Out of the Closet and into the Archives? German Jewish Papers
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

The Institution Frank Mecklenburg discusses the Leo Baeck Institute (LBI) Archives as an institution initially established for the preservation and generation of social memories among a group whose collective identity—as the muchmythologized German-speaking Jews of prewar central Europe—is rapidly fading, as well as a repository whose contents are increasingly relevant not only to scholarship but to the highly contested production of political culture for both Jews and Germans. The texts, photographs, and artifacts contained in the archives have long provided fodder for well-trodden academic debates about the fate of German Jewry: cultural symbiosis versus failed assimilation , proud legacy of cosmopolitan west European culture versus “dreams and delusions” in the face of eliminationist anti-Semitism. But as Mecklenburg points out, somewhat surprisingly for an institution that deaned its mission as rescuing and documenting remnants of an irretrievably destroyed past, turn-of-the-millennium political culture has provided the archives with a new lease on social and political as well as scholarly life. The uniaed Berlin Republic’s search for identity and legitimacy and Germany’s growing confrontation with multiculturalism have intensiaed the (both praised and ridiculed) obsession with somehow comprehending and reappropriating a missing Jewish past. This past, had, after all, been not only exterminated but also transferred in countless lifts carrying the accoutrements of German Jewish life to all corners of the globe (one could remark polemically on the curiosity that, unlike the actual Holocaust , this is often presented as a tragic loss for, rather than a crime by, the Germans, but that is another discussion ). At the same time, for highly divided Jewish communities in the United States, Israel, and western and eastern Europe (indeed virtually everywhere from Tokyo to Buenos Aires), the history of German Jewish struggles around secularism versus observance, acculturation versus tradition, and universalism versus particularism, and even the highly developed debates about intermarriage and reforming religious practice, have taken on (at least potentially) new resonance. Our current memory boom, fueled by panic about the loss of eyewitnesses’ living memory (and perhaps our own middle-aged lapses), has led not only to a much-debated public memorial culture centered on World War II and the Holocaust but also to heightened individual fascination with genealogy, family history, and personal memoir. Finally and more mundanely, but absolutely crucial to the maintenance of an archive, human life cycle intervenes : the refugees are dying or moving out of their family homes into old-age facilities. Their children and grandchildren need an alternative to simply chucking out the debris, the relics, and the history of this supposedly vanished but somehow constantly recycled and reinterrogated cultural group. The children and grandchildren are generally thoroughly integrated members of the (non-German ) national and ethnic/religious communities in which they ended up and quite unattached—and, if at all, mostly on the level of family memoir or, in a minority of cases, in terms of scholarly work—to any notions of a German Jewish legacy. Relieved to and a safe place for papers and artifacts they dimly imagine to be important but for which they have no space and no use, they become the “donors.” Ironically, many of the “users,” or at least those with the greatest sense of urgency (and, one might 89 ⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮ Out of the Closet and into the Archives? German Jewish Papers Atina Grossmann ⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯ add, funding) have been Germans determined to excavate a history that they know is theirs only in the most excruciatingly complicated ways. All of these relationships are, as Mecklenburg points out in his essay, in a particular state of bux at a moment when the LBI Archives in New York is for the arst time sharing physical (and mental and psychological) space with American Jewish and east European Jewish (the background of most American Jews) archives on the one hand and on the other hand negotiating to open a separate, distinctly “German Jewish” branch in the new Jewish Museum in Berlin. The Community What then does all this have to do with the German Jewish papers—and multiple other artifacts—that came tumbling out of, in great piles of dust and mildew, my mother’s and my aunt’s closets a couple of years ago when I had to relocate both of these elderly Berlin-born ladies (much against their will) from their Manhattan apartments to nursing homes in (horrors!) the Bronx and Queens respectively? The occasion of this seminar has allowed me to start doing what so many scholars—for better and...


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