After hundreds of personal interviews, extensive research and exhaustive documentation throughout Maryland, the Jewish Museum of Maryland opened a compelling exhibition on synagogue life and architecture on May 16, 1999. Cornerstones of Community: The Historic Synagogues of Maryland explores the relationship between the physical buildings and the lives of the congregants who built and used them. The exhibit, which will be on display for over a year features hundreds of artifacts, photographs, historic documents, original blue prints, architectural drawings and music collected from Jewish communities throughout Maryland.
While including information about synagogues throughout Maryland, Cornerstones of Community focuses on Baltimore, the historic center of Maryland's Jewish communal life. The exhibit enables visitors to discover the social history of the Baltimore and Maryland Jewish community and the changing architectural styles of synagogue design. The exhibit emphasizes the evolving roles of synagogue buildings, from houses of worship to active social and community centers. Cornerstones of Community spotlights more than 50 former and current synagogues around the state. While Baltimoreans will enjoy seeing images and objects recalling their personal synagogue experience, out-of-town visitors are encouraged to use the exhibit themes and content to explore similar developments in their own communities.
Cornerstones of Community was developed in conjunction with hundreds of community members. To fully understand the impact of synagogue development and Jewish life in Maryland, Jewish Museum of Maryland staff and volunteers spent over a year collecting the stories, objects and images from the state's Jewish community. More than 150 people provided oral histories and donated objects for display in the exhibit. The exhibit is co-curated by Dr. David E. Kaufman, an expert in the social and religious history of American synagogues and Melissa Martens, Assistant Curator for the Museum. Kaufman and Martens poured through the Jewish Museum's entire collection to identify those objects and artifacts that best show synagogue life from different generations. "We want exhibit visitors to use the exhibit to recall their synagogue experiences", notes Kaufman. "By viewing familiar objects or recognizing songs, we intend for them to better understand how their lives were affected by these monumental structures and the activities that occurred within them."
Special programs will be presented throughout the duration of the exhibit including talks on many of the themes introduced in the exhibit and trips to historic synagogues across the city and state.
Lithuanian Jewish Museum Rises from the Ashes
by Howard Margol
In this century, there have been three Jewish museums established in Vilnius. The first opened in 1913, when local intellectuals established a Society of Lovers of Jewish Antiquity and a museum. Most of its collection of Jewish folklore, art, music, and published and unpublished materials was destroyed during World War I. After 1919, the Society and the museum were revived.
On the eve of World War II, the museum had accumulated more than 6,000 books, thousands of historical works and documents, various publications in eleven different languages, and a rich folklore collection. There were ancient coins as well as 3,000 works of art. The contents of this museum were nearly all destroyed during World War II.
After the Soviet liberation in 1944, the second museum was started by survivors of the Nazi occupation. They extracted damaged paintings, sculptures, books, letters of famous Jewish writers, the diary of Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, as well as other valuable documents out of cellars, attics, and pits. Unfortunately, approximately thirty tons of invaluable documents that survived were sent to paper mills by the local Soviet authorities. Even with that, there remained thousands and thousands of extremely valuable items and artifacts scattered about and stacked as high as the ceiling in the former Ghetto jail. This second museum had a very short life. The Soviet authorities closed the museum on June 10, 1949. Its collection was scattered among other Lithuanian museums and archives.
The late 1980s saw a strong revival of a Lithuanian national movement, and of a Jewish national cultural movement. On October 1, 1989 the Soviet Lithuanian authorities permitted the opening of the third Jewish museum in Vilnius. Emanuelis Zingeris, a young academic, was the first Chairman of the Museum. He later became the first Jewish member of the Lithuanian Parliament and still serves in the Parliament today. The main responsibility for maintaining the museum, and building its collections, fell on the shoulders of Rachel Kostanian, the present Director. Ms. Kostanian devotes her life to the museum. In addition to taking visitors through the museum, she fills many speaking engagements in various European countries.
The Jewish Museum researches, collects, and exhibits material on Lithuanian Jewish history and culture. Museum staff assists the local Lithuanian community and visitors from abroad to acquire knowledge about the history, destruction, and contemporary life of Lithuanian Jews. The museum receives a small amount of financial support from the Lithuanian government that is augmented by contributions from individuals but there is a continuous struggle to acquire funds to sustain itself, increase its collection of materials and artifacts, and mount exhibitions.
Occasionally, the staff includes one or two volunteers from Austria's Gedenkdienst program. Gedenkdienst is the German word for "memory work" or "memory service". Under the program, young Austrians who conscientiously object to compulsory military service are given the option to assist the remnants of the Eastern European Jewish communities. At the museum, the Austrian youth give tours in English and/or German. They also travel to other parts of Lithuania, speaking to adults and school groups, about the Holocaust. But, their most moving contribution is guiding Germans and Austrians through the Museum and showing them photographs and other documentation of the destruction of 94% of the Pre-World War II Jewish community of Lithuania.
Two years ago, the Museum discovered the 1942 Vilnius Ghetto list of Jewish residents that was stored in one of the archives in Vilnius. The Jewish Museum staff prepared a computerized database of the entire list of 15,000 names, including year of birth, occupation, and the ghetto address at which each individual lived. The result was published by the museum as a book containing the entire list of names with extremely interesting information about what life was like in Vilnius after the German occupation. A second volume containing an alphabetized list of the ghetto Jews and also the names of all of the Jews who were in various work camps in the area around Vilnius is planned. Museum workers also discovered the original 1942 census list of the Kaunas (Kovno) and Siauliai (Shavel) ghettos that will be published when the Museum has the necessary funds.
The main office of the Jewish Museum is located in the Holocaust Museum, Valstybinis Vilniaus Gaono Zydu Muziejus (The Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum), 12 Pamenkalnio, Vilnius 2001, Lithuania. A branch of the Museum is located in the Jewish Community Center building in Vilnius where approximately 250 items in all - are displayed.
If you are interested in helping to support the Museum, please contact the American Fund For Lithuanian-Latvian Jews, Inc., 4430 Mt. Paran Parkway NW, Atlanta, Georgia 30327. Telephone (404) 261-8662. All donations are tax deductible.
Fürth Jewish Museum Exhibits Rediscovered Viennese Memory Book
By Samuel Gruber
For most contemporary Jews, the image of a Memory Book (Yizker-bikher or Memorbuch), is of the type compiled in recent decades following the destruction of Jewish Communities in the Shoah. Survivors and descendants of hundreds of cities, towns and villages pool their memories, family photos, and resources to compile and publish accounts of their lost loved ones, and the world in which they lived. This tradition has been important for Jewish communities wishing to memorialize their dead after pogroms and persecutions, at times when bodies could not be properly recovered, buried and marked, or when Jews were expelled from communities and were forced to leave their cemeteries behind, untended and unrecorded. One aspect of modern Jewish genealogy - the recording of names in cemeteries, has its origins in this tradition. The compilation of memorial books, however, goes back at least until the Middle Ages, when the custom of reading names developed after the massacres of the Rhine communities during the First Crusade; to this were added the names of the victims of other catastrophes. During the persecution the followed the Black Death (1348-49) mostly place names were included, as the numbers and names of individuals killed were too numerous and uncertain to be listed fully. As a record of Jewish tribulation the memorbuch constitutes of special type of Jewish history writing. In the words of historian Yosif Hayim Yerushalmi: "Yet although memorbücher may contain important historical information, they cannot be regarded as historiography. Typically, their major purpose was to preserve the names of those for whose souls communal prayers were to be offered in the house of worship" (Zakhor, p. 46). It became customary to read off the list of names in a ceremony on the Sabbath before Shavuot (when the first Crusade massacres took place). The reading from the memorbuch was considered obligatory in many German Jewish communities. Over time additional catastrophes were included in memorbücher, and local variants developed - including lists of local personages. For this reason, perhaps, memorbücher were kept in manuscript form - not as printed books.
In 1998, one of the most complete Jewish memorial books was rediscovered by a second-hand book dealer when clearing the apartment of a couple who moved into a home for older people. The book dealer is located in the Bavarian (Germany) town of Fürth, once a thriving Jewish center (among the contemporary Jewish notables who trace their ancestry to the town are former American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the father of the popular singer-songwriter Billy Joel). This book, brought to Fürth from Vienna in 1670, was updated until 1932. When the synagogue of Fürth was destroyed on Kristallnacht in 1938, the manuscript was thought to have been destroyed. Now, it will reside in the Jüdisches Museum Franken in Fürth.
In 1624, The Habsburg Emperor Ferdinand II ordered the creation of a ghetto in Vienna, the so-called "Judenstadt am unteren Werd" (Jewish town by the Lower Werd). Several years later the Memorial Book of the Klaus Synagogue of Fürth was begun at one of the synagogues in the ghetto. It contains the prayers that are read from the pulpit and continuous entries dedicated to deceased members of the congregation. When Emperor Leopold I ordered the expulsion of the Jews form Vienna in 1670 the Fränkel family brought the manuscript with them to Fürth.
Bärmann Fränkel (born before 1670) was the Chief Rabbi of the principality of Ansbach. He officiated at the synagogues of Schnaittach and Fürth, where he founded the Klaus Synagogue (1708) and left the memorial book.
The book was on view at the Jüdisches Museum der Stadt Wien (Jewish Museum of the City of Vienna) through March, 1999 in an exhibition organized by the Jewish Museums of Fürth and Schnaittach. The exhibition, with the manuscript at it center, provided a look at the 365 year history of the book and the historical circumstances in which it was created, used, lost and recovered. From July 15, 1999, it will be on display at the Jewish Museum Franconia in Fürth (after its inauguration on July 15, 1999). The Jüdisches Museum Franken has published an illustrated 60-page catalogue (Bernhard Purin, ed.:Buch der Erinnerung. Das Wiener Memorbuch der Fürther Klaus-Synagoge, Fürth 1999) which is available in their Museum (Nürnberger Straße 3, D-90762 Fürth)
Lipot Baumhorn Spotlighted at Exhibition in Budapest
By Ruth Ellen Gruber
BUDAPEST -- The first definitive exhibition on the life and work of Lipot Baumhorn, the turn-of-the-century Hungarian architect who was Europe's most prolific designer of synagogues, opened in January at Budapest's Jewish Museum. The exhibit runs through May, 1999, and maybe longer, and is a must-see experience for anyone interested in modern Hungarian Jewish history, synagogue architecture, and the changing relationship between Jews and Jewish heritage and mainstream Hungarian society. Baumhorn (1860-1932) studied with Odon Lechner, the founder of Hungary's national art nouveau architectural style. His work was part of the remarkable efflorescence of design and building in Hungary in the decades before World War I. Exhibition curators, art historian Gyorgy Szego and architecture historian Andras Hadik, established nearly 40 synagogues and other Jewish communal or religious structures designed by Baumhorn in towns and cities all over what before World War I was part of Hungary.
These included more than two-dozen synagogues that he designed or remodeled between 1888 and his death, as well as tombs, communal buildings and also several synagogues that never were built.
Co-sponsored by the Jewish Museum and Budapest's Architecture Museum, the exhibit displays an enormous quantity of documentation, including original drawings, plans, blueprints, photographs, and newspaper clippings, gathered from archives in Budapest and in the provinces. Much of the material comes from the Baumhorn papers donated to the Jewish Museum by Baumhorn's son-in-law and partner, Gyorgy Somogyi.
Virtually every building Baumhorn designed is documented, some with extensive material detailing every phase of construction. The exhibit is displayed in two halls, one devoted to Baumhorn's secular works -- banks, apartment houses, villas, schools -- and the other to his synagogues and religious structures.
The material puts Baumhorn's work in context architecturally by showing designs by other architects. In particular, material on Lechner shows how some of Baumhorn's trademark elements, such as the use of decoration incorporated into structure, derive from Lechner's work. Particularly fascinating are side-by-side comparisons of designs Baumhorn entered in synagogue design competitions with designs by other competing architects. The exhibit also puts Baumhorn's work into context historically, illustrating how his synagogue designs reflected the changing fortunes of Hungary's Jews. The designs fall into two clear periods. One was the prosperous, optimistic decades before World War I, when Jews eagerly adopted Hungarian identity after emancipation. The other was the period after 1918, marked by tensions, including rising anti-Semitism, resulting from the loss of World War I and Hungary's dismemberment.
Baumhorn's Synagogue at Lucenec, Slovakia. Photo: Ruth E. Gruber
What is lacking in the exhibit are contemporary photographs showing the state of Baumhorn's synagogues today. This is a particularly sad omission, as in documentation prepared for the exhibit Gyorgy Szego stressed that one of the reasons to hold the show was to sensitize people to the poor state of some of them.
Baumhorn's synagogues survived World War II, but they suffered the fate of most synagogues in central Europe: Most were torn down (Zrenjanin, Rijeka, Eger, Murska Sobota, etc) or converted for secular use including art galleries (Szolnok and Nitra), a concert hall (Novi Sad), offices (Esztergom), sports halls (Budapest Dozsa Gyorgy St. and Cegled), a housewares store (Gyongyos), and others. Some were left disused or derelict (Budapest Pava St.) or in ruins (Lucenec). About half a dozen are still in use.
Baumhorn's masterpiece, the magnificent great synagogue in Szeged, remains consecrated as a synagogue but also used as a concert hall by the city.
(The third edition of Ruth Ellen Gruber's Jewish Heritage Travel has just been published [Jason Aronson, 1999]. Her newest book, Klezmer in the Wilderness, will soon be published by the University of California Press.)
International Survey of Jewish Monuments
c/o Jewish Heritage Research Center
Box 210, 118 Julian Pl.
Syracuse, New York 13210-3419, USA
tel: (315) 474-2350
fax: (315) 474-2347