At Last-A Jewish Museum in Denmark
Gelfer, Mirjam, European Judaism
Denmark is probably the last country in Europe to get a Jewish museum. This might seem surprising, considering the Danish efforts on behalf of Jewish citizens during the Second World War. But it also suggests that it has not been felt necessary to have a museum for an integrated minority.
Among the reasons for establishing a Jewish museum two stand out. The demography of Europe has changed, with the immigration of relatively large groups of people with a different ethnic and religious background creating conflicts in society and being a constant subject of debate on national and political levels. This has persuaded the Danish Jewish community--admittedly far fewer in number than the new minorities--to conclude that the time has come to show how a population group, which in certain aspects was different, was integrated without becoming assimilated. Another obvious reason has been the desire to exhibit the collection of Danish Jewish works of art which simply and directly will be able to throw light on the Jewish religion and culture in the hope of also demystifying them. Perhaps a cultural institution of this kind could also help to consolidate a community which today counts only slightly more than 2,000 members. At the same time we hope to create a centre here for the study of the Danish Jewish community.
A major Jewish exhibition was mounted in Denmark in 1908. The initiators of the project were the famous philologist, Rabbi David Simonsen, and the outstanding art historian and director of the Danish Museum of Decorative Art, Emil Hannover. (1) The idea of a museum has surfaced on several occasions since then, but a true breakthrough did not come until 1984, when the Copenhagen Art Association (Kunstforeningen i Kobenhavn), the chairman of which was Hans W. Weinberger, decided to mark the 300th anniversary of the Danish Jewish community with an exhibition of painting, sculpture and ritual objects. (2) After the exhibition closed, a group of dedicated enthusiasts decided to work for the establishment of a Danish Jewish museum, not least under the inspiration of the growing interest in this Danish collection. (3)
Meanwhile, the conflict in the Middle East had a negative effect on the establishment of the Jewish museum. The Danish authorities, perhaps naturally enough, did not feel--unlike certain other countries--under any obligation to finance a museum for a specific population group, while a number of foundations with Arab countries as business partners did not wish to be associated with a Jewish project. However, the committee continued with its task of gathering funds and making a provisional register of the existing collection, which was gradually increasing in size. The core collection in the museum currently consists of ritual objects and paintings owned by the Danish Jewish community. The objective has throughout been to show not the Holocaust, but one of the few good exceptions; for the precious ritual objects were rescued during the war and kept in the church nearby until the Synagogue could again be taken into use. (4)
After hearing Daniel Libeskind present his plans for the future Berlin museum in 1987, the present writer was filled by a desire to persuade this architect, who better than any other would be able to …
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Publication information: Article title: At Last-A Jewish Museum in Denmark. Contributors: Gelfer, Mirjam - Author. Journal title: European Judaism. Volume: 36. Issue: 2 Publication date: Autumn 2003. Page number: 59+. © 2001 Berghahn Books, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.
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