When a Certificate Was Not Only a Piece of Paper

– How Jewish Memory Objects Preserve Chinese History

One of the elegantly designed Chinese marriage certificates described later on in the text

Chinese marriage certificate for Irma Bielschowsky (1902–2000) and Albert Elias Less (1887–1952), 1944; Jewish Museum Berlin, gift of Gert and Brigitte Stroetzel

I recently shared my view on several objects from Shanghai in the museum’s collection on this blog. Now, I want to draw your attention to a few marriage certificates that caught my eye not just because of their elegant design and well-preserved condition after more than 70 years, but also because I was amazed how Chinese cultural elements had entered and influenced the life of Jews who fled the Nazi rule, even though the Jews largely maintained their own cultural and educational activities in Shanghai with newspapers, Jewish schools, concerts, sport activities, theaters (e.g. Delila, Nathan der Weise, etc.), and parties (e.g. a not so sober celebration of Purim).  continue reading


A Look at Jewish Life in Shanghai through Chinese Eyes

Ghetto Life and Beautiful Shoes

The author of this blog post looking at high-heeled shoes which are described in the text below

Wei Zhang looking at shoes “made in China”, which are part of the Jewish Museum Berlin’s collection; permanent loan by Marion Schubert, née Salomon; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Christoph Kreutzmüller

As a student studying the Holocaust at the University of Haifa, I was honored to do a short-term internship at the Jewish Museum Berlin with the team working on the new permanent exhibition. Before it began, I came across a small passage in the book Jewish Responses to Persecution: 1938–1940 (ed. by Jürgen Matthäus, Alexandra Garbarini, Plymouth: AltaMira Press, 2010) written in late 1938, directly after the November pogroms, that illustrated the desperation of German Jews (especially those in Berlin):

“There is one Jewish café open in Berlin. Anyone who wants to see what likely suicides look like should enter this café. The conversation of people sitting there revolves round two topics: how to obtain a passage to Shanghai or how to commit suicide.”

A question came to my mind: Could I find something related to Shanghai, the city where about 20,000 Ashkenazi Jews found refuge, here? As I started my research in the museum’s collection, I was excited to find an abundance of such information. Now I would like to share these stories with you.  continue reading


Wire-frame Geese and Elevator Signs

Object Lessons on our Museum’s History

Young woman wearing blue gloves organizing old tags of staff members of the museum

Trainee Lisa Renner performing inventory; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: David Studniberg

I still remember my first day of work at the museum well, some months ago. Together with two new colleagues, I rode the elevator one floor down, we passed through two secured doors, and there we were: in the warehouse. There on two iron shelves towered bulging boxes and cartons as well as all kinds of objects — and with them, my job for the next eight months as an academic volunteer at the Jewish Museum Berlin: to set up a little special exhibition on the history of the museum itself.

Somewhat at a loss, I rummaged through a hodgepodge of exhibition papers, invitations, and photographs of people I didn’t know, and asked myself what a wire-frame goose on skateboard wheels or an old elevator sign were doing in a museum.  continue reading