In World War I

The Festival of Liberation at the Front

Yesterday evening, Monday, 14 April 2014, was the start of the eight-day Passover festivities. These kick off each year with the first Seder, the name of which derives from the Hebrew word seder, meaning order, because a particular ritual sequence is observed the entire evening.

The ritual Seder program is laid down in the Haggadah, an often beautifully illustrated book. (Incidentally, some especially precious Haggadot are currently on display in our special exhibition “The Creation of the World” and our director of archives recently described in his blog why even a nondescript Haggadah might be of great value to a museum.) Traditional texts and songs are recited from the Haggadah. Symbolic dishes and drinks deck the tables, ready to be consumed at specific moments during the evening.

Men in uniform occupy seats in a theater auditorium.

German soldiers celebrate Passover in the occupied town of Jelgava (near Riga). © Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: anonymous. Donated by Lore Emanuel

But why is this night different from all other nights? This is a question that Jews all over the world ask themselves year after year at the Seder dinner. The answer is: it is the festival of liberation, for it commemorates the Israelites’ exodus from slavery in ancient Egypt. Everyone is supposed to feel, each year, as if she or he personally is about to leave Egypt. As a token of tribute to this new-won freedom, people comfortably recline while eating and drinking—for to take this position was the prerogative solely of free individuals in antiquity, not of slaves.  continue reading

The story of Uri Kozower

Photo of Gisela and Phillip Kozower with their baby in 1932

Gisela and Philipp Kozower with their daughter Eva in August of 1932
© Friends of the Jewish Museum New York, Princeton; photographer: unknown, donated by Klaus M. Zwilsky

Lawyer Philipp Kozower was 37 when he married the 23-year-old medical student Gisela in 1931. A year later she gave birth to their first child, a daughter called Eva. The new parents had their picture taken with their baby in Berlin’s Monbijou Park: wearing a bright dress and straw hat, Gisela holds the baby towards the camera somewhat awkwardly, as if the picture should document that Eva exists.

By the time Eva’s sister Alice was born in 1934, the National Socialists had already enacted numerous laws against Jews as well as taken measures to exclude them from public life. Our online project “1933: The beginning of the end of German Jewry” presents a variety of source materials from the Jewish Museum Berlin’s archives that bear witness to the disenfranchisement of German Jews. A display case with photographs and letters in our permanent exhibition details the Kozower family’s story:  continue reading

“It was then that I saw the tortured stand before their tormentors”

… the Auschwitz Trial Began 50 Years Ago Today

On 20 December 1963, Federal Germany’s largest and longest-lasting trial to date of crimes committed in National Socialist concentration and extermination camps opened in the council chamber of Frankfurt’s Römer, the city hall. On trial were twenty-two former staff members who had worked between 1941 and 1945 at the Auschwitz concentration camp. The highest-ranking defendant and last commandant of the camp, Richard Baer, had died just before the trial began. Many others did not face charges at all, not least because almost all crimes dating from the Nazi era were already time-barred—even homicide.

A man in a suit sitting at a desk

Hans Hofmeyer
© Schindler‐Foto‐Report

Since the Federal German legislature had not anchored the Allies’ postwar trials in Federal German law, trial proceedings in Frankfurt am Main—and likewise all subsequent trials of Nazi crimes—were based on the Penal Code of 1871. Consequently the only charges made were those of murder, and of aiding and abetting murder; and the court, under the guidance of the presiding judge Hans Hofmeyer, was accordingly obliged to find whether defendants had been personally involved in acts of murder, that is to say, had broken the law.  continue reading