Inventory and the Crystal Chandelier: A Journey Into Deep Intellectual Thought

Posted on June 18th, 2015 by

The Good Soldier and myself in Przemysl, Poland.

The Good Soldier and myself in Przemysl, Poland.

After spending six weeks abroad in the beautiful country of Poland during my senior year of college, I have embarked on a professional and academic journey into Holocaust studies. While it is clearly not a cheerful topic, it is one that I find to be challenging and interesting. My graduate school experience at the George Washington University, where I am a MA Museum Studies student, has included an internship with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Sociology of the Holocaust and Genocide course, and two Holocaust related classes planned for my final year. I am thankful for my internship with JMM, because through all of the horrors and devastations of the Holocaust which I have studied, this museum is a reminder of the vibrant Jewish culture which managed to survive and thrive after the Holocaust.

One of my primary projects over this summer is to perform the scheduled inventory of the JMM permanent collection. While going through a drawer, I came across two items, a crystal facet and crystal pendant, accompanied by an incredible provenance. Once again, the Holocaust became a focus point for my work.

Crystal Chandelier Facet. JMM 1986.072.032

Crystal Chandelier Facet. JMM 1986.072.032

Crystal Chandelier Pendant. JMM 1986.072.033

Crystal Chandelier Pendant. JMM 1986.072.033

In December of 1938, just a month after Krystallnacht (the systematic burning of Germany’s synagogues by the Nazis) Richard Zurndorfer escaped Germany and traveled to Baltimore, MD. He managed to bring several items with him, including these crystal pieces, belonging to a chandelier from a synagogue in Mhringen, Germany, which was destroyed during Kystallnacht. A census list of European Jews and a Torah were also brought over. JMM is now home to these items.

The story of Mr. Zurnforfer made me think about how important artifacts are. While museums are always evolving to remain relevant to the public, it is crucial to remember the value of artifacts. This collection meant a great deal to Mr. Zurnforfer, who was described as “A man with respect for old traditions, he sticks like printer’s ink to his family artifacts – largely because they are the artifacts of his family,” by reporter Isaac Rehert of The Sun on January 17, 1978. In regards to the objects, Rehert says, “They tell the story of a thriving Jewish community acknowledged and valued by its sovereign, with roots deep down in Germany’s culture, with hardly a hint of the tragedy that was to overtake it.”

Whether coming across these items was strictly a coincidence, or an act of fate, I am again reminded about why I have chosen to work in museum collections. Artifacts facilitate relationships and lead to connections. In this case, the Holocaust becomes more than a Nazi, Jewish, or European issue. It becomes a Maryland, Baltimore, and JMM intern issue. I hope to have more intense thought provoking experiences like this one while I continue to inventory the collection!

IMG_0985A blog post by Collections Intern Kaleigh Ratliff. To read more posts from interns click HERE.

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Inventory, Inventory, Inventory (or…where is all that stuff??)

Posted on July 10th, 2012 by

A blog post by Photo Archives Intern Matt Oliva.

The process for photograph inventory is simple; sit down in a small basement room in front of a computer and grab a large box of photos. Inside that box will be several archival folders. Inside those folders reside dozens, if not hundreds of photographs. Locate the object number on the back of the image; type it into the computer and go. Then repeat this process for several hours a day, five days a week. If this doesn’t sound like the best job ever to you too, you’re probably crazy.  The JMM’s photograph collection is vast and full of really interesting pictures, from Victorian cabinet cards to portraits of children:

1992.242.006.037b and 1992.242.005.031a

Even though the boxes and folders are labeled, the actually content of the images is usually a complete surprise. In one box you might find an incredible turn of the century studio portrait:


And in the next, snapshots of women showing off the best of 1980’s fashion.

2000.135.035 and 2000.135.049

While I’ve been perfectly happy working with pieces of paper for the last five weeks, for the past two days all of the archive interns have been thrown into the world of three dimensions through object inventory. Where working with the photograph collection is basically a desk job with a lot of minute tasks, object inventory is the opposite. Object inventory is carrying a very valuable looking cut glass jar down a maybe four foot wide aisle while attempting not to run into the two other interns walking towards you with objects and simultaneously avoid the large box that appeared in the middle of the floor while your back was turned. Object inventory isn’t pulling photographs out of a folder individually; it’s clearing an entire shelf of extremely breakable objects one at a time to get to a single tiny paperweight that somehow ended up at the very back. It’s cringing whenever you hear a clink or bang from anywhere in the room.


Working with objects is really a great change of pace from my entirely photograph-based existence. There’s something incredibly interesting about actual but unusual household objects; the Cyrillic typewriter, the ornate art deco trophies, or the entire shelf of porcelain spittoons. Until these past few days I had never really considered working with anything but photographs or documents, as photography was my first love and what brought me to the museum field. I’m really excited to see what other items I find in the next few weeks, and experience different parts of the museum world.

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The Secret Lives of Interns: Week 4

Posted on July 1st, 2009 by

Week four kept our interns as busy as always. Collections interns are still up to their eyebrows doing inventory – at week’s close we had completed 57.7% of the 3D objects! Stephanie, Alison’s girlfriend, came in and lent a hand for a day. She also spent some time numbering photographs, completing nearly an ENTIRE box in a single afternoon!

Wow, that’s a LOT of photos! Go Stephanie!

WHEW! What a week?! Collections Inventory is the excitement that bustles around these parts…still. And boy is it fun! I am very excited and proud of myself this week after hearing about my achievement of doing 51.2% of the 50% of all the 3D objects! I think the word is awesome, but I have also learned that collections isn’t about achievements and victories but being thorough and patient. I feel like I’ve made a solid system for myself and it is working, if I hadn’t then I might not be as jubilant about it. Also, the great pencil war has begun! And my pencil is dwindling to the win! I can’t believe the weeks are flying by, what an exciting time to be an intern, seriously. – Sean


(Sean thinks he’s got this pencil competition in the bag, but with a little outside assistance from our volunteer Debbie, the staff is going strong, so he and the rest of the interns better watch their backs! Or better yet, their pencil points…)

Thanks Debbie!


Outside of inventory, collections interns continued to work on their own projects. Watch out for a special blog post from Alison, our archives intern! Kim has continued to scope out library acquisitions policies and Berkley had some excitement across the street!

I spent some time at the Lloyd Street Synagoge taking pictures of different areas of renovation. To everyone’s surprise there were bones unearthed in one of the areas of excavation at a very shallow service of the construction process. – Berkley

We all (staff and interns alike!) got to spend some quality time helping out Development with a mailing. Nothing like folding and stuffing envelopes to bring out some wacky conversations! We passed the time telling each other some of our favorite jokes. Mine? Well, since you insist – What’s brown and sticky?



Interns outside of collections were just as busy:

I had a great week at the Jewish Museum and in Baltimore! Aside from working on the Grants calendar project and helping with over 700 mailings during her days at the Museum, I mourned the death of Michael Jackson along with the rest of the world. I also went mini-golfing(!). – Ilana

I spent my time finalizing details for our “Brews and Schmooze” party with JT Waldman. I made sure we are getting falafel, Cold Stone ice cream, and kosher beer. I also helped Simone write a short calendar release for the event. In addition, I spent some time researching “baby boomer” generation movies, music, and television shows that could be adapted to be “Jewish” in the hopes of having special events for JMM’s 50th with baby boomer generation entertainment. – Rebecca

I have been working on a project to turn the Leo Burger Immigrant’s Trunk into lesson plans and activities suitable for young children. It has been enjoyable thinking of games and materials that can be used for early childhood education. The other day I came up with the idea to make a board game, Golden Land (based on Candy Land). – Amanda


Can you see what I see?



Last week Friday, a total of 60 lovely 6 and 7 year olds from Shiloh Camp went on a scavenger hunt in B’nai Israel Synagogue. They were given a list of eight words and a couple of minutes to find objects within the synagogue. They swished through the pews like detectives determined to find what they thought were hidden objects. Although I had a great time watching them help one another with the scavenger hunt, it was most rewarding to know many had walked off from such an eventful day with a new vocabulary word. The scavenger hunt transformed into an educational achievement. As the education staff and interns waved goodbye to the kids from Shiloh Smart Camp, many ran up to say they had “the best time of their lives.” – Giselle

(A hint to those who may want to go on their own B’nai Israel scanvenger hunt, the Star of David pictured above is located on top of the Israeli Flag!)

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