Posted on January 26th, 2015 by Rachel
A Town Known As Auschwitz: The Life and Death of a Jewish Community
Listening to Ms. Sandler speak.
On Sunday, January 25, the JMM was delighted to host a very special speaker, Shiri B. Sandler, U.S. Director the Auschwitz Jewish Center in Oświęcim, Poland along with over 95 audience members. In honor of the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz, Shiri spoke on the town of Oświęcim, which despite its long and varied history, is known for one thing: Auschwitz. However, for centuries prior to World War II, Oświęcim was home to Jews and non-Jews who lived rich and vibrant lives. And it is this side of Oświęcim’s story that Ms. Sandler sought to share. The goal of her talk was to illuminate the rich and deep history of the formerly Jewish town that has become known as the symbol of the Holocaust.
Jewish Street, with the Great Bet Midrash (on the right) and the Great Synagogue (on the left), early 20th century. Collection of Mirosław Ganobis.
Throughout her presentation, Ms. Sandler shared with us several wonderful images that together help tell Oświęcim’s story. Although her presentation was broken in to four segments: Early Years 1200s-1800s, Jewish life 1867-1939, Wartime 1939-1945, and Post-War Life and Memory, each highlighting Oświęcim’s transition over time, Ms. Sandler spent a great deal of time discussing what life was like for people directly before the war. One of the first images she shared was of a postcard that highlighted the vibrancy of Oświęcim’s Jewish community. She highlighted the rich social life with another photograph showing members of Poalei Yisrael association in the mid-1930s festively dressed in crowns and robes for the Jewish holiday of Purim. This photograph, stressed Ms. Sandler, really speaks to the essence of Jewish life in Oświęcim as one that both embraced individuality and togetherness.
Marta Swiderska (left) and Olga Pressler (right), 1934, Oświęcim. Collection of the Auschwitz Jewish Center.
Ms. Sandler also made a point to discuss the relationship between Jews and non-Jews in Oświęcim prior to its involvement in WWII. To do so, she shared a photograph of a group of boys on a public school field trip. Although it is easy to distinguish which boys are Jewish and which are catholic by their hats (Ms. Sandler explained that the students in the hats were Jewish while those without hats were catholic), the boys stand happily united in the photograph. Beyond this, Jews were also active participants in civic life, both in military service and political leadership. Ms. Sandler explained that although the mayor was frequently catholic, the deputy was often Jewish. To further illumine the harmonious relationships between Jews and non-Jews in the town, Shiri shared a photograph of two high school students on first day of classes. However, their close pose indicates that Marta Swiderska and Olga Pressler were more than schoolmates, they were best friends. Ms. Sandler explained that the photograph was taken by Olga’s father, a well-known photographer in Oswiecim, in 1934 when both girls were seventeen years old. Olga was Jewish and Marta was Catholic. The girls would meet frequently at each other’s houses and often went to the Sola River, a popular place for young people to socialize. Unfortunately, when the war broke out, Marta and Olga were forced apart. It was later discovered that Marta survived the war and still lives in Oswiecim; Olga Presler perished at Auschwitz. From there Ms. Sandler transitioned to a photograph of men walking through synagogue ruins gathering ruble. She explained that this photograph was taken in 1940 and shows the demolition of the destroyed Great Synagogue by KL Auschwitz prisoners. It is on the most poignant photographs in the exhibition as it stands in stark contrast with the vibrant images of Jewish life and indicates Oswiecim’s solemn transition into a camp.
Demolition of the destroyed Great Synagogue by the KL Auschwitz prisoners, c. 1940. Collection of Emilia Weźranowska.
To conclude her presentation, Ms. Sandler briefly discussed the impact of the Holocaust as well as rebuilding and remembering Oświęcim. It is estimated that close to 90% of the nearly 3.5 million pre-war Polish Jews perished. Thus, only about 350,000 Polish Jews survived the Holocaust. Despite the tragedy, Jews in Poland attempted to rebuild their lives both individually and as a community. Today the Auschwitz Jewish Center stands in Oświęcim and is dedicated to public education about the richness of pre-war life, the Holocaust, and the dangers of xenophobia and anti-Semitism.
It was a full house for this important talk.
A blog post by Carolyn Bevans, Museum Educator and Programs Associate. To read more posts from Carolyn, click HERE.
Posted on January 23rd, 2015 by Rachel
On Thursday, January 22, the JMM, in partnership with the Associated, hosted a special event for medical professionals to learn about our upcoming exhibition, Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America. The goal of the event was to spread the word about this landmark exhibit among medical professionals and also as an opportunity for the exhibition team to gain feedback about the exhibition that can help inform its development.
Drs. Ira Papel and Robert Keehn check out the displays.
Beyond Chicken Soup explores the interplay of cultural beliefs and medical practice and contributes to the contemporary conversation about health and medicine in America by illuminating the social meanings and values intrinsic to medical interactions. While national in scope, the exhibition focuses on many local stories and highlights the central role that our local community has played in the medical arena. To that end, the exhibition team has been actively seeking stories and artifacts to help flesh out exhibit themes. Having so many medical professionals from across the spectrum – including surgeons, pediatricians, pharmacists, orthopedists, ob/gyns, nurses, and even a mohel! – gave JMM staff the chance to learn about the experiences of a diverse group of local professionals.
Marvin shares details of the upcoming exhibit.
40 people attended the program and enjoyed having the chance to interact with the exhibit team. Curator, Karen Falk and collections manager, Joanna Church, created a temporary display of several fascinating objects and photographs that will be featured in the exhibit. These included such iconic items as “Mr. Bones”, a model skeleton created by Leon Schlossberg (courtesy of the Chesney Medical Archives), a medical artist, as a teaching tool at Hopkins; historical pharmaceutical tools from the collection of Adolf Ed Baer, a pharmacist who practiced in western Maryland; a doctor’s bag belonging to Dr. Morris Abramowitz who practiced medicine in East Baltimore in the first half of the 20th century; a silver tea set used by Sinai Hospital nurses; and a diploma from Louis Hamburger, who was among the first graduating class at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine in 1897. Staff members positioned at each of the display areas were armed with questions to ask guests about their specific experiences. Attendees were encouraged to provide answers to thought provoking questions such as “Why did you decide to become a doctor?” and “Do you ever pray with your patients?” designed to inspire conversation around topics that will be explored in depth in the exhibit.
Trustee Rikki Specter with some doctor friends!
The event was hosted by four JMM board members who are also doctors – board president, Ira Papel; board vice president, Robert Keehn; Sheldon Bearman and Crystal Watkins Johannson. Remarks were presented by Ira Papel who thanked exhibition donors and encouraged attendees to spread the word about the exhibit. JMM executive director, Marvin Pinkert, further elaborated on why Beyond Chicken Soup is such an important project of local, national and even international significance.
Researcher Alicia Puglionesi collects stories from attendees.
Thursday evening provided the JMM with our first opportunity to showcase Beyond Chicken Soup to an important constituency. We were delighted by the enthusiastic response we received by everyone in attendance, including several people who had never visited the JMM previously. We look forward to following up on many of the leads provided that will help enrich the exhibit’s content. Please help us continue to spread the word about this exciting project.
Posted on January 21st, 2015 by Rachel
Despite the icy weather this past Sunday, Rabbi Ronnie Perelis of the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies of Yeshiva University transported us both back in time and to a much warmer and sunnier place – the Caribbean. Before there were thriving Jewish communities in cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Charleston and Savannah, most Jews in the Americas lived in the Caribbean. They were part of a dynamic Sephardic network of trade and culture which connected major metropolitan centers such as Amsterdam and London to colonial ports such as Curacao and Kingston.
Rabbi Perelis welcomes the crowd.
Rabbi Perelis began his talk around the turn of the 16th century, in 1492, when Christopher Columbus set sail for the New World and as the Spanish Inquisition reached its peak. In the “Prologue” of his Diary dedicated to the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, Christopher Columbus writes “And thus after having expelled all of the Jews from your kingdoms and possessions, in the same month of January, Your Royal Highnesses sent me . . . to these parts of the Indies. . .” Then, within 5 years of Spain expelling its Jews, Portugal followed suit. Iberian Jews were forced to either practiced their faith in secret or seek refuge in the cities and towns of Europe, North Africa, the Near East, and even as far as Dutch-ruled Brazil.
Rabbi Perelis shared some great images.
However, in 1654, Portugal regained control of Brazil and continued the expulsion of its Jewish colonists. As a result, most either returned to Holland or relocated to Caribbean colonies. In hopes of building a new life, a small group of Jewish refugees settled in New Amsterdam. As the Jewish community continued to grow in the subsequent years, they appealed to the government in an effort to gain the rights offered to other settlers, such as the right to engage in civic duties and to own property.
In response, George Washington wrote to the Newport Hebrew Congregation in 1790 that
“happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support… May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
Throughout his talk, Rabbi Perelis shared several intriguing maps, drawings and artifacts. Among my favorites were:
Illuminated Ketuba of Meir Meyerstone and Rebekah De Meza on November 7, 1819 New York
Solomon Carvalho painted the interior of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim from memory after the synagogue was destroyed by fire in 1838. He offered the canvas to the congregation “for such Compensation as the Board may deem proper to allow.” They judged it to be “neat & accurate” and paid him $50.
Interior of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim by Carvahlo
John Rubens Smith (1770-1840). Jews Synagogue in Charleston [Beth Elohim], ca. 1812.
Overall, Rabbi Perelis’ talk was incredibly informative and a great first program in our Sephardic Lecture Series.
You definitely don’t want to miss the second, and final talk in this series: Ladino, a Language of the Jewish Diaspora
. Dr. Adriana Brodsky of St. Mary’s College of Maryland will talk about the history and current state of Ladino, a Jewish language that arose in the Iberian Peninsula and spread in the wake of the expulsion of Jews in 1492 as new Jewish communities settled throughout the Mediterranean region.
La Epoca was a Judeo-Spanish newspaper.
Rabbi Perelis also sent me a list of books that may be of interest!
Atlantic Diasporas: Jews, Conversos, and Crypto-Jews in the Age of Mercantilism, 1500–1800, edited by Richard L. Kagan and Philip D. Morgan
Jews in the Caribbean, edited by Jane Gerber
A Nation upon the Ocean Sea: Portugal’s Atlantic Diaspora and the Crisis of the Spanish Empire, 1492-1640; Daviken Studnicki-Gizbert
A blog post by Carolyn Bevans, Museum Educator and Programs Associate. To read more posts from Carolyn, click HERE.