Why Jewish Museums Matter.

The Creation of POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews


Virtual archive
Video recording of the talk here

Digital lecture by Prof. Dr. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw) as part of the lecture series »Jewish Museums: Foundation Histories and Current Positionings« on Thursday, 22 June, 5.15 p.m.

Jewish Museums emerged in Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, mostly as a result of secularization and emancipation processes and on the initiative of Jewish organizations or individuals. These institutions were shut down by the National Socialists, and their collections were plundered, scattered, and destroyed.

Few museums were reopened after the war, and then under entirely different circumstances. Many places only witnessed increased initiatives to reestablish Jewish Museums from the 1980s. The impetus was frequently the »rediscovery« of a synagogue, an archaeological find, or a preserved (but usually only fragmentary) collection. Sometimes, these reestablishments were driven by Jewish communities or individuals, but often they were the result of non-Jewish initiatives or associations.

Picking up on the debate about the foundation of a Jewish Museum in Saxony, this research colloquium will highlight this process: Why, when, where, and on behalf of whom is and was the exhibition of Jewish history regarded as relevant? What actors have supported the establishment of Jewish Museums, and who has tried to prevent them?

A focus will also lie on the manner in which Jewish history has been exhibited in the past and present, and how it could be exhibited in future: What narratives have exhibitions developed? What objects are regarded and conveyed as Jewish? What emphases are placed and what omissions have there been? What is the future of Jewish Museums?

Thursday, 22 June 2023, 5.15 p.m.