An Unsolvable Mystery?

A Photo Collection Found Hiding in Berlin-Friedrichshain

Black and white photograph of a girl standing in front of a door

A girl standing in front of a door, presumably Berlin, about 1918–1922; Jewish Museum Berlin

Every time I open a new folder of photos, I can’t know what’s waiting for me – what faces I’ll find or fates will be revealed. Images are often part of a larger collection, consisting of documents, everyday articles and artwork, for which we already know the biographies of those pictured or can further research. Such was the case, for example, of the cabaret artist, Olga Irén Fröhlich, whom I’ve written about before on this blog. This time, however, the people in the photographs will remain unknown to me; I won’t be able to attach names or histories to them. Perhaps you can!

It’s not out of the ordinary to work with collections that have been in the Museum’s possession for decades.  continue reading


Statistics and Sticky Notes

On Identifying Museum Visitors and What Moves Them

A young woman with a bouquet of flowers

The ten-millionth visitor Paula Konga in November 2015 © Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Svea Pietschmann

Gleeful excitement in the museum lobby, for we are greeting our ten-millionth visitor since the opening in 2001, and we are all ears. “It’s my day off and I want to take the opportunity to revisit the permanent exhibition,” the 33-year-old Berliner Paula Konga tells us. An architect by profession, she is particularly interested in Daniel Libeskind’s design of the museum. “The building is well worth visiting more than once, also for Berliners.” No sooner have we handed over a bouquet of flowers and a one-year-membership in the Friends of the Jewish Museum Berlin Association than our guest of honor vanishes into the ramified spaces of the Libeskind Building (further information about the Libeskind Building can be found on our website).

Next, a group of Italian schoolchildren pushes past me, another museum visitor asks me to switch his audio guide to French, and a group of British teenagers mills about in search of a young man in a red cap. The seething mass sets me thinking: What actually moves you here, in the Jewish Museum Berlin?  continue reading


Fascinating Family History

A Look at the Radzewski Family Photo Collection

We all have family: father, mother, children, grandchildren, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or just relatives casually come across at family reunions or known from photos. “The uncle, living abroad, with the daughter and the grandchildren – don’t you remember him?” We’ve all heard that.

Black and white photo of a girl and a woman at a door

The donor, Vera de Jong with her mother, Meta Krotoschiner in front of their home in Santiago, Chile, in 1952, following immigration © Jewish Museum Berlin, gift of Vera de Jong, née Krotoschiner-Radzewski

What happens when there’s no one to keep telling these stories? Only a photo of these people remain, if you’re lucky, sometimes a postcard that says nothing. This isn’t only the case in our private lives. As museum workers, we confront this challenge on a daily basis, especially when inventorying collections of donors’ family photographs. Each photo poses the same questions: Where was this? Who were these people – friends or relatives? What’s the story behind the image?

Fortunately we have help. Along with the photographs, donors provide and entrust us with their memories. Vera de Jong, born Krotoschiner-Radzewski, is one such example. Last year she gave our museum some 200 family photos (further information about the Photographic Collection on our website). As an academic trainee, it was then my task to inventory this collection and research its history. I was immediately taken by these charming images and, while researching them, understood their historical value, helping us uncover more than a century of family history.  continue reading