Thursday, December 29, 2011
Friday, December 16, 2011
Women of Ravenbruck. Exhibit at Florida Holocaust Museum.
Memorializing the Holocaust: Gender, Genocide and Collective Memory
Readers of the blog may be interested in Janet Jacobs book, published last year, that explores how women's experience of the Holocaust is described and commemorated. It is a rare work that addresses issues of gender, collective memory and public commemoration, particularly in monuments and memorial museums. Dora Apel and Barbie Zelizer and others have done this, too, particularly in regard to the work of individual artists.
Having recently been a consultant for the archaeological excavation in Cologne, and visited Worms again, I am particularly interested in her views in chapter 5 (as reported by Boffey), that
For Jacobs, the effect of drawing attention to pre-genocide Jewry is to exoticize Jewish culture and tradition. As she sees it, the darkened, subterranean exhibition spaces at sites such as the Rashi House Jewish Museum in Worms lends a mix of nostalgic rural pastiche and hints of "Otherness" to depictions of pre-twentieth-century Jewish heritage. The suggestion that this "embed[s] the Jew in a medieval archaeology" (p. 125), facilitating a disidentification on the part of German audiences, is an interesting one. To be sure, this kind of distancing could conceivably smooth over the problematic fact that a great many Jewish Holocaust victims were also Germans--and assimilated Germans at that. But to argue, as Jacobs does, that this actually "re-stigmatizes" the Jews, who can then be "blamed for their own suffering and destruction" (p. 132), unfairly does away with the searching debates conducted within reunified Germany (not to mentionthose already taking place in the Federal Republic of Germany prior to 1989) that revolve around exactly this issue of German guilt and complicity in the Holocaust. (Boffney, paragraph 6, below)More often, it has been argued that such exhibits - and excavations such as that in Cologne - provided discomfort to Germans in the past - and may still do so - precisely because they embed Jews deep in the German past, and re-establish their role as players in a long history. The antiquity of Jews in German continues to be much-debated and contentious issue. This point, however, seems to be only a small part of Jacobs thesis.
Worms, Germany. Rashi Lehrhaus. Judaica Exhibit on lower level. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2011)
Another point she apparently raises (Boffney, below paragraph 5) - which parallels my own experience and perception - is her equating the exhibition of damaged Torah scrolls in memorial and especially historical exhibitions with medieval depictions of the vanquished synagoga figure. While ostensibly presented to inform and perhaps evoke pity or outrage, the damaged scroll often really serve as evidence of effective destruction - and the passing of "the old law." A Jew may be offended by these presentaiton. Non-Jews are fascinated by the exoticism and thus irrelevancy of the scroll. It could just as well be an old Sumerian cuneiform tablet, an excavated curio.
Richard Boffey review on H-Net of Janet Jacobs, "Memorializing the Holocaust: Gender, Genocide and Collective Memory"
Janet Liebman Jacobs. Memorializing the Holocaust: Gender, Genocideand Collective Memory. London I.B. Tauris, 2010. xxviii + 176 pp.$85.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-84885-103-0.
Reviewed by Richard Boffey (University of Leeds)
Published on H-Memory (November, 2011) Commissioned by Catherine Baker
In Memorializing the Holocaust: Gender, Genocide and Collective Memory, Janet Jacobs explores commemoration of the Holocaust in monuments, museums, and memorials through the lens of gender. Jacobs's book investigates how, at a range of sites in Germany and eastern Europe as well as the United States and Australia, gendered visual narratives contribute to traumatic collective memories of violence and genocide. Utilizing what she describes as a blend of cultural studies and visual sociological approaches and also drawing upon Marianne Hirsch and Barbie Zelizer's pioneering work on visual narratives of the Holocaust, Jacobs looks at the ways in which these memorial forms communicate Jewish victimhood. As it turns out, her conclusions paint a rather ambivalent picture of memorialization. Chief amongst her concerns is that the presentation of Jewish men and women along highly stylized gendered lines in the sites she examines might unintentionally "denigrate" (p. 156) the memory of the victims.
Jacobs begins with a short introduction that maps out the efforts made by recent memory studies research to explain the role of the Holocaust in contemporary processes of identity construction. She sees a place for the "memorial scapes" (p. xx) she has studied in propping up an institutionalized, Holocaust-centered memory culture, but rather than look at their role in the politics of memory she focuses specifically on the category of gender at these sites. A theoretical chapter then reflects on her dual role as empathetic female spectator and distanced, critical researcher--a "role conflict" (p. 33) lying at the heart of her ethnographic approach.
In what is a fascinating meditation on this so-called double vision (p. 37), Jacobs considers the ethical implications of a feminist gaze, in particular with regard to its inherent selectivity and inadvertent voyeurism. Might focusing exclusively on representations of women's suffering, she asks, risk reproducing a fetishized gaze drawn to the female body whilst relegating the experiences of men and children to the ethnographic background? Likewise how can Jacobs, a Jewish woman, analyze and photograph these images of atrocity without subjecting herself to a kind of traumatic transference? In answer to the first question, Jacobs has decided also to look at accompanying representations of Jewish masculinity at her research sites in order to mitigate the objectification of her primary research subjects. In answer to the second, she proposes to use her camera and field notes to create an "intellectual space" (p. 38) for managing her emotions and maintaining critical distance.
Jacobs begins the remaining five chapters by discussing the representation of women at the Auschwitz memorial museum. In photos, memorial sculptures, and artifact installations displayed at the site, she discerns a prevalence of maternal imagery on the one hand and sexualized representations of the female body on the other. Whilst the former casts Jewish women as passive victims, the latter turns the act of spectating from remembrance into "sexual objectification" (p. 45). At the Ravensbruck concentration camp memorial, the subject of chapter 3, Jacobs sees a Christianizing frame of remembrance. This is apparent above all in prisoners' depictions of a "woman-made hell" (p. 63) that feature female guards as diabolical tormenters in black capes and in the motif of a martyred female victim that appears in a number of memorials to national prisoner groups.
Chapter 4 deals with German memorials to the 1938 Kristallnacht pogroms. In the memorials Jacobs has surveyed, both this incident and by extension the Holocaust in a broader sense are represented primarily as the destruction of a religion and culture, not as the destruction of a people. Indeed, visual symbols such as a desecrated Torah appear in these memorials with telling frequency. For Jacobs this equates to an "emasculation" of the Jewish sacred text that effectively severs its link to a powerful patriarchal God and reduces the scrolls to a "defeated and ruined female archetype" (p. 102). In this sense, she sees Kristallnacht memorials as unconsciously aping medieval anti-Semitic religious iconography, in which the Jewish synagogue for instance was represented as a defeated and vanquished female figure, Synagoga.
The focus is broadened in chapter 5 to investigate efforts at memorializing medieval and early modern Jewish life in Germany and eastern Europe, thereby situating representations of the Holocaust within a broader language of memorialization. For Jacobs, the effect of drawing attention to pre-genocide Jewry is to exoticize Jewish culture and tradition. As she sees it, the darkened, subterranean exhibition spaces at sites such as the Rashi House Jewish Museum in Worms lends a mix of nostalgic rural pastiche and hints of "Otherness" to depictions of pre-twentieth-century Jewish heritage. The suggestion that this "embed[s] the Jew in a medieval archaeology" (p. 125), facilitating a disidentification on the part of German audiences, is an interesting one. To be sure, this kind of distancing could conceivably smooth over the problematic fact that a great many Jewish Holocaust victims were also Germans--and assimilated Germans at that. But to argue, as Jacobs does, that this actually "re-stigmatizes" the Jews, who can then be "blamed for their own suffering and destruction" (p. 132), unfairly does away with the searching debates conducted within reunified Germany (not to mention those already taking place in the Federal Republic of Germany prior to 1989) that revolve around exactly this issue of German guilt and complicity in the Holocaust.
A concluding chapter analyzes two Holocaust memorial museums outside Europe and also draws together the geographically wide-ranging case studies introduced in preceding chapters. The two sites examined here, one in Melbourne and the other in Indiana, both attest to "women's creativity and vision" (p. 141) insofar as female Holocaust survivors and their relatives had a large hand in founding them. Moreover, they both set the more canonical photographic representations of Jewish victims--groups of Jewish men moments before execution or liberated Jewish women survivors of the concentration camps, for example--against photos of survivors' families that predate the Holocaust. In this way, Jacobs argues, the trope of women's relationships and kinship bonds serves to yoke the memory of observers to the lives of individual Jewish victims. In this familial frame of remembrance, Jacobs sees an alternative approach to the memory of genocide that might avoid the pitfalls of alienation or voyeurism.
It is not until late in the chapter that Jacobs considers whether other visitors to the sites she has surveyed would share her concern at the "unintended consequences of memorialization" (p. 153). If she feels there are unresolved "issues of gender, anti-Semitism, and representations of victimization" (p. 153) at the center of today's collective memory of the Holocaust, then the question of exactly whose collective memory this is remains unanswered. Indeed, Jacobs herself remarks that "it is ... my interpretative framework through which these monuments and sites have been evaluated and understood"(p. xxii). It would have been valuable to hear more about how the (often problematic) tropes and motifs Jacobs has identified are perceived by others. Underdeveloped sections in chapter 3 on ritual patterns of remembrance at Ravensbruck and in chapter 4 concerning the conceptual and financial involvement of Jewish groups in bringing about memorials would suggest a complex landscape of memorial agents and observers. As it is, however, the sites emerge in the narrative as rather static and two-dimensional.
This could also have been avoided with a keener alertness to historical and present-day contexts at certain points, particularly in the chapter on Ravensbruck. Jacobs castigates the memorial site for not explicitly mentioning that the subject of a memorial stone at the crematorium was Jewish. "Because this memorial has been placed at the crematorium," she argues, "the absence of a Jewish narrative is all the more striking and highlights the as yet unresolved issues of Jewish invisibility in German memory" (p. 74). Yet the crematorium at Ravensbruck was not primarily a site of Jewish suffering in the way that the crematoria at extermination camps in occupied eastern Europe were--Jewish inmates made up around 15 percent of the total prisoner population at the former. Collapsing together Jewish suffering and the symbol of the crematorium in this way arguably reduces National Socialist racial policy to its anti-Semitic dimensions, resembling the thrust of Anglo-American "Holocaust Education" discourses that have emerged since the turn of the millennium. Jacobs might have asked whether this context has worked its way into her own analysis.Similarly, she overlooks the ideological function of the "Burdened Woman" statue at Ravensbruck in the German Democratic Republic.Certainly, one can read it as a symbol of Christian maternity, as Jacobs does. But a closer look reveals that, unlike a traditional Pieta, the statue also appears to be striding forward, signifying anew beginning that resonated with the GDR's self-proclaimed antifascist genealogy. Political imperatives therefore also served to marginalize the Jewish Holocaust in this statue.
These criticisms notwithstanding, Janet Jacobs has written a thoughtful and lucid study on Holocaust memorialization. Where the book is most successful is in its exploration of the relationship between memorial and observer, convincingly employing a feminist approach to interrogate the assumption that Holocaust memorials "honor" the memory of victims they purport to commemorate. Future studies in this field will be able to profit from Jacobs's ethical critique and couple it to a more differentiated understanding of collective memory.
. Marianne Hirsch, Family Frames: Photography, Narrative and Postmemory (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997); Barbie Zelizer, Visual Culture and the Holocaust (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2000).
. These were triggered not least by the publication of Daniel Goldhagen's highly controversial Hitler's Willing Executioners:Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (New York: Knopf, 1996).
. In particular since the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust, January 26-28, 2000. Seehttp://www.holocausttaskforce.org/.
. See Insa Eschebach, "Soil, Ashes, Commemoration: Processes of Sacralization at the Ravensbruck Former Concentration Camp,"History & Memory 23 (2011): 131-157; 141-142.
Citation: Richard Boffey. Review of Jacobs, Janet Liebman, Memorializing the Holocaust: Gender, Genocide and Collective Memory. H-Memory, H-Net Reviews. November, 2011.URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=3D34573
This work is licensed under a Creative CommonsAttribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United StatesLicense.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Syracuse University Library has acquired the personal papers of the flamboyant and trend-setting architect Morris Lapidus (1902-2001). Although clearly an architectural original, and a man who worked and pleased a varied clientele, Lapidus can also has serious credentials as a Jewish architect. He designed several synagogues, and his Miami architecture was especially in tune with a unique phase of American Jewish leisure life.
The Lapidus papers join other collections at the Syracuse University Library Special Collections and Research Center (SCRC) of the other leading modern American architects who also happened to design synagogues, including Marcel Breuer, Pietro Belluschi, Minoru Yamasaki and Werner Seligmann.
Though his interior design and hotels are better known, Lapidus's synagogues deserve study, if only to see have they compare with contemporary work. His Temple Menorah in Miami Beach, for instance, bears at least a superficial resemblance to Gropius and Leavitt's Oheb Shalom in Baltimore, built just about the same time. I'm sorry I did not include any of Lapidus's work when I published my American Synagogues (Rizzoli) book in 2003.
Lapidus, who died in 2001, is perhaps best known for hotels like the Fontainebleau, Americana, and Eden Roc in Miami Beach, Fla., buildings which embodied the growth of leisure in American life during the 1950s and 1960s. The Fontainebleau has served as a backdrop for variety of iconic scenes in American film, including the James Bond thriller "Goldfinger" (1964). Most of Lapidus' buildings exhibited a mélange of historical styles--French provincial, Italian and Baroque--and anticipated the post-modernism of later architects.
Lapidus was born in Odessa, Russia, in 1902, but his family immigrated to the United States soon thereafter. As a wide-eyed youth, he marveled at the splendor of Coney Island and he would later impart a similar spirit of excess to his work as an architect. That spirit would place him at odds with his function-minded modernist peers. However, contrary to the editor's choice of title for his 1996 autobiography, "Too Much is Never Enough," Lapidus was interested less in hedonism than he was in a "quest for emotion and motion in architecture."
Frustrated by his sometimes antagonistic relationship with the architectural establishment, Lapidus destroyed many of his firm's records when he retired in 1984. However, he retained a core collection of especially valuable papers that he entrusted to his last collaborator and confidant, architect Deborah Desilets. The archive includes a large collection of photographs dating to the 1920s, conceptual drawings, manuscript drafts of his written works and correspondence with his long-time friend, mystery writer Ellery Queen.
Desilets approached Syracuse, which has held a small Lapidus collection since 1967, and a gift of the material was finalized in December. Speaking on her decision to place the archive with Syracuse, Desilets says, "The archive is an extremely important missing link in the discourse on Lapidus' influence on 20th-century architecture. I am thrilled to place it in such a distinguished research institution where it will be available for use by generations of students and scholars."
In Syracuse's Special Collections Research Center, the Lapidus archive will reside in one of the most important mid-century modern collections in the country. Among the other architects represented are Marcel Breuer, William Lescaze and Richard Neutra, as well as designers like Russel Wright and Walter Dorwin Teague.
Syracuse School of Architecture faculty member Jon Yoder offered this assessment of the Lapidus archive's value for teaching and research: "The recent proliferation of architect-designed boutique hotels, coupled with the pervasive disciplinary focus on architectural effects suggests that Lapidus was indeed one of the most influential architects of the 20th century. This acquisition of his personal archive comes as welcome news to designers and scholars who are finally beginning to reassess the lavish contributions of this much-maligned architect across a surprisingly broad spectrum of design disciplines."
For more information, contact Sean Quimby, senior director of Special Collections, at 315-443-9759 or email@example.com.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Conference Session: From Historicism to Deconstructivism: Reconsidering European Synagogue Architecture
Conference Session: From Historicism to Deconstructivism: Reconsidering European Synagogue Architecture
by Samuel D. Gruber
Next week I'll be at the annual meeting of the Association for Jewish Studies in Washington, D.C. to give a paper in the session "From Historicism to Deconstructivism: Reconsidering European Synagogue Architecture." Michael Meng and Gav Rosenfeld, both of whom have new books out, will also be on the panel - so I guess we are reprising our act from last year's AJS, though with slightly new topics.
My paper "What Was New and Why? Synagogue Modernisms in Pre-Holocaust Europe," is, in fact, the prequel to last's years presentation, in which I described the role of refugee and Survivor architects in shaping the modern Jewish aesthetic in post-WWII America. This year I'll talk about the architecture they left behind - the many modernisms of the early 20th century and especially the interwar years. Thanks to the documentation of previously forgotten synagogues by many researchers in different countries, we can now see the broad outlines of the fertile and popular modern movements before the Holocaust.
Mon, Dec 19 - 8:30am - 10:30am
Building/Room: Grand Hyatt Washington, Penn A
From Historicism to Deconstructivism: Reconsidering European Synagogue Architecture
Chair: Michael Meng (Clemson University
"If Only It Were “As Simple As Bonjour”: Synagogue Building in Nineteenth-Century Paris," Saskia Coenen Snyder (University of South Carolina)
"What Was New and Why? Synagogue Modernisms in Pre-Holocaust Europe,
Samuel D. Gruber (Syracuse University)
"“Between Memory and Normalcy: Synagogue Architecture in Postwar Germany,”
Gavriel Rosenfeld (Fairfield University)
Respondent: Michael Meng (Clemson University)
The scholarly literature on Jewish architecture has long been dominated by analyses of synagogue design. In recent years, however, the focus of this literature has begun to change. If prior scholarship concentrated on the construction histories of synagogues, newer studies have begun to take interest in their reception histories as well. This panel follows in the spirit of this new scholarly approach by going beyond construction technique, style, and aesthetics to probe the wider social perceptions of, and reactions to, Jewish synagogues in the communities where they were built. Covering trends from the 19th to the 21st centuries, the three papers discuss how different styles of synagogue design – historicism, modernism, and postmodernism – reveal the interplay between architecture, on the one hand, and Jewish history, memory, and identity on the other. Saskia Coenen Snyder’s paper, “If Only It Were “As Simple As Bonjour”: Synagogue Building in Nineteenth-Century Paris,” investigates the relationship between Jewish building committee members and French political institutions during the Second Empire and the Third Republic. She argues that as synagogues became public buildings, municipal authorities played an increasingly intimate role in the construction process and public representation of Judaism. Samuel Gruber’s paper, “What's New and Why? Synagogue Modernisms in Pre-Holocaust Europe,” focuses on the variety of what was considered new and modern in Jewish architecture in the early 20th century Europe, and especially following World War I. The paper considers the role of architecture in furthering Orthodoxy, Zionism, nationalism, and other disputed religious, political, social and aesthetic movements. Gavriel D. Rosenfeld’s paper, “Between Memory and Normalcy: Synagogue Architecture in Postwar Germany,” discusses three phases of synagogue design in the Federal Republic of Germany between 1945 and the present. He shows how modernist, postmodern, and deconstructivist designs have grappled to varying degrees with the legacy of the Holocaust and how postwar German synagogues collectively reflect lingering uncertainty among German Jews about the extent to which they should remember the Nazi past or move beyond it towards a normalized future.
One among thousands of documents Kosansky sifted through. These documents were written in Judeo-Arabic, an Arab dialect written in Hebrew script . Photo: Lewis & Clark
Morocco: NEH grant to help digitize Rabat Geniza Documents
A Lewis & Clark anthropologist has recieved a grant to digitize documents found in a Rabat Geniza. According to the Lewis & Clarke College website:
What began with simple curiosity about a small room filled with bags of papers in a synagogue in Rabat, Morocco, has become a project that will help change the way anthropologists and historians document cultures around the world.
Oren Kosansky, assistant professor of anthropology, has earned a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop a digital archive of Judaic Moroccan documents from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. The online archive will open access to researchers with an interest in Jewish culture in Northern Africa and allow them to share ideas and information widely. Of even greater interest to the NEH, the project will offer a new model for intercultural and international collaboration in the creation of technological resources to share historical information.
Making a discovery
Kosansky’s fascination with Judiaism in Morocco dates back to his graduate work in the early 1990s. In 2005, a Fulbright research grant took him to Rabat, the capital of Morocco and former home to a large Jewish community. During his stay, Kosansky worked closely with leaders of Rabat’s major synagogue and community center. It was there that he discovered a genizah—a room or depository found in synagogues, where old religious documents that are no longer in use are kept and periodically buried.
“In Judaic tradition, documents containing references to God are forbidden from being destroyed,” Kosansky explained. “Most obviously books and papers on religious topics such as the Torah are deemed sacred and treated in a ceremonious fashion, but any item with religious or legal references—such as a wedding announcement or business contract—would also be kept.
“In this case, I found literally thousands of books and documents pertaining to virtually all facets of Jewish life in Morocco, especially as it was transformed during the 20th century. My first thought was, ‘How can I save these materials from burial, so that they can be consulted by community members and scholars.’”
Kosansky noted that the Jewish community in Rabat once numbered in the thousands and had dwindled to fewer than 100, following a broader trend of emigration that brought the majority of Moroccan Jews to Israel, France, and other global destinations. As an anthropologist, he saw great potential for research materials that could serve many in his field.
“Written materials are very important in Judaism,” Kosansky explained. “It is a very textual culture. These documents offer great insight into a culture and a community of people that once thrived here. They offer an opportunity to investigate elements of a society that has not been fully explored by those of us in the academic field. For the Jewish community, it represents something perhaps even more valuable—an opportunity to reflect on how their traditions have been shaped by modern life, colonialism, technological change, and global networks of migration, communication, and commerce.”
With the approval of community leaders, Kosansky sorted through hundreds of sacks containing thousands of documents and determined which documents were appropriate for burial and which represented significant historical texts suitable for preservation. Synagogue leaders gave Kosansky the documents for preservation, and he donated them to the Jewish Museum in Casablanca.
The unparalleled collection contains many unique documents, including handwritten letters, unpublished manuscripts, and community records, as well as published materials in a variety of languages, including Judeo-Arabic, Hebrew, and French. The documents now held by the museum will be the focus of Kosansky’s NEH digitization project.
Read the entire article here.
Cross posted from Jewish Heritage Travel
Slovakia -- New Jewish Guidebook
By Ruth Ellen Gruber
Mazel tov to Maros Borsky on the publication of his valuable new bilingual Slovak-English guidebook to Jewish Monuments in western Slovakia. Zidovske pamiatky zapadneho Slovenska/Jewish Monuments of Western Slovakia was launched last week in Bratislava and Trnava.
A slim paperback illustrated with full-color pictures of each site, the book provides details -- including GPS coordinates -- for Jewish heritage sites in more than two dozen other towns in Slovak regions of Bratislava and Trnava, giving basic history and current details.
Most of these sites are off the beaten track and not included on the Slovak Jewish Heritage Route, a network of 25 key sites around the country.
USA: Hanukah Celebration at New York's Kehila Kedosha Janina, December 18th
One of my favorite Jewish spaces in New york is the tiny Kehila Kedosha Janina (KKJ) on Broome Street on the Lower East Side. This is the home to the region's Greek (Romaniote) Jewish community - an enormously hospitable extended family. The synagogue and its small museum continues services and is open to the public on Sundays. Next week is a great time to visit - to celebrate Hannukah with traditional Greek-Jewish Hannukah treats (boumwelos) and to honor John and Christine Woodward of Woodward Gallery at 133 Eldridge Street.
The congregation wants to fill the sanctuary (not too hard given its small size) with joy!
Where: Kehila Kedosha Janina, 280 Broome Street (between Allen and Eldridge)When December 18
Here's some history from museum curator and community historian Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos:
In the early 20th century, as Jews from the Balkans began to arrive on the Lower East Side, Shearith Israel (the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue uptown on West 70th and Central Park West) established institutions to help the new immigrants. Foremost among these were the settlement house and synagogue originally created at 86 Orchard Street. Soon the small dwelling was insufficient to house the growing population of Balkan Jewry and it was necessary to find larger quarters.
In 1914, the synagogue, now named Berith Shalom, was moved to 133 Eldridge, where the facilities were now larger and could include a Talmud Torah. As the neighborhood changed and the Balkan Jews moved to the outer boroughs and the suburbs, Berith Shalom was closed and the building at 133 Eldridge went through many incarnations. In May of 2007, John and Kristine Woodward moved their gallery to 133 Eldridge Street and, in the process of restoration, uncovered a piece of decorated plaster wall from the old synagogue. John lovingly restored and mounted the section and presented it to Kehila Kedosha Janina as a gift. It now hangs in our synagogue/museum.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Vilnius, Lithuania. Uzupis cemetery in 2000. Photos: Samuel D. Gruber (2000)
Eleven years ago I visited the Uzupis Jewish Cemetery in Vilnius (Vilna), Lithuania, or rather what remained of it. In the dark light of winter I climbed the hill of the cemetery to look for traces of gravestones and walls. Where there were approximately 70,000 burials from 1830 through 1948, only a few hundred stones were visible. These were the ones embedded in the hillside. The cemetery had been "liquidated" in the 1960s, when Vilnius was under Society rule. No marker told the story of the site, or the history of the dead.
Over the next few years I worked with the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, of which I was Research Director, to tell that story. Commission Members Harriet Rotter and Steven Some, led the Commission’s contributions to the project. The result was a wall and a monument dedicated in November 2004.
|Vilnius, Lithuania. Uzupis Cemetery. Monument under construction and complete. Photo: Ruth Ellen Gruber|
|Vilnius, Lithuania. Uzupis Cemetery. Monument under construction and complete. Photo: Ruth Ellen Gruber|
|Vilnius, Lithuania. Uzupis Cemetery. Monument under construction and complete. Photo: Ruth Ellen Gruber|
Now we know where some of the stones ended up.
Dovid Katz's writes on the website defendinghistory.com that thousands of fragments of Uzupis Cemetery gravestones are were used to construct walls on the grounds of the Lazdynai Middle School in Vilnius, built in the early 1970s. He and visited the school last week, and photographer Richard Schofield took pictures, and posted a report.
Sounds of Stone Speak: Jewish Gravestones in the Walls of a Middle School in Vilnius
Katz writes in part "The school grounds’ outside walls comprised of the pilfered Jewish gravestones have nothing to do with the structure of the school’s building and removing the stones and finding a culturally respectful home for them would not touch the school building with so much as a hair. Moreover, the walls made from the stones extend well beyond the school’s grounds to surrounding parts of Lazdynai, where a large supply of Jewish gravestones were brought from the cemetery site after the city’s Soviet-era administration destroyed the cemetery."
You can see more of Richard Schofield's photography here.
Friday, November 25, 2011
Lithuania: Former Anykščiai Synagogue Demolished
(ISJM) One line and a few pictures in a Lithuanian online news service reported the demolition of the former community synagogue in the northern Lithuanian town of Anykščiai (Aniksht in Yiddish). The reason given for the demolition of the building on Saltupio Steet, which had been used as a bakery, was a "state of emergency." A new building to house a social services center is planned for the site. In the one picture posted of the standing building it does not appear to have had any surviving identifying or distinctive exterior features, though it looked to be in relatively good condition.
You can read about the Jewish history of the town here.
USA: Newark's Former Oheb Shalom by William Lehman is 100 Years Old
by Samuel D. Gruber
(ISJM) I've previously written about the centennial of the classical-style Temple Concord in Syracuse, dedicated in September 1911. Another impressive (Greco-Roman) Temple-like synagogue building celebrating its centennial this year is the former Oheb Shalom in Newark, New Jersey, designed by Jewish architect William Lehman (1874-1951) and dedicated on September 11, 2011. Since 1958, when Oheb Shalom moved to suburban South Orange, the High Street building has been home to Wells Cathedral, a Pentecostal church.
The building is a an impressive structure with a fine projecting portico of four Ionic columns, and some delicate decoration, including a Jewish Star within a wreath set into the pediment. The entablature carries an inscription in Hebrew, not English an indication that this was a Conservative synagogue, not a Reform. My guess is that this is one of the earliest full-blown classical-style Conservatives synagogues. But then again, most Conservative synagogues did not engage in big building campaigns until after World War I, so Oheb Shalom was prescient in many ways.
According to synagogue historian Mark Gordon, "Oheb Shalom had three locations on one block of Prince Street (rented quarters; 1863-64 frame synagogue; 1884 brick synagogue) before it moved to High Street in 1911. Woodrow Wilson was the keynote speaker at the High Street dedication. During Oheb Shalom’s 150th anniversary celebration in 2010, the congregation visited its extant Prince Street (1884) and High Street (1910-11) edifices in Newark and held an interfaith service with the Pentecostal Church which now owns the High Street building. Several older congregants who participated in the service were quite moved to be standing at the original reading table where they became b’nai mitzvah."
Papers of Congregation Oheb Shalom that may relate to the construction of the 1910-11 building are housed at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Slovenia Exhibition: Forgive Us, Forgive Us O You Dead. Jewish Soldiers of the Austria-Hungarian Army On The Isonzo Front
by Samuel D. Gruber
(ISJM) The international exhibition Forgive Us, Forgive Us O You Dead. Jewish Soldiers of the Austria-Hungarian Army On The Isonzo Front will open tomorrow, Thursday, 17th November 2011 in the Maribor Synagogue, Slovenia. The exhibition theme is part of the ongoing dissertation research by Renato Podbersič, and continues preliminary on-site research begun by my sister Ruth Ellen Gruber, which was published as part of our survey of Jewish Cemeteries, Synagogues and Monuments in Slovenia of about a decade ago.
The authors of the exhibition are dr. Petra Svoljšak, Head of the Milko Kos Historical Institute of the Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, and mag. Renato Podbersič, senior researcher at the SCNR (Slovenian Centre for National Reconciliation).
Maribor Curator Janez Premk helped with advice and additional material, as did our good friend Ivan Čerešnješ, who provided historical photos of his grandfather and other Jewish soldiers from Bosnia, fighting in the Isonzo front.
Doctor Premk believes the exhibition, which consists of 16 tri-lingual (Slovenian, English, Hebrew) panels, accompanied by rich graphic material and historical documents, is one of the major contributions in contemporary research of the Jewish past in Slovenia and adjacent territories. The exhibit will travel in Slovenia and plans are being made to then send it abroad.
Monday, November 7, 2011
October 31, 2011, 1:47pm
By Renee Ghert-Zand
Despite opposition, the last remaining Jewish hospital building in London’s East End will be torn down to make way for a five-story housing development. The Tower Hamlets council agreed for the Jewish Maternity Hospital on Underwood Road, Whitechapel, to be demolished because it does not have landmark status. It is neither listed by English Heritage, nor does it fall within a Conservation Area, according to a report in the East London Advertiser.
Those opposed to the demolition, including cultural and political leaders, are especially upset that the cottages next door to the hospital are also set to be taken down. They say that they are large single-family homes in good shape. “The Director of Jewish Heritage UK, Sharman Kadish, also wrote to Peabody [the real estate developer], saying the social and historic significance of the cottages next to the main hospital building have been overlooked while urging the trust to convert the cottages into residential use,” the article in the Advertiser said.
The developer contends that keeping the cottages would negatively affect the number of housing units needed to be built and would make its plan financially unfeasible.
The Jewish Maternity Hospital operated between 1911 and 1947 and had an attached midwifery school. It was built as a two-story building containing three maternity wards, an operating theater and several annexes and offices. Of its 12 beds, 4 were reserved for patients who could not pay for medical care. The building quickly became too small, and eventually additional wings were added on. The hospital also added on many other services, including pre-natal and post-natal care clinics.
Since WWII, and after the hospital moved to another site, the building has served as a nursery and childcare center, and more recently as a family welfare association for local residents in Tower Hamlets.
USA:125th anniversary of Eldridge Street Synagogue Cornerstone
by Samuel D. Gruber
I often tell my clients to let no anniversary go unnoticed - each is an opportunity to stage an event and to raise attention and money. Few know this lesson better than the folks at the Museum at Eldridge Street. They know how to celebrate and after all they have achieved, they have every right to do so. Jews have so many commemorative events for catastrophes suffered and crises just barely averted. So it's nice to celebrate occasions where oppressors are not involved.
Next Sunday (November 13th) celebrate the 125th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of New York City's Eldridge Street Synagogue, for an event modeled on cornerstone celebrations of a century ago. I'm not sure if I'll be able to make it from Syracuse, but I'm going to try.
Help create a living time capsule, with remarks and performances by: Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Frank London’s All Star Klezmer Brass Band, Vocalist Jeremiah Lockwood, National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, Speaker Sheldon Silver and other Government Officials and Museum Leaders.
RSVP & Information about the 125th Anniversary Time Capsule:
The Event is free.
For more or my posts about the history, architecture and restoration of the Eldridge Street Synagogue type "Eldridge" in the blog searchbox.
Update (Nov 17, 2011). You can read about the event and see a video in the Forward (online).
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Shala Weil, author of India's Jewish Heritage: Ritual, Art and Life-Cycle (Mumbai: Marg Publications [first published in 2002; 3rd edn.], 2009) and dozens of articles on India's Jewish culture and history, has reminded me of the wonderful offering of the website:
The Synagogues of Kerala India: Architectural and Cultural Heritage
The site is very rich in descriptive, historic and analytic content and photos of Cochin and Kerala's many synagogues. There is also an extensive bibliography.
In the architecture Jay Waronker writes at length about seven standing synagogues as well as lost synagogues of Kerala.
Many of my readers may also be interested in following the blog Jews of Cochin maintained by Bala Menon. Bala's most recent posting is about the Judaica of Cochin Jews which is increasing turning up in notably collections, and also at Judaica auctions.
Meanwhile, the government in Kerala (India) is nearing completion on the careful restoration of the former synagogue in Parur. ISJM's Jay Waronker has been advising on this work for well over a year with support from the Koret Foundation. Jay will supply a report on the project's progress soon.
Here is a Bala's post...
Museums and collectors worldwide have been quietly acquiring valuable belongings of the Cochin Jews over the past couple of decades. Articles of interest include clothing, religious pieces, life-cycle related materials, historical and literary items etc., which all come under the general definition of Cochin Judaica. Some of the pieces are valued at several thousands of dollars.
Many of these wonderful pieces are now appearing on auction sites like eBay, while some have become part of treasured collections at institutions like the fabled Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, the Skirball Cultural Centre in Los Angeles, the Jewish Studies collections at Columbia University Libraries, University of Cambridge and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
One of the prized exhibits at Skirball's At Home series is a Hanukkah lamp from Cochin. This exquisitely designed work of utilitarian art, made of hammered brass was donated to the centre in 2005 by Dr. David Hallegua (California) and his sister Fiona (New York) of Mattancherry in memory of their grandparents Satto and Gladys Koder. The lamp was used in the Koder home in Cochin during Hanukkah celebrations for over 90 years. (Koder House today is a boutique hotel.)
Read the entire essay and see photos here.
ISJM Receives Koret Foundation Funding for Indian Synagogue
India: ISJM's Jay Waronker Furthers Kerala Preservation Projects
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Suriname: Restoration at Jodensavanne Celebrates a Milestone
(ISJM) Harrold A. Sijlbing - Chairman of the Jodensavanne Foundation writes to International Survey of Jewish Monuments that the "Foundation has realized an important goal in preserving the national Jewish heritage in Suriname" in the completion of restoration of four historic grave monuments in the Jewish cemetery and the remnants of the 1685 Beracha VeSalom synagogue.
According to Sijbing, "the project was carried out by REMAS, a Surinamese construction company specialized in historic restoration, under KDV’s leading architect Phiillip Dikland and funded by the Embassy of the Netherlands as part of the “shared heritage” program." Jodensavanne is located on the Suriname River, about thirty kilometers from Paramaribo (also the site of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries). The settlement, one of the oldest Jewish settlements in the Western Hemisphere, was surrounded by Sephardi Jewish owned sugar plantations. After its abandonment, it was overrun by jungle vegetation.
According to the Foundation's website, "the local indigenous community of mixed Arowak and Carib background, living in the village of Redi Doti, is co-manager of the monumental sites that are located in their ancestral territories. They fully contribute to the protection of the monuments and manage the buffer zones." A ceremony marking the completion of this phase of work took place this past September 13 (2011). In attendance were the Foundation board, the Redi Doti village council, representatives of the Ministry of ATM, the Dutch Embassy and construction workers.
The Foundation has plans for a number of projects in the near future including the publication of a Jodensavanne Guide Book and the improvement in the training of local guides. The central subject in this action plan is to finalize the World Heritage Site nomination to be submitted to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee by end of the year.
Beginning the 1995s, American architect Rachel Frankel began studying the remains of Jodensavanne leading to the continuing development of conservation, interpretation and presentation programs for the site. In the late 1990s the entire complex was placed on the World Monuments Fund Watch List, and gradually local organizations have rallied to the preservation and presentation of the site. Largely as a result of Frankel's work and the WMF listing, the Stichting Jodensavanne, Jodensavanne Foundation (JSF), which had been founded in 1971 was re-activated in 1998 and was granted the legal rights by the Government of Suriname to manage the monumental property.
The vision of the Jodensavanne Foundation is to:
• protect and preserve the universally unique remains of Jodensavanne and Cassipora, including the Beraha VeShalom synagogue, the Cassipora Cemetery, the Jodensavanne Cemetery and the so-called African (or Creole) Cemetery;For more on the site and recent research see my previous post: Publication: "Monumental" Book about Suriname Jewish Cemeteries., and the Jodensavanne Foundation website.
• conserve the environmental and historic serenity of the sites;
• stimulate and implement research and documentation of the archeological sites and remains, including the former town plan and adjacent historical spots;
• enhance strong partnerships with local, national and international communities and organizations to facilitate sustainable management of the sites;
• build awareness and understanding; encourage appreciation, education and promotion, and facilitate access to the cultural heritage, in order to be a unique and enjoyable experience to all.
Forbidden Art is the title of a new exhibition at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum Memorial on view until November 20, 2011 on the grounds of the former Auschwitz I camp in the camp laundry building.
The exhibition features photographic reproductions of twenty works of art made illegally and under the threat of death by prisoners in German Nazi concentration camps. The photographs are accompanied by commentary and excerpts from archival accounts.
Artists represented in the exhibit include: Peter Edel, Maria Hiszpańska, Franciszek Jaźwiecki, Mieczysław Kościelniak, Halina Ołomucka, Stanisława Panasowa-Stelmaszewska, Marian Ruzamski, Josef Sapcaru, Włodzimierz Siwierski, Zofia Stępień, Józef Szajna, Stanisław Trałka, The anonymous artist with the initials MM, other Aanonymous artists.
TRADITIONS AND PERSPECTIVES IN HISTORY OF JEWISH ART
Bar-Ilan University, Israel, September 10–13, 2012.
The conference will bring together historians of art and material culture and researchers in history, religions, semiotics, psychology, sociology, and folklore to explore the fields of interest of “Ars Judaica – The Bar-Ilan Journal of Jewish Art” that include, but are not limited to: - The Jewish contribution to the visual arts and culture from antiquity to the present; - Art and architecture of Jewish sacred spaces; - Biblical texts as a source in Christian and Muslim visual arts;- Jerusalem and the Holy Land as an object and model in visual arts;- Images of Jews in visual arts;- Hebrew script in visual arts;- Patrons, collectors and museums of Jewish art;- Jews, arts and politics.
Abstracts (limited to 200 words) of twenty-minute presentations with a short CV should be submitted (as attached MSWord documents) by JANUARY 6, 2012 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The applicants will be notified of the decision regarding their proposal by February 6, 2012
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
by Samuel D. Gruber