The Jewish Heritage Europe web site is back online after being down for more than a week because of server problems.
There may be a few glitches in the next day or two, but the techs tell us that the site is stable — and we hope it stays that way!
Thanks for your patience and understanding, and apologies for the inconvenience.
The Jewish Heritage Europe web site is back online after being down for more than a week because of server problems. There may be a few glitches in the next day or two, but the techs tell us that … Continue reading →
Jewish cemetery in Karczew, Poland, not far from Otwock (2006)
In our new Have Your Say op-ed, Steven D. Reece, the president of The Matzevah Foundation, explains why he, a Baptist minister, founded an organization that restores Jewish cemeteries in Poland. The Christian response to this legacy of the … Continue reading →
There are more than 130 Jewish museums in Europe — of all types, from big state, municipal or other public institutions such as the POLIN museum in Warsaw and the Jewish Museum in Berlin, to small private initiatives or museums run by Jewish communities. Some are high-tech or have thousands of items and artifacts; others are small displays; for others, the synagogue or other building in which they are situated is the primary exhibit.
Visitor to the POLIN museum, Warsaw
The survey states its goals were manifold:
We aimed to generate a comprehensive picture of the Jewish museum landscape across Europe, and to identify the most pressing issues,challenges and needs faced by these institutions. We wanted to learn about the mission, philosophy and methodology of Jewish museums, and better understand their role and position in the cultural and educational realm at large.
We were also interested in the level of professionalization of Jewish museums, both in staff training, collection preservation and cataloguing, management, and the ways in which Jewish museums communicate and arrange partnerships with one another. With a better understanding of these issues, we want now to assess the resources needed and the funding priorities for the next five to ten years.
The questionnaire was sent to 120 institutions in 34 countries and we received 64 completed forms from 30 countries. The questions addressed eleven broad topics: organisation, collections, permanent and temporary exhibitions, facility, visitor services, public programmes, visitor demographics, marketing and PR, finances, future plans and needs.
This diverse sample enabled us to get, for the first time, a quasi-comprehensive picture of the Jewish museum landscape in Europe, from small community museums to landmarks of “starchitecture;” from institutions boasting thousands of rare objects to others mostly text panels — or technology-based; from museums employing scores of professional staff and interns to synagogues-turned-exhibition halls run by volunteers for a few hours a month.
That was precisely the challenge: the large and numerous discrepancies between institutions, depending on their location, their financial and human resources, their political and economic context, the type of visitors they receive, and other contextual considerations.
The results point to four major findings:
1. Transition from museums to multi-purpose hubs;
2. Lack of collaboration and partnerships;
3. Tension between particularistic and universalistic missions;
The wide-ranging survey of Jewish Museums in Europe carried out by Dr. Brigitte Sion of the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe has been published online, following its formal presentation at the annual conference of the Association of European Jewish Museums. (We … Continue reading →
Cover of Christian Herrmann’s 2017 calendar shows the Jewish cemetery in Vadul Rascov, Moldova
For the second year in a row, the photographer Christian Herrmann, whose work we have featured on JHE, is offering a gift for the upcoming Hanukkah and Christmas season — a 12-month calendar illustrated with his photographs, which is available for free download in English and German versions.
The 2017 calendar includes photos of Jewish heritage sites in Ukraine, Moldova, Poland and Romania.
Christian has exhibited his photographs and produced a book of them, and he describes his travels on his Vanished World blog. He offers the calendar as a gift that he would like to present to his readers, “who accompanied my trips through Eastern Europe’s Jewish past and present.”
You can CLICK HERE to find out more about the calendar, preview its pictures, and download the PDF.
For the second year in a row, the photographer Christian Herrmann, whose work we have featured on JHE, is offering a gift for the upcoming Hanukkah and Christmas season — a 12-month calendar illustrated with his photographs, which is available … Continue reading →
Photo courtesy of the Faculty of History, Vilnius University
Jewish gravestones that were used to build the steps to the main entrance to a hospital in Vilnius were removed last week and taken to the site of the vast Užupis Jewish cemetery where they once stood, joining thousands of other such fragments now stored there.
The dismantling of the main entry steps of the Antakalnyje Vilnius Clinical Hospital is the latest in a series of moves by city authorities to rescue Jewish gravestones that were uprooted under the Soviet regime and used in construction. The Užupis Jewish cemetery, which had tens of thousands of burials, was razed in the 1960s and essentially used as a quarry for building material. Thousands of gravestones and fragments have been recovered and returned to the cemetery site.
The case of the hospital steps was brought to public attention in September by Sergey Kanovich, the co-founder of the MACEVA NGO, which catalogues, documents and preserves Jewish cemeteries in Lithuania. Kanovich posted photos of the steps on Facebook and tagged Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius, saying, The “entrance to the clinic in Antakalnis is made by Soviets from the headstones of our ancestors. But it is we today who continue this disgrace.”
The recovery process began more than a decade ago, when gravestones that had been used to construct the grand stairway that led to the Trade Union headquarters were removed. Some of them — retaining the shape of how they were cut to be stairs — were used to construct a memorial at the Užupis cemetery.
A man examines the memorial made from gravestones that had been used to build stairs
In cooperation with the municipality, a team of history students from the University of Vilnius is working to catalogue and document all the fragments. The team is led by Vilnius University Professor Jurgita Verbickienė, a representative of Department of Cultural Heritage under the Ministry of Culture of Lithuania Audronė Vyšniauskienė, and a PhD history student Rūta Anulytė, former Program Director at the MACEVA.
Photo courtesy of Ruta Anulyte
Ms. Anulyte told JHE that so far the team has inspected nearly 2,500 fragments. All are being stored in a parking lot, “situated in the heart of ruined cemetery.” Temporary signage installed at the site reads, in Lithuania and English: “Since August 23, 2016 at this territory of Vilnius Užupis Jewish cemetery, dismantled gravestones of various places of the City will be brought to the site. Worked carried out by The City Municipality of Vilnius”
Samuel Gruber has written an extensive post on his blog about the process of recovery of these stones, including photos of the new signage as well as the sites. In it, he raises questions about the future of the stones and fragments, as well as the process of recovery.
No decisions have been made about how to protect and present these pieces and the thousands of similar ones still embedded in the walls and pavements of Vilnius and surrounding areas. […] I am hopeful that Mayor Šimašius will continue the process, even though he will face some resistance from property owners. I suggest that all these gravestones be declared objects of cultural heritage and that their removal by the Soviets be recognized as both part of a process of ethnic cleansing and property theft. All identified stones should be legally recognized as stolen property and as with any other stolen property, every effort should be made to return them to their place and owner of origin. If this principle is fully recognized then financial arrangements can be more effectively discussed and arranged to assist present-day owners – who most often have nothing to do with the original theft and reuse.
Jewish gravestones that were used to build the steps to the main entrance to a hospital in Vilnius were removed last week and taken to the site of the vast Užupis Jewish cemetery where they once stood, joining thousands of … Continue reading →
The second annual conference on Slovak Jewish Heritage was held November 7. It gathered activists, professionals, Jewish community leaders, and others from around the country who are involved in the preservation, conservation and restoration of Jewish built heritage.
Organized by the Union of Jewish Communities in Slovakia (UZ ZNO), the meeting was held in the New Synagogue in the town of Žilina — an important modernist building, built in 1928-31 and designed by the German architect Peter Behrens, which has been undergoing restoration for several years. As we have posted in the past, the synagogue was long used as a cinema and university lecture hall. It is due to reopen in 2017 as a contemporary arts center.
Former synagogue in Trencin, Slovakia.
The conference included presentations on synagogues in Lučenec, Bratislava, Trencin, Levice, Banska Stiavnica, Zilina, and Bytča.
Bytca, Slovakia synagogue in 2007. Photo by Drajna, via Wikimedia
Why does it makes sense to save the synagogue? It’s a piece of our history. Without exaggeration, we can say that in this way you honor the memory of our Jewish fellow citizens, who until recently had been a large part of the inhabitants of our city, contributing to its development and in particular, it [commemoraties] their tragic fate during World War II.
This is not the only reason. The synagogue will serve for religious purposes. It will be a place of cultural and social events, concerts, exhibitions, theater performances, and also the seat of the Bytča museum. We expect that the city will attract a lot of visitors from Slovakia but also from abroad. It will become a place of community life in which we want to develop the spirit of culture, humanism, creativity, tolerance.
During the conference, the newly established Eugen Barkany award — named after the pioneer in Slovak Jewish heritage work who founded the Jewish museum in Presov in 1928 — was presented to the city of Lučenec for the restoration of the grand, domed synagogue, which reopened earlier this year as a culture center whose premises also include a Holocaust memorial. The restoration process was financed by a €2.3 million EU grant.
Completed in 1926, the immense structure was designed by the prolific Hungarian synagogue architect Lipot Baumhorn and is a typical example of Baumhorn’s grand, eclectic style. The only surviving synagogue out of five that once stood in the town, it long stood derelict.
The communist authorities nationalized the Lučenec synagogue in 1948 and for more than 30 years it was used as a warehouse for artificial fertilizers. It stood empty and dilapidated after being abandoned in 1980. It received a new roof in the 1990s, but otherwise plans for restoration never until now got off the ground for lack of funding.
We’ve posted this before — but it’s worth posting again — a remarkable video of the restoration process.
Click HERE and HERE to read our earlier reports on the synagogue in Bytča
ClickHEREandHEREto read more about the restoration of the synagogue in Lučenec
The second annual conference on Slovak Jewish Heritage was held November 7. It gathered activists, professionals, Jewish community leaders, and others from around the country who are involved in the preservation, conservation and restoration of Jewish built heritage. Organized by … Continue reading →
Photo on gravestone in the Brno, Czech Republic Jewish cemetery
Much of what we post on JHE centers on the conservation of Jewish cemeteries and gravestones.
We would like to draw attention today to a particularly comprehensive web site that is a wealth of how-to and best practice information about the conservation of gravestones — http://www.gravestonepreservation.info
It is run by a monuments and gravestone conservator in the United States, and like the web site of the Association for Gravestone Studies the examples are almost exclusively drawn from the experience in historic cemeteries in North America. Still, the information is applicable to Jewish cemeteries in Europe.
It not only describes hands-on techniques in how-to form, but it also provides a glossary of terminology involved in gravestone work.
This includes spelling out the difference between “preservation,” “restoration,” and “conservation”:
Preservation: To preserve, to keep safe from harm or injury. A great general purpose word to overview the whole field of historic preservation.
Restoration: To Restore, to bring back to an original or a former, more desirable condition. The layman’s term for fixing anything up, and try to make it look new again. It also implies, doing more then just preserving, regarding a memorial or stone statue.The re-lettering of historic inscriptions on a gravestone or tomb would be a good example of a restoration effort. This type of aggressive tactics is not considered beneficial, as they will compromise the historic integrity of the object. Re-lettering may also increase the rate of deterioration by exposing new areas of weakened stone to the weather. A better alternative would be to save what is left of the monument in question, and then place a plaque beside it with the inscription which has been lost.
Conservation: To Conserve, to prevent injury, decay, waste, or loss of.This has become the proper term, with its meaning in the historic preservation field becoming very specific. Performing procedures to help protect and stabilize an artifact. In this case a sculpture, gravestone, or monument.
Much of what we post on JHE centers on the conservation of Jewish cemeteries and gravestones. We would like to draw attention today to a particularly comprehensive web site that is a wealth of how-to and best practice information … Continue reading →
The current work has included clearing debris from the interior of the building and also emergency repairs to the roof, which had partially collapsed: Restoring masonry gables, preparing the roof framing, installing scaffolding for the restoration of the arch.
Photo courtesy of Grigori Arshinov
Removing debris from the interior of the synagogue. Photo courtesy of Grigori Arshinov
Scaffolding in the synagogue. Photo courtesy of Grigori Arshinov
Work on roof of Ostroh synagogue. Photo courtesy Grigori Arshinov
In recent decades, the pharmaceutical facility was removed from the Maharsha Synagogue, and its roof collapsed and also disappeared. The building is deteriorating rapidly, no longer protected from harsh winter weather. Descendants of Ostroh Jews who now reside in Israel came to an agreement with the regional authorities some years back to convert the ruined building into a museum, and the plan for its reconstruction was prepared. The Ukrainian side had even assembled timber for a new roof. The financial crisis of 2008, however, paralyzed all further efforts, and by now even the construction material that had been assembled has vanished.
Progress is being made in the restoration of the 17th century Great Maharsha Synagogue in Ostroh, Ukraine — and is being documented online with pictures of the ongoing work. Built in 1627, the synagogue is an early example … Continue reading →
Wooden synagogue in Ziezmariai, Lithuania under restoration. Photo: Aurimas Širvys
We reported in May that restoration work at the wooden synagogue in Žiežmariai, Lithuania was under way.
Samuel Gruber visited the site in October and has posted a detailed update of the status of work on his blog, with a photo gallery showing details of the work going on in the interior of the building and a detailed architectural description of the structure.
Three weeks ago we had the opportunity to visit the work and talk with the Mayor Vytenis Tomkus and the architect. We were lucky to have Vladimir Levin from the Center for Jewish Art in Jerusalem with us, since Valdimir had studied the building for the inventory and publication Synagogues of Lithuania. His advice on the restoration was especially valuable to the local architect. Both Vladimir and I stressed that the Žiežmariai synagogue’s greatest value was its authenticity, and that extreme effort was worth taking to protect and preserve every bit of original fabric in the building as possible.
The goal of the project should not be to fully restore the building, but to protect it and bring it to a level (new roof, water handling envelope, mechanical systems, etc.) to allow it to safely function as an exhibition and activity center. In this day when many other localities (such as Bilgorai, Poland) are eager to erect recreations of wooden synagogues the appeal of Žiežmariai must be its claim as the “real thing”.
The synagogue probably dates from the latter half of the 19th century and includes a prayer hall with 18 windows (one of them combined with a door).
We reported in May that restoration work at the wooden synagogue in Žiežmariai, Lithuania was under way. Samuel Gruber visited the site in October and has posted a detailed update of the status of work on his blog, with … Continue reading →
News has come of the death of Yaffa Eliach, 79, the scholar who — as the New York Times put it
survived the Nazi massacres of Jews in her Lithuanian town, and went on to document their daily life in a kaleidoscopic book and a haunting, three-story canyon of photographs at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington
Eliach was born in Eišiškės, known in Yiddish as Eishyshok — a small town about 70 km south of Vilnius, not much larger than a village. Millions of people have come to know the one-time shtetl through Eliach’s project — the extraordinary Tower of Faces (or Tower of Life) exhibition at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, which powerfully evokes the life — and lives — of the 3,500 Jews who lived there before the Holocaust.
Eliach was one of only 29 who survived the Shoah. The Times writes:
Her father, Moshe, a leather tannery owner, escaped a German roundup in September 1941 by jumping out a synagogue window. He took his wife, Zipporah; Yaffa; an older brother, Yitzhak; and a baby brother, Hayyim, into hiding. In two days, almost all the town’s Jews were shot to death in front of open pits.
In a secret loft in the ghetto of Radun, Yaffa’s baby brother was suffocated by other refugees who had clamped a hand over his face so that his cries would not betray them. In a pit under a pigsty on a farm owned by Christians, her mother gave birth to another boy, also named Hayyim. There Yaffa studied Hebrew, Yiddish and Polish, using the pit’s clay walls as a blackboard.
In the Tower of Faces, some 1,600 photographs of pre-war Eishyshok Jews are displayed in a space that soars upward three stories. Eliach’s book, There Was Once a World: A 900-Year Chronicle of the Shtetl of Eishyshok, details the history and Jewish life of the town in intimate detail.
The 3-story Tower of Faces in the Holocause Memorial Museum displays photographs from the Yaffa Eliach Shtetl Collection. — Photo: US Holocaust Memorial Museum
When JHE coordinator Ruth Ellen Gruber visited Eisiskes some years ago, she found many wooden houses, reminiscent of the pre-war shtetl, but little other sense of the Jewish history of the town. She wrote in her book Jewish Heritage Travel:
It felt, in fact, empty; the Jewish soul was now in Washington, DC. The main square had been destroyed and rebuilt; side streets were lined by neat wooden houses and log cabins, some of them painted bright colors. Tall crosses and other personal shrines stood in some front gardens.
The only testimony she could find were small memorials at the sites of the the mass executions of the local Jews — one where the men were killed and the other where the women and children were massacred.
Memorial to the women and children murdered on Sept. 25-26, 1941
The inscription, in Yiddish, Lithuanian and English, reads that in this place, on September 25 and 26, 1941, “the Nazi assassins and their local collaborationists murdered ferociously” about 2500 Jewish women and children.
News has come of the death of Yaffa Eliach, 79, the scholar who — as the New York Times put it survived the Nazi massacres of Jews in her Lithuanian town, and went on to document their daily life … Continue reading →