When the topic of Jewish museums in Europe arose we became aware of a wealth of opportunities. Through her work as Founder and Executive Director of the Hidden Legacy Foundation, Evelyn Friedlander has connections with many curators and scholars; Edward van Voolen, one of our correspondents, and curator of the Jewish Museum of Amsterdam, supplied further lists. What we had not anticipated was the enthusiasm with which so many of those we approached responded, and, what alas is a rarer quality in the experience of journal editors, actually delivered on time! And what unexpected doors they opened for us as each author demonstrated the way his or her museum reflected the different cultural assumptions, contexts and challenges faced by the local Jewish community.
In a wide-ranging survey of Jewish museums in Europe, David Clark traces the history of their development, beginning with private collections of art which entered the public domain in the late nineteenth century. This reflected a particular stage in the process of emancipation and the felt need to demonstrate the contribution Jews had made to European history and the way they 'fitted' into society. Shifts in power relations in society in more recent decades have changed the focus to reflect the pluralism and multicultural awareness of today.
Rickie Burman describes the history and development of the London and Manchester Jewish museums in which she herself has played major roles. She suggests that a Jewish museum, as well as illustrating its religious traditions, will see as its task to set that religion within the context of history and social life of the community. This is borne out by the contributions from different European communities.
Nicholas Stavroulakis describes the attempts after the war to locate any artefacts of Jewish life not destroyed, looted or sold at auction. The near obliteration of the Jewish community of Salonika (over 70,000 in 1941, some 3,000 after the war) meant that an entire five hundred years of Jewish culture had virtually disappeared. Today's museum seeks to locate the Jewish presence within the history, economic and social life of Salonika and their fate during the Second World War. A companion piece by Zanet Battinou on the Jewish Museum of Greece echoes the role of the museum in educating the wider community and challenging enduring stereotypes and ignorance. But it is particularly concerned at creating programmes aimed at the Jewish population of Greece, especially those with little formal Jewish education, as well as being a hospitable venue for private celebrations and the exploration of Jewish culture.
Particularly moving is Milica Mihailovic's account of the struggle to create and develop a Jewish museum in Belgrade in a situation when 'all cultural institutions in the country are starting again from the beginning'.
In contrast to other countries where a Jewish museum plays a role in the life of the Jewish community, Richard Schneider argues that Jewish museums in Germany 'have little to do with Jews, but much to do with the non-Jewish majority' and that majority's problems of facing the German past. …