Fleeing – Then and Now

An Internet Harvest for the Day of the Refugee

Woodcut with five tired people, two sitting on the floor, one leaning on a wooden box and two standig in the background

“Refugees”, color woodcut by Jakob Steinhardt, 1946, purchased with funds from the German Class Lottery Foundation. You can find this and other related objects in our German-language collection database.

This year’s Day of the Refugee takes place today, 2 October 2015 as part of Intercultural Week, with the slogan “Refugees Welcome!” We have taken this as an occasion to go through our own and other websites and blogs, gathering items on this subject. Since we work at a Jewish museum, stories about fleeing are part of our ‘everyday business’: practically all of the family collections given to our museum tell stories of persecution and flight, going beyond mere statistics to depict the fates of individuals. Letters, travel documents, photographs, and personal memorabilia tell of the desperate search for a country to emigrate to, failed or successful emigrations, the often difficult life in a foreign country, the search for relatives, friends, and former neighbors, now scattered across the entire world. We tell these stories in our permanent exhibition and they have also been the subject of various special exhibitions. At the moment, for instance, in our current cabinet exhibition “In a Foreign Country” you can see publications that originated in Jewish Displaced Persons Camps. Jewish men and women waited there for their passage to Palestine or later Israel, to the USA and other countries, where they hoped to start a new life after the Shoah.

In addition to our exhibitions, we also make stories of flight and displacement visible online, for example with a selection of objects:  continue reading


“Kiddush Asylum”

When I first heard that the Jewish congregation of Pinneberg is giving “church asylum” to a Muslim, I had to chuckle. The article about it in the online magazine Migazin put the words “church asylum” in quotation marks and used a picture of the dome of the synagogue on Berlin’s Oranienburger Straße – making the linking together of the three monotheistic religions appear intentional.

But now I heard from a friend that there’s a film about the Kiddush asylum at the Pinneberg congregation for a man from the Sudan, and I had to wonder why “church asylum” isn’t “synagogue asylum”.

The Kiddush is a blessing spoken over a goblet of wine at the beginning of a holy day, in order to sanctify the day. Church asylum, as I learned from the film, is actually about a sacred room that protects people who are under threat. The Jewish congregation in Pinneberg has one such room. And it is encouraging to hear – as the head of the congregation explains in the film – why they are using this space to protect a person, at least temporarily, from persecution.

Rosa Fava, director of the “Diversity in Schools” project


Hybrid Identities Instead of “Überfremdung”

On Why the Death of Stuart Hall Is a Loss for our Academy Programs

Stuart Hall, the renowned British cultural theorist and sociologist, passed away exactly one month ago, on 10 February 2014. His death prompted in us a deep sense of personal loss. His groundbreaking writings on cultural studies, in particular on racial inequality, were first translated into German in the mid 1990s—a time when people here were beginning to acknowledge the importance of racism as an issue.

Demonstrators in front of a memorial with the Magen David and a poster with the words "Ausländerfeindlichkeit" (xenophobia) and "We need more courage."

Silent vigil of the Jewish Community at the Putlitz Bridge Deportation Memorial
Photo: Michael Kerstgens, Berlin Tiergarten, 1992

Hall’s approach incited a new discussion and coined a new vocabulary: until then, Germans in the Federal Republic had spoken of “Fremdenfeindlichkeit” (xenophobia), which they regarded as a marginal social phenomenon. Politicians and the media spoke matter-of-factly of society “reaching breaking point” when “the boat gets too full” owing to “Überfremdung.” The latter term denotes the state of ‘being overrun by foreigners.’ It is itself deeply racist and was accordingly voted Non-word of the Year 1993. “Being overrun” was presumed however to be explanation enough for the fire-bombings and other attacks then being carried out almost daily on asylum-seekers’ accommodation centers or immigrants’ apartments—and likewise for the hate campaigns, man-hunts, and pogrom-type riots erupting in Rostock, Hoyerswerda, and elsewhere, or the emergence of no-go areas in other towns and rural centers. In consequence, the law on asylum was altered in 1993 such that judicial opinion held it to have been “de facto repealed.” Therefore, anyone who wished to address the issue of racism as a structural phenomenon and thereby draw on theoretically sound academic sources had necessarily to turn to authors from England, France, the USA, or Canada—and repeatedly to Stuart Hall.   continue reading