Oct 18, 2011


Jewish Museum Vienna

The collections of the Jewish Museum Vienna

Collecting and Remembering
The Visible Storage area provides an insight into the Museum’s main holdings: the Jewish Community, Max Berger, Martin Schlaff, and Eli Stern collections, and new acquisitions and gifts. The objects come from synagogues, prayer houses, Jewish institutions, and private homes. They were often removed by force from their original contexts. They are arranged by windows that give a glimpse of the origins of the exhibited objects. The positioning of the objects and a computer animation of the Vienna synagogues offer a virtual tour of the Jewish history of Vienna and other Austrian communities. The Max Berger collection revisits locations in the old Austro-Hungarian monarchy, while the Eli Stern collection extends as far as Jerusalem. The showcase “Vienna and the World” provides a look at Jewish history after 1945 and at present-day Jewish life.
The IKG Collection
By far the largest holding of the Jewish Museum Vienna is the collection of the Jewish Community, which gave their stock to the Museum as a permanent loan in 1992. This is only partly a collection in the classic museum sense, and can more accurately be described as the remainder of the world’s first Jewish museum, which was founded in 1895 in Vienna. The second part of the Jewish Community stock should be understood more as a selection than a collection. It comprises ceremonial objects that used to stand in Vienna’s formerly numerous synagogues and prayer houses, and in Jewish communities in other provinces, from which they were violently ripped out in 1938. These objects are in that sense not only a testimony to the magnificent history of Austrian Jewry, but forced into a museum context, also evidence of the community’s annihilation. This stock reminds us that these objects, beyond their aesthetic value and beyond all historical sensation, also document destruction and dehumanization.
The First Jewish Museum Collection
The first inventory entry in a Jewish museum was made exactly 120 years ago. On February 24, 1893, the first Jewish museum in Vienna – and in the world for that matter – was given the early eighteenth-century book “Die alten jüdischen Heiligtümer, Gottesdienste und Gewohnheiten” written by Johannes Lundius. It was donated by the doctor Emanuel Kolisch, who died at the end of that same year. This object, which inaugurated the idea and vision of a Jewish museum, today an integral component of the art and cultural scene of many cities and countries, is listed as missing today. In fact, not only this item but more than half of the objects in the first Jewish museum are missing. The Museum was closed in March 1938 by the Nazis and its collection confiscated by the Gestapo. Some of the items were incorporated in the inventories of the Museum of Ethnology, the Austrian National Library, the Natural History Museum, and other institutions. These items were restituted between 1949 and the 1990s to the Jewish Community of Vienna (IKG) as legal successor. The remaining objects are still missing, and only a few have turned up on the art and antiques market so far.
Vienna and the World - The Jewish Museum Vienna Collection
Collection in the museum is not just a question of keeping and researching the material Jewish legacy of the past. As a point of identification, a Jewish museum also considers contemporary phenomena. Topical issues like migration and globalization and the challenges of a multicultural society have an impact on the self-image of a Jewish community and are reflected in modern art, but also in religion and everyday culture. The showcase “Vienna and the world” therefore shows new purchases, gifts, and permanent loans that the Museum itself has acquired in the twenty-five years since its establishment.
The Berger Collection
The Berger collection is one of the world’s most renowned collections of Judaica, comprising objects mostly from the Habsburg era and region, and ranging from the rare, like a bejeweled Torah crown, to the more commonplace, like a Scroll of Esther in its case. Max Berger was born in 1924 in Poland. He was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust, coming to Vienna in the 1950ies. In memory of his family and in search of the few remaining traces of a destroyed world, he began to tirelessly collect Judaica objects, mainly from Austria and the wider Austro-Hungarian space. Berger was fascinated by both elaborate, resplendent objects as well as more common or naïf folklore items. By the time of his death in 1988, he had collected around 10,000 objects, which offer unique insight and an impressive testimony of Jewish life in Vienna and Austro-Hungary. Following his wishes, the City of Vienna acquired the bulk of this extensive collection for the Jewish Museum, which was then already in the planning phase.The Max Berger collection is currently one of the main collections of the Jewish Museum Vienna, second in size only to the Jewish Community collection. In 2010, after the death of Mrs. Trude Berger, the widow of Max Berger, the Jewish Museum Vienna received additional Judaica. This newly added inventory contains 3275 objects.
Martin Schlaf - Anti-Semitica Collection
In 1993, Martin Schlaff donated his collection of around 5,000 objects to the Jewish Museum Vienna. This collection has a special place within the museum inventory. It includes figurines, everyday objects, postcards, documents and books reflecting anti-Semitic attitudes. The collector wanted to make the objects and documents available for research but also wished quite deliberately to remove them from the market and from buyers with anti-Semitic sentiments. The three-dimensional objects from the Schlaff Collection can be seen in the Visible Storage area of the museum as a way of demonstrating quite simply that images are formed in the mind and that the stereotypes are created by the cultural legacy that determines our view of the world and of ourselves. The showcases have mirrors, and the figures have their backs turned to the visitors, who cannot thus see their faces clearly and are also confronted by their own reflection. In an interview shown together with the Collection in the Visible Storage area, Martin Schlaff describes very personally what prompted him to start the collection and why, in his opinion it belongs in the Jewish Museum Vienna.
The Eli Stern Collection
In 1994, the Jewish Museum Vienna acquired the extensive collection of Eli Stern, which comprises, among others, books, ritual objects, textiles and documents, as well as a particularly captivating assortment of some 2,300 postcards dating from 1900 to 1950. Rich in variety and of wildly differing origins, the postcards mirror the many perspectives of the time on the ‘Holy Land’, with idealized German-language cards aimed at Catholic pilgrims side by side with pictorials showing the modern urban planning and Bauhaus architecture of Tel Aviv by pioneers of the Zionist movement, as well as a few isolated postcards from neighboring Arab lands. A further theme covered in the collection is East European Jewry, with Czech, Slovak, Hungarian and Polish postcards depicting everyday life and customs as well as portraits of local luminaries.
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