June 27, 2007

More Photos from the Mission...

Checkpoint Charlie Building at the Allied Museum

The Reichstag

Battle of Berlin Walking Tour

Memorial at the Grunewald Train Station

June 26, 2007

News from the Mission...

Rosenstrasse Memorial in Berlin

Berlin Document Center

I'm writing from Berlin to report from our mission. I have been so busy (and so exhausted) that it has been difficult to write, but here are some photos. We have been on the go from the very start,and my only fear is that we have scheduled too many activities. I am gratified that so many of my friends and colleagues received our group with such openess and generosity. We leave tomorrow for Warsaw...

Our Group at the Reichstag

Our Group at the Neue Synagogue

June 19, 2007

The Berlin Document Center

Guardhouse at Entrance to the BDC Compound

As I noted several blogs ago, I will lead a Museum mission to Germany and Poland this summer. In fact I leave for Berlin tomorrow. In preparing for the trip, I was going through some papers at home and found the photographs that I am including in this posting. I was the last director of the Berlin Document Center (BDC), which was one of the most interesting institutions created in the postwar period. The BDC was the collecting point for tens of millions of captured and seized records of the Nazi party and its affiliated organizations. Early on it was a key resource for the Nuremberg trials and the denazification program.

Underground Bunker which Served as Document Storage

Later (and in my time), it became an important scholarly archive. Throughout the postwar period, it was a sensitive and complicated institution. I have arranged a special visit to the current home of the BDC for my group this summer. I will report on that visit in a week or so. In the meantime, I hope you find these vintage photographs of interest. I got them from the late Kurt Rosenow, who was the first civilian BDC Director, after it had been transfered to the State Department from the US Army in 1953. Kurt had been with the BDC from the very start and these photos show it during the very early period, when it was run by the Army.

More Documents

June 16, 2007

The Other Promised Land

Last week, we opened our newest special exhibition, The Other Promised Land: Vacationing, Identity, and the Jewish-American Dream , an exploration of the tradition of Jewish vacationing. Here is an excerpt from the remarks I delivered at the opening:

When my colleagues, Ivy Barsky and Lou Levine, and I first saw this exhibition at the Jewish Museum of Maryland last fall, we were immediately struck by the nostalgia that swept over us. We recognized the family photos and familiar souvenirs, although none of us had ever seen what is my favorite artifact in the exhibition – the devices that women placed on their high heels to allow them to walk in relative safety on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. This exhibition, which looks at Jewish vacationing from the 1890s to the present, is a wonderful complement to our Core Exhibition, which examines Jewish history in the context of the 20th century. It was easy to envision The Other Promised Land in our gallery, with its wonderful balance of nostalgia, and history.

It is particularly interesting and disturbing to see how anti-Semitism in its subtle and not-so-subtle forms, forced Jews to create their own Jewish vacation destinations -- an irony for those new Jewish immigrants who left behind the bitter experience of persecution to come to this country believing that they would be welcomed with open arms.

Some might argue that this exhibition presents somewhat lighter fare than we normally provide, and this is true. But if you look closely, your will see that this exhibition tells a story that runs parallel, and in some ways, defines the Jewish American experience in ways that are both heartwarming and provocative.

My personal family vacation experiences tended to be more rustic, indeed primitive, than what is featured here, but my wife Judy and her family have great memories of the Catskills. Judy’s dad, the legendary basketball referee, Lou Eisenstein, officiated at the Morry Stokes game at Kutschers every year, and Judy’s sister met her husband, in the country one summer, where he was serving as a waiter.

As you walk through the exhibition, some of you will reminisce and think of the people you met on those summer get-aways – think about that stolen kiss, your first dance, the endless car ride sitting next to your sister, demanding to know of your parents: Are we there yet? Maybe you’ll be inspired to google those friends you made or even just smile quietly to yourself as you think about what could have been.

We are very pleased to present this exhibition, and we are proud of our good judgment in deciding to bring it here, but we cannot claim credit for its ingenious conception or its beautiful design. For the inspired idea and consummate execution, we are most grateful to the Jewish Museum of Maryland.
Come by and visit!

June 9, 2007

Blog from Prague...

Jewish Cemetery in Prague

I'm in Prague attending a meeting of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research . To learn more about the Task Force, see http://www.holocausttaskforce.org/. This year, I am the Chair of the Museums and Memorials Working Group. Our task this meeting was to examine the question of the identification and marking of the physical locations where Holocaust-related events took place. We had two very productive days of meetings, which included fascinating presentations on several projects designed to identify and mark sites of mass execution and burial. Very interesting... I am including in this blog, a part of the report that I delivered to the Plenary of the Task Force.

The identification of historic sites is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the educational and commemorative power of place. It could be argued that, just as we recognize the importance of archival collections, which document the history we study, so should we acknowledge the importance of the places where that history took place. Nothing can substitute for the experience of standing on a spot where significant events occurred. There is an undeniable emotional power connected with geography, and that power can have an immense impact. Authentic sites can personalize history and unlock the power of imagination. Their identification and preservation can be a significant antidote to Holocaust denial. When we add to the inherent importance of these sites, the fact that many include places where people were murdered and buried, there are a host of religious and emotional considerations that must be addressed.

There will come a time in the not too distant future when there will no longer be any living eye-witnesses to the events of the Holocaust. The loss of Human witnesses underscores the importance of the sites where the events of the Holocaust took place. These “silent” witnesses along with archival evidence will be alone in providing crucial testimony.

We introduced a proposal that, once adopted will underscore the commitment of the Task Force members to undertake the identification and marking of these historic sites. I'll report on the progress of this issue in future blogs.

Kafka Statue in Prague

(Photos by David G. Marwell)

June 3, 2007

Cadets and Midshipmen

2007 ASAP Participants in the Garden of Stones

We had the kickoff for this year's American Service Academies Program (ASAP). Each summer, we send twelve cadets and midshipmen (four each from West Point, the Air Force Academy, and Annapolis) on a three week study tour to Poland. These remarkable young men and women spend a few days here in New York, a few days in Washington, and then fly to Warsaw and begin a program of study and travel.

The centerpiece of the program is their stay at the Museum's Auschwitz Jewish Center (AJC), located in Oswiecim, the Polish city which the Germans selected as the location for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Death camp. The AJC is housed in the only surviving synagogue in what had been an overwhelmingly Jewish city, with more than thirty Jewish houses of worship and study. If we can believe the testimony of past participants, these twelve future military leaders can look forward to a profound and transformational ("life-changing" is an adjective used by many of the alumni) experience. I envy them...

(Photos by Melanie Einzig)