A “Memorial to the Idiocy of Nazi Censorship”

View into the empty library on today's Bebelplatz

Book Burning Memorial
This photo by Charlotte Nordahl is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

May 10th marked the climax of spring 1933’s “Action against the Un-German Spirit” (Aktion wider den undeutschen Geist), an uprising of German students against professors who were political dissidents or Jewish, as well as ‘subversive writing’ (zersetzendes Schrifttum). We all know the images of the carefully prepared book burning in Berlin. Micha Ullmann’s memorial on today’s Bebelplatz responds to the notorious call to flames with a hauntingly quiet and empty library.

The Jewish Museum Berlin is now exhibiting some of the books which were taken off their shelves and thrown onto the pyre. The items on display are from George Warburg’s collection.

Viewing the bindings, the layouts, and the printing of these works is a pleasure in itself. We were all the more touched by George Warburg’s motivation for building his collection: in this video interview, he explains not only which works are his favorites, but he also describes his collection as an attempt, retroactively, to save the books which were burned, banned, and eliminated by National Socialists.

His “memorial to the idiocy of Nazi censorship” returns the volumes to daylight which are remembered in Ullmann’s subterranean library.

Mirjam Wenzel, Media


Names have meaning…

They betray the hopes, dreams, and projections of fathers and mothers,they follow trends, and foretell the future of their bearers.
For Jews many decisions are connected to the naming of a child: should the name underscore his religious affiliation, only be recognizable to other Jews, or neither? Will it be a name native to the family’s country of origin or to the child’s country of birth? Has the name been translated? Does it memorialize someone? Colleagues and friends of the Jewish Museum Berlin share their thoughts with this blog, on this and other questions.

Children's painting of the prophetess Miriam with her timbrel

Miriam dancing © Miriam Lubrich

Miriam / Mirjam
Soon there will be four women working along the hallway that my office is on, who all have the same first name that I have: Mirjam or, in some cases, Miriam. Even while the etymology is not completely unambiguous, the triumphant prophetess with the timbrel is namesake to each of us – that Miriam who roused the women to dance a dance of joy after the Israelites had fled from Egypt and divided the Red Sea (2. Moses 14, 20). With that, the sister of Moses and Aron took her rightful place among scripture’s female figures – women like both of the wives of the first man Adam, Lillith and Eve – who showed their rebellious traits: Miriam asserted the claim that God also spoke through her. She was consequently struck with a skin rash and had to wait for seven days outside of the encampment before she was allowed to live among the congregation of her desert-crossing brethren (4. Moses 12, 1-16).

Is it an accident that this combative woman lent her name to so many employees of the Jewish Museum Berlin?  continue reading


Stories of Heroes and Wrangling with History

Man in front of golden statue

Tobias Schabel as Wallenberg, photo: Ingo Hoehn © Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe

Raoul Wallenberg, who has been celebrated for decades as a great hero, would have turned 100 this year. The son of a Swedish family of bankers travelled to Budapest at the beginning of July 1944 on behalf of the War Refugee Board, in order to warn Jews living there of their coming destruction. He used his diplomatic immunity to issue Swedish passports for their protection as well as to create safe housing and is believed to have saved tens of thousands from death. Wallenberg disappeared at the end of the war, allegedly dying in a Russian prison. The first memorial to him had already been erected in Budapest by 1949.  continue reading

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