currently self-identify. The German (and for that matter, the Austrian, too) diaspora is uniquely burdened with a history that moved from the most progressive conditions in continental Europe to the most horrific within just a few decades. The legacy of the Holocaust is two-fold for today’s Jews in Germany: it contains the now-distant memory of what was once a (mostly) comfortable “homeland” as well as an aura of extreme recklessness for those who, despite the crimes of the Nazis, still choose to be Jews in Germany, since the fact of Israel’s existence and the Right of Return imply that diaspora is no longer a condition forced from without but a choice. Why would anyone “choose” to live in the land of the perpetrators? The German diaspora is thus doubly-complicated: an exile both from Jerusalem as well as from the unfulfilled promise of the German-Jewish “symbiosis” of the nineteenth century and the place where every anti-semitic act or gesture is more ominous than anywhere else.20 A more universal understanding of German-Jewishness, one that goes even further than the minimally committal “Jews in Germany,” offers the potential to bypass this double-burden of diaspora in Germany. The idea of the “universal” Jew in Germany implies an escape from an identity limited by the Holocaust that casts Jews either as living traces of “what might have been” or merely as future victims.

“Universality,” I argue, does not have to mean actual, physical mobility. It can also be a sense of self and cultural identity regardless of place. The ubiquitous cultural representation of universality in Germany, as in most of Europe, is America. The cultural products of America, enhanced anecdotally through German tourism to the United States, have spread the myths and sometimes the realities of American pluralism. Multiethnic America, accurately portrayed or not, loved, hated, or indifferent, is a common topos of German cultural experience. It is fair to say that America is multiculturalism’s best and most widely known “brand” in the German market. I mean this in the way I think Baudrillard meant when he said the American flag flying over a gas station represents a “good brand” rather than nationalism or chauvinism.21 America also happens to be the other geographic pole of Jewish culture and identity, alongside and perhaps even competing with Israel. It is inevitable that representations of America color any sense of universality for Jews in Germany.

I contend that a similar concept of “universal” Jewish identity is reflected and promulgated by the Jewish Museum Berlin, and not only it its Weihnukka exhibit. In this way, the museum serves both to portray and as well as create a discourse on Germany’s Jewish history that parallels that community’s current internal identity “crisis.” This is apparent and striking at first glance: the Jewish Museum is a German, state-funded institution led by a Jewish-American born in Germany (the aforementioned Michael Blumenthal), designed by a Polish-Israeli-American, Daniel Libeskind (and I’m leaving aside the very lengthy discussion one could have, and many have had, about the design of the building as a commentary on these complicated relationships.)22 The [End Page 61] museum serves German and, mostly, international visitors. In 2010, sixty-five percent of the museum’s visitors came from outside Germany.23 Logic and demographics strongly imply that most visitors to the museum are non-Jewish; Jewish visitors to the museum, one could similarly assume, are mostly American or Israeli. The museum does not publish statistics on this. The character of the visitor experience is also decidedly international, or to put it less delicately, not very German, in my opinion shaped by twenty-plus years of visiting the country. The traditional museum, with its focus on the objects in its collection rather than on the people seeing those objects, has been losing ground in Germany and elsewhere to a more engaging, more entertaining methodology most often associated with American museums.24 As Jeffrey Peck has written, the American style of the Jewish Museum is apparent right from the start of a visitor’s experience, where one is “greeted warmly” by a friendly, customer service-oriented staff, as opposed to more traditionally brusque Berlin hospitality.25 The museum café, named for the assimilated-Jewish impressionist painter, Max Liebermann, features an Israeli buffet and American-style sweets. More importantly, the American, user-friendly approach extends to the content and method of the exhibits themselves. Explanatory texts are cursory, and objects on display seem to have been chosen as much for their potential to grab a viewer’s attention as for their rarity or scholarly significance. Wherever feasible, materials are presented without glass cases or other barriers between viewer and object. Materials designed to illustrate a historical moment are often drawn from the popular media of that era: think political campaign posters rather than party platform documents. (Critics would call it the “Disneyfication” of the museum, but even in derision, the American roots of this change in curatorial style are obvious.)26

And yet, I would argue that the Jewish Museum Berlin is one of the most important German cultural institutions today, and moreover, I would say it is the most significant Jewish cultural institution in Germany right now. The museum’s unique mission of documenting and representing two thousand years of German-Jewish history and culture means that the Jewish Museum is playing a forceful role in defining that culture. Its sheer popularity—it is usually among the top five in attendance for Berlin museums—gives it the loudest popular voice in the discussion of what is German-Jewish culture and history.27 And it is precisely because German-Jewish culture, as it historically developed over centuries, no longer exists, that the Jewish Museum becomes, for many, the most substantial and purposeful encounter with the shape of German-Jewishness, past and present.28

I should note here that this is a role the Jewish Museum is not comfortable in accepting, and it goes so far as to deny even having this function. Conversations and e-mails with museum staff, including Cilly Kugelmann, who serves as program director and second-in-charge to Blumenthal, reveal a surprisingly narrow understanding of what possible influence the museum could have on popular understanding of Jewishness today. Since the permanent exhibit features relatively few items directly related to Jewish theology and ritual, the institution does not see itself shaping notions of Jewish identity. “It’s not Jewish [End Page 62] enough for that,” as one curator put it.29 Perhaps the Jewish Museum does not contribute much to the religious identity of practicing Jews in Germany, but that’s a red herring, I feel. Much more important is how the museum frames Jewish identity, especially for non-Jews. I agree with Bernhard Purin when he argues that Jewish museums in Germany are “no longer German cultural-historical museums that display a lost culture” but rather contemporary, living sites of engagement between the local Jewish and majority cultures.30 But as far as I could determine, the Jewish Museum Berlin is not yet interested in reflecting on its influence on that discourse beyond immediate visitor reaction to its exhibits. “That would be boring,” Kugelmann told me.31

Maybe such self-reflexivity would be boring. Certainly, it would be duller than the museum’s usual flashy approach to its subject matter. Of course, the point is not to replace visitor-friendly exhibits with the museum’s own navel-gazing, but simply to recognize and demonstrate that the exhibits have meaning that extends beyond the contents of their objects or even the intentions of their curators. In the case of the Weihnukka exhibit, the meaning that I read is one of false but not necessarily undesirable continuity: from the pre-Holocaust holiday celebrations of some assimilated German-Jews to an ideal of hybridity and integration that is cast as American in style, but global in applicability.32 The Weihnukka exhibit takes its visitors from the painful and ultimately futile attempt of Jews to become accepted (also) as Germans to the apparent happy ending of American assimilation, and it does this, significantly, for a German and European non-Jewish audience.

How does this work? Beyond the generalized American visitor experience of the museum I described already, this particular exhibit leads the visitor on a more or less chronological trajectory through the stories of Christmas and Hanukkah—with understandable emphasis on explaining the Jewish holiday for a non-Jewish audience—to the brief period of their coexistence in some German-Jewish households, and concludes in American popular culture. The objects and texts position Christmas not primarily as a religious holiday but rather as an important symbol of German national identity (Deutsche Weihnacht) and Hanukkah as a story of foundational significance for Israel, in particular the mythology surrounding the Maccabee clan and Zionism. The discussions of the two holidays make up two discrete sections of the exhibit. They span the same time period but function like separate, parallel conversations to the visitor. Only a small section of the physical space of the exhibit documents and displays objects relating to Jewish attempts to co-mingle Christmas and Hanukkah, the purported focal point of the show.

Contemporary American popular culture, however, is used exclusively to illustrate the melding of the two traditions, and it does so with humor and lightness. A boxed set of hand puppets named “Schlomo Hanukkah,” “Santa Claus,” and “Kwanzaa Guy” asks, “Can’t we all just get along?” Christmas tree decorations in blue and white with Stars of David, greeting cards that flip from “Ho-Ho-Ho” to “Oy-Oy-Oy,” depending on how you hold them, bits from South Park, and in the background, Bing Crosby croons White Christmas, famously written by the American Jew Irving Berlin. In the multimedia [End Page 63] room called the “Dreidel-Kino,” scenes from American TV shows run in a loop, including the prime-time teen-soap opera, The OC. That TV show ran an episode in its first season called “The Best Chrismukkah Ever,” which aired on December 3, 2003 on Fox. (It was shown in Germany, on the private channel Prosieben, April 6, 2005.) In this episode, the lead character tries to harmonize the competing celebrations of his mixed-faith parents with his invention of a hybrid holiday, Chrismukkah.33 The show virtually invented the “holiday” in the United States and so successfully popularized the desire to share holiday traditions, common to many inter-faith American families, that it inspired spin-off websites and product lines to provide people the accoutrements to celebrate this new holiday (, for example.) Some of these products were available at the museum’s holiday market.

Although this TV show was part of the Jewish Museum’s exhibit, and “Chrismukkah” is the English translation they used, curators downplay the importance of American culture in the show. American TV and popular culture did not inform the exhibit, Kugelmann told me, but rather these elements at the end of the exhibit are merely intended to update the topic for contemporary audiences. I have no reason to doubt this intention, though a visitor might well be left wondering: what does The OC mean in the context of a German museum, and where are the German examples of contemporary Weihnukka that would point to the ongoing relevance of this topic for German-Jews? Why prominently feature examples, albeit humorous ones, of integrated and assimilated cultures and traditions in an American context at all if the focus of the exhibit is otherwise almost exclusively on pre-war Germany? Intentional, desirable, or otherwise, the use of American popular culture in this context does more than merely round up the exhibit to the twenty-first century.

If we disagree with the curators and argue that American popular culture is used here for more than a trivial updating of the subject for contemporary visitors, what is one to make of the forced linkage between Weihnukka and Chrismukkah in the exhibit? There is a deeper, latent meaning to these objects and their inclusion here, both because of what they portray and because they are American: the narrative phases of the Weihnukka show position American popular culture as a teleological rather than merely a chronological conclusion. The Jewish-German struggle for tolerance and acceptance went on for hundreds of years and ended, disastrously and apparently eternally, with the Holocaust. The final decades of these attempts, however, were spiked with reasons for optimism. Improvements in civil and social rights, especially in Prussia, gave hope to those Jews who felt there may be room for them as an assimilated but still Jewish minority in a German culture: a symbiosis of Jewish and German. The Weihnukka exhibit documents one of the many facets of this failed symbiosis. The American portrayal of Chrismukkah in the exhibit provides a very different model and history of assimilation. It implies for museum visitors an alternative conclusion to the historical German-Jewish symbiosis and represents a projection of a new and decidedly improved desire to meld with the majority population without being subsumed completely by that dominant culture: the Jewish-German symbiosis, part II.34 [End Page 64]

The reaction of one German-Jewish official was telling inasmuch as it seems to pick up on this subtext, and reject it soundly. Stephan Kramer, the General Secretary of the Zentralrat der Juden, issued a biting and unusually public critique of the Weihnukka exhibit. The Jewish Community is represented on the museum’s board but exerts little if any influence on the content of exhibits; in this regard, Kramer’s rebuke of the museum was both unusual and revealing. Kramer accused the museum of engaging in an assimilationist fantasy, but not a Jewish one. Instead, Kramer argued that the Weihnukka exhibit panders to what he perceived as the desire of non-Jews in Germany to overcome differences and contradictions and achieve some sort of “normalcy” that does not reflect the reality of Jews in Germany.35 In this analysis, the Weihnukka exhibit lies uncomfortably on the same line of continuity as the pseudo-historicism of Berlin’s bagel and klezmer scene, or the potential white-washing of the past latent in an actress playing a Jew lighting the city’s official Hanukkah candles.

It makes sense that Kramer would react hostilely to the Weihnukka exhibit. After all, he represents an organization that is perpetually engaged in an existential struggle to define Jews in Germany as full-fledged members of society while maintaining their distinct religious identity. On top of this constant external pressure on those who define themselves as Jews in Germany, the Russian-Jewish immigration puts tremendous internal pressure on the community to assimilate new Jews also as Germans. Here, then, is a Jewish museum portraying Jews as once willing to integrate a majority practice antithetical to their religious identity in order to gain acceptance as Germans, and featuring a “universal” model of Jews successfully doing just this in America. It is an image antithetical to the Central Committee, and the American imagery represents and reminds that assimilation is a contemporary problem, not merely a historical anomaly. The resolution of this problem of dual-assimilation (non-Jewish to Jewish and Russian to German) is the primary struggle facing the Central Committee today. The “American model” implied by the imported popular culture in the exhibit is not seen as an option.

Regardless of what one thinks of Kramer or the Jewish community’s rigid approach to defining who is a Jew, he is not misreading a certain trend in the Berlin Republic toward erasure of difference, whether it be the legacy of the German Democratic Republic through the process of unification or the centuries of failed German-Jewish symbiosis.36 The drive toward “normalcy” went into high gear in 1989, and “normal” has usually meant a minority must adopt the majority culture’s own definition of itself. While some like Peck may detect encouraging signs of a new Jewish-German “cosmopolitan” identity, rooted in a civic rather than ethnic sense of belonging, the popular discourse on identity in Germany continues to be dominated by stale and inflexible notions of integration and assimilation.37 The recent “Sarrazin affair” is a vulgar reminder of that fact.38

The misreading, if there is one, can be found in the Jewish Museum’s own understanding of American multiculturalism. Rather than merely light and entertaining bits of popular culture, the inclusion of elements like The OC in this exhibit points to the ways American Jews have demonstrated that national [End Page 65] and religious identities need not necessarily be in competition. White Christmas, after all, was written by the Jewish Irving Berlin, but as an American self-consciously creating American rather than Christian culture.39Chrismukkah in the United States is not the continuation of the pre-Holocaust Jewish-German symbiosis by other means. It is a living practice of an American minority, a compromise rather than a concession. The historical Weihnukka, however, is a document of a tragically flawed assimilationist past that had no room for compromise between minority and majority cultures.

Ultimately, the Weihnukka exhibit, and perhaps the Jewish Museum itself, can be read as shorthand for the desire for a global identity, an identity that supplants the traditional and conflict-laden conceptions of diaspora and its “insider-outsider” dichotomy. It is a fantasy of universal appeal, potentially satisfying desires of Jews and non-Jews (as evidenced additionally by the claim in one journalist’s report on the exhibit that some Turkish-German families also now have Christmas trees at home.)40 That this hybrid identity is portrayed in the exhibit as American is not to say that America owns the idea of multiculturalism or that American multiculturalism consistently lives up to its own hype. It is this “brand” of multiculturalism that the Jewish Museum Berlin latches on to in this exhibit and elsewhere, intentionally or naively. In this regard, the museum employs the idea of America as the “better” Europe that is as old as the European imagination of America itself and, since 1945, has dominated Germany’s love-hate fantasies of an alternative society.41 In this regard, too, Stephan Kramer is right when he says the museum does not reflect current German-Jewish reality. Popular representations of American-Jewish culture instead serve a multicultural integration fantasy that is more attractive than that reality. The lines to get into the museum prove this. [End Page 66]


1. Cilly Kugelmann, press conference from October 27, 2005. Audio recording in archive of Jewish Museum Berlin.

2. “Wie ich Weihnukka Hitler zu Verdanken habe,” in Weihnukka: Geschichte von Weihnachten und Chanukka. Jewish Museum Berlin catalog (Berlin: Nicolai, 2005), 16–19.

3. A summary of the exhibit, including select images of artifacts, is available online at (accessed August 15, 2012.)

4. Interview with Cilly Kugelmann at Jewish Museum Berlin, July 14, 2010.

5. I will maintain a meaningful distinction between Gentile “Germans” and “Jews in Germany” or “German-Jews” in this essay, fully aware of the fraught history of and ongoing struggle with these terms. For centuries, Jews living in German lands have identified themselves (and been identified by others) alternately and inconsistently with these terms in proportion to the real and perceived conditions of Jewish assimilation. While Jews have rarely been fully “German” in anyone’s eyes, they certainly have been “German-Jewish,” especially during World War I, when Jews embraced patriotism and military service despite the prejudiced majority population. In the wake of the Shoah, more neutral, descriptive phrases like “Jews in Germany” or “Jewish fellow citizens” gained currency, avoiding a characterization that links “Jewish” and “German” as equal partners. But “Jews in Germany” is insufficient in its neutrality: there are today Jews who also identify fully as Germans, those who feel “German-Jewish” (or “Jewish-German,” as the case may be), and Jews in Germany of foreign birth or nationality. In this regard, the Jews in Germany are not unlike Turkish or other minority groups whose “Germanness” is too complicated to be rendered with a mere hyphen.

6. Berliner Morgenpost, January 30, 2006.

7. Elke Vogel, “Koscherer Glühwein zum Weihnachtsstollen,” General-Anzeiger (Bonn), December 20, 2005. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.

8. Philosemitic in both the sense common to the West German post-war sympathetic portrayal of Jews and Jewish life, designed to educate and reconcile, as well as in the post-communist trend of kitschy, commercialized Jewish culture that nonetheless betrays elements of genuine regard and interest. For a discussion of the former, see Wulf Kansteiner, “What is the Opposite of Genocide? Philosemitic Television in Germany, 1963–1995,” (289–313), and for the latter, “’Non-Jewish, Non-Kosher, Yet Also Recommended’: Beyond ‘Virtually Jewish’ in Postmillennium Central Europe,” (314–336), by Ruth Ellen Gruber. Both are found in Jonathan Karp and Adam Sutcliffe, eds., Philosemitism in History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.)

9. Or perhaps more accurately, the myth of pre-war culture that represented a “symbiosis” of Jewish and German. What really was and what really is today are less important than promoting an image of Jewish culture as a counter-image to Jews only as Holocaust victims, because this way, according to Katharina Ochse, non-Jewish Germans can find identification with Jews that breaks the victim-perpetrator model. “‘What Could Be More Fruitful, More Healing, More Purifying?’ Representations of Jews in the German Media After 1989,” in Sander L. Gilman and Karen Remmler, eds., Reemerging Jewish Culture in Germany Life and Literature Since 1989 (New York: New York University Press, 1994), 120.

10. “Was ist der Unterschied zwischen Juden und Deutschen? “Der eine von beiden mag Klezmer.” [What’s the difference between Jews and Germans? One of them likes klezmer.] A contemporary joke, cited by Albert Lichtblau, “Unter Philosemitismusverdacht: Der Klezmerboom--für nichtjüdische Musizierende erlaubt?” in Irene Diekmann and Elke-Vera Kotoski, eds., Geliebter Feind/gehasster Freund: Antisemitismus und Philosemitismus in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Festschrift zum 65. Geburtstag von Julius H. Schoeps (Berlin: Verlag für Berlin-Brandenburg, 2009), 631.

11. “Dieser ‘Histourismus’ gilt dabei nicht dem gegenwärtigen jüdischen Leben, sondern der zerstörten Vergangenheit, die aber kaum in ihrer Zerstörung, sondern reanimiert präsentiert wird. ‘Jüdisch’ sind für die Touristen Souvenirs wie Chanukka-Leuchter und chassidische Marzipanfiguren, Klezmermusik und Bagels. Eine jüdische Gegenwart wird durch diese metonymen Populärbilder ins Abseits gestellt.” [“This ‘historicism’ does not apply to contemporary Jewish life, but rather to the destroyed past which is hardly presented as destroyed but rather as reanimated. ‘Jewish’ for tourists means souvenirs like chanukia and [End Page 67] Chassidic figures in marzipan, klezmer music, and bagels. Jewish contemporary life is displaced by these metonymic pop-culture images.”] Katrin Pieper. “Zeitgeschichte von und in Jüdischen Museen. Kontexte - Funktionen – Möglichkeiten,” Zeithistorische Forschungen/Studies in Contemporary History, Online-Ausgabe, 4 (2007), H. 1+2 (, accessed 8/15/12).

12. Iris Weiss, “Jewish Disneyland—The Appropriation and Dispossession of ‘Jewishness.’” Golem : European Jewish Magazine, 3/6 (2002), posted at HaGalil, April 2001.

13. Henryk M. Broder, “Veronika, das Licht is da!” Der Tagesspiegel (Berlin), December 17, 2009. Broder has made a journalistic career for himself as contemporary Germany’s Jewish enfant terrible, often mocking such philo-Semitic gestures.

15. Sander Gilman, Multiculturalism and the Jews (New York/London: Routledge, 2006), 210.

16. “We are proud of the re-emergence of Jewish life in Berlin today, which has occurred in large part thanks to immigration.” (accessed December 7, 2011).

17. Mapping Jewish Identities. Ed. Laurence J. Silberstein (New York: New University Press, 2000.)

18. Helpful here is the discussion in New Jews: The End of the Jewish Diaspora, by Caryn Aviv (New York: New York University Press, 2005), 15ff.

19. Austrian novelist and essayist Joseph Roth (1894–1939) describes the wanderings of the “eternal Jew” as nothing short of a “blessing.” Roth, who lived the part, had no fixed address since childhood, and died in exile in Paris. “Der Segen des ewigen Juden.” Die Wahrheit (Prague: August 30, 1934). Joseph Roth, Werke. Klaus Westermann, ed. (Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1991) III/527–532.

20. There are many resources on the Jewish-Germany that “might have been,” but the most accessible remains Amos Elon, The Pity of It All: A History of Jews in Germany, 1743–1933 (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2002.)

21. Jean Baudrillard, America (London: Verso, 1988), 86.

22. Notably James E. Young, At Memory’s Edge: After-Images of the Holocaust in Contemporary Art and Architecture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), or Thomas Lackmann’s experimental Jewrassic Park: Wie Baut Man (K)ein Jüdisches Museum in Berlin (Berlin: Philo, 2000), or of course Libeskind’s own analysis of the challenge of creating a Jewish museum in Berlin: Between the Lines (Berlin/New York: Prestel, 1999.)

23. The largest group of international visitors came from Italy (12%), with the Netherlands, Great Britain, France, and Spain close behind. Visitors from the USA accounted for 4% of the recorded nationalities that year. Jahresbericht 2009–2010, available at (accessed 8/15/12).

24. Cilly Kugelmann agrees but notes that the museum’s approach is more correctly described as “Anglo-American,” since it was influenced early on by two New Zealanders (Ken Gorbey, deputy president, and Nigel Cox, director of “visitor experience.”) Since neither Gorbey nor Cox seem to have known German or had backgrounds in the subject matter of the museum, their contributions were likely foremost in the realm of the museum’s style. Nonetheless, the distinction between calling this style “American” or “Anglo-American” seems trivial (Interview with Kugelmann, ibid.)

25. Jeffrey M. Peck, Being Jewish in the New Germany (Camden: Rutgers University Press, 2006), 79.

26. The phenomenon of “Disneyfication” is reviewed by Susannah Reid, “The Jewish Museum Berlin—A Review,” in Virtual Library Museen, 11/21/01, (accessed Oct. 7, 2011), and Timothy W. Luke, Museum Politics: Power Plays at the Exhibition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002) 55, among others. But Natan Sznaider goes further to make the broader connection to “The Americanization of Memory: The Case of the Holocaust,” in Ulrich Beck, Natan Sznaider, Rainer Winter, eds., Global America: The Cultural Consequences of Globalization. (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2003), 174–188.

27. The title of the permanent exhibit is “Two Millennia of German Jewish History” (Zwei Jahrtausende deutsch-jüdische Geschichte.”) In 2009, it was the fourth most popular museum in Berlin, according to Anja Löffler, Manager of Visitor Research and Evaluation (e-mail message to author, October 14, 2010.) [End Page 68]

28. “It is apparent that the role of Jewish culture, by virtue of the passive and active participation on non-Jews—active as producers, copiers, enablers of Jewish culture, and passive as its consumers—is magnified to an extraordinary extent. Here as elsewhere, then, we can no longer speak of a ‘virtual Judaism’ [Ruth Ellen Gruber]. It is a genuinely new form of what Diana Pinto and others have described as ‘Jewish space,’ with an authenticity of its own.” “The Return of the European Jewish diaspora. New Ethno-National Constellations since 1989,” in Julius H. Schoeps and Olaf Glöckner, eds. A Road to Nowhere? Jewish Experiences in Unifying Europe (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2011), 184.

29. Miriam Goldmann, e-mail message to author, July 29, 2010.

30. Bernhard Purin, “Building a Jewish Museum in Germany in the 21st Century,” in Robin Ostrow, ed., (Re)visualizing National History: Museums and National Identities in Europe in the New Millennium (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008), 153.

31. Interview with Kugelmann, ibid.

32. An idealized (American) hybridity of fragmented but harmonious multiple element as distinct from the discourse around “German-Jewish.” The German-Jewish hybridity implies, historically and today, a corrupt and inferior Jewish “core” being masked by superficial adaptation of German-ness. Cf. Todd Herzog, “Germans and Jews after the Fall of the Wall: The Promises and Problems of Hybridity,” in Adrian Del Caro and Janet Ward, eds., German Studies in the Post-Holocaust Age: The Politics of Memory, Identity, and Ethnicity (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2000), 93–102.

33. The hybrid character of “Chrismukkah” is slightly different than that of the historical “Weihnukka” in that the American holiday represents a happy medium between Jewish and Christian traditions within one family but Weihnukka was celebrated mostly by entirely Jewish homes intent on marrying their Hanukah with the majority German culture’s Christmas.

34. The Jewish Museum implicitly evokes the historical symbiosis through the use of that very word, as in a “symbiosis” of “the sentimentality of Christmas and the historical impetus of Hanukkah … In the USA this symbiosis moved into a new setting.” Cilly Kugelmann, as cited in Yael Kupferberg, Zwei: Magazin des Jüdischen Musems Berlin 2005, Nr. 4., 12.

35. Stephan J. Kramer, “Weihnukka: Die Mehrheit sieht uns als Fremde,” Die Tageszeitung (Berlin), December 24, 2005.

36. Or both of these, combined into a common act of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (overcoming the past.) I have analyzed elsewhere this intertwined and parallel rush toward historical erasure using the example of the “Jewish” film comedy Alles auf Zucker (Go For Zucker, 2004.) Cary Nathenson, review of Alles auf Zucker. H-German, H-Net Reviews. February, 2006. (accessed October 28, 2011).

37. Peck, ibid. 162.

38. German Federal Bank board member Thilo Sarrazin, member of the left-center Social Democratic Party, published a book in 2010 with the provocative title Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany Abolishes Itself) in which he argues that multiculturalism and immigration are destroying German cultural identity. Sarrazin contends that minorities are undermining Germany by failing to assimilate and adapt themselves to the dominant culture (understood simplistically as Christian Western civilization.)The resulting scandal forced him from his position with the bank but the book is a best-seller.

39. This distinction is also noted by the German press in its coverage, as Elke Vogel cites Irving Berlin claiming to have written the song “as an American.” Vogel, ibid.

40. Michael Bienert, “Den Baum heimlich hochgeschleppt,” Stuttgarter Zeitung, December 10, 2005.

41. “By inventing and re-inventing America as the other, Europe again and again re-invented and reconstructed itself.” Günter H. Lenz, “Transnational American Studies: Negotiating Cultures of Difference—Multicultural Identities, Communities, and Border Discourses,” in Klaus J. Milich, Jeffrey M. Peck, eds., Multiculturalism in Transit: A German-American Exchange (New York/Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1998), 135. [End Page 69]

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