“… to air out the cloak of anonymity.”

An Early April Fool’s Joke from the Year 1931

Envelope posted 13 March 1931

Envelope posted 13 March 1931; Jewish Museum Berlin, Gift of Margaret Littman and Susan Wolkowicz, the daughters of Hilde Gabriel née Salomonis

Sometimes figuring out how to classify a document correctly according to its historical context can depend on just one tiny, even seemingly unrelated detail. I was reminded of this again while working on the inventory of a recent donation to our archive. With more than 3,000 documents, photographs, and objects, the Gabriel-Salomonis family collection includes among other things an extensive correspondence. This consists of letters, postcards, and even telegrams, and as I sorted through these items, I came across an exchange of four letters from the early spring of 1931. Two were handwritten: composed and signed, quite legibly, by the then 72-year-old, Berlin resident Ernestine Stahl (1858–1933). The author of the other two type-written letters was at first uncertain, not least because his signature was missing. Ernestine Stahl addressed him in her replies only as “Sir” and “Dear Sir.”

I was able to solve this little riddle, however, by looking at an envelope that turned up elsewhere of the bundle of papers but appeared to belong to this brief exchange.  continue reading

A Circumcision to keep the (family) peace

In some families the subject of circumcision provokes intense discussion, as you can see in the films that are part of our special exhibition “Snip it! Stances on Ritual Circumcision”. Oliwia is familiar with this difficult situation: on the one hand her Muslim husband considers it a natural part of the tradition, and on the other, particularly her Catholic father argues vehemently against it. Should she have her four-year-old son circumcised? What does she think of the practice herself? We spoke about these questions with Oliwia, as well as about her final decision.

Oliwia*, what different factors affected your family’s conflict over whether to circumcise your son?

Black and white photography: Boys in uniforms on a stage

“Boys before their Circumcision”, photo from the series “Turkish in the Ruhr district”, Cologne, 1983 © Henning Christoph / Soul of Africa Museum

My husband is Moroccan and Muslim. My background is Roman Catholic, although I converted to Islam in 2006. We had a son four years ago and from the beginning it was clear for my husband that Jamal would be circumcised. It’s a part of the tradition for him and it symbolizes a man’s identification with Islam.

It wasn’t so clear for you?

No. Actually, I’m  continue reading

Modern Poetry Encounters an Object of History

The Jewish Museum Hosts “Lyrix”

Logo of the "lyrix" competitionAt the invitation of German Cultural Radio, schoolchildren appeared at the Jewish Museum Berlin on 13 June 2014 to write poetry with professionals from the literature scene. The theme was partnership. They turned for inspiration to a ketubah (marriage contract) from the current special exhibition “The Creation of the World” and the poem “marriage” by Kathrin Schmidt (which you can see in the original German on the Lyrix page of the radio’s website).

Poet Max Czollek guided the students, gathered in a seminar room, to free associate with the term ‘partnership.’ Words came up like marriage, devotion, trust and love (both very frequently), loyalty, and so on. But those most obvious associations aren’t actually what we need for poetry. What do we need then?

A few rooms further down, poet Nadja Küchenmeister proceeded along the same lines. One pupil said later that dividing the words into categories of ones she shouldn’t use and ones she should helped ease her fear about writing. She produced the following poem:  continue reading