A Small Window onto History

A Newly Acquired Passover Haggadah and Its Previous Owners in Kreuzberg

Next week, the first Passover Seder will be celebrated on the evening of April 14. All over the world Jews will gather with their family and friends around festively decked tables and partake in the centuries-old tradition of reciting the Haggadah. Its text describes the story of the Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Ancient Egypt and sets forth the order of the evening.

Cover of a Hebrew-German edition of the Haggadah with handwritten entries on the inside flaps

“An Account of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt on the First Two Evenings of Passover,” published in Rödelheim near Frankfurt, 1848
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Aubrey Pomerance

A Haggadah in an online auction recently caught my eye, and I managed to purchase it for a negligible sum for the Jewish Museum Berlin. Published in 1848 in Roedelheim near Frankfurt under the title Erzählung von dem Auszuge Israels aus Egypten an den beiden ersten Pesach-Abenden (An Account of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt on the First Two Evenings of Passover), the book contains the Hebrew version of the Haggadah text, along with its translation into German by Wolf Heidenheim. It is the twentieth edition of the Roedelheimer Haggadah that first appeared in 1822/23, there with the German translation in Hebrew characters. In 1839, the translation first appeared in Roman letters, as is the case with our new acquisition.

There is, to be sure, nothing remarkable about this edition from 1848.  continue reading


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


The Psychology of Making Portraits

“Hello. My name is Fred Stein, I’m a photographer, left-wing, and I would like to take your picture.”

This is how Fred Stein used to strike up a conversation with people he hoped to portray. Between 1933 and 1967 he managed to make more than 1,200 portraits this way. The words show he had not only the courage to approach people, but also a talent for quickly putting those who had caught his eye at ease.

portrait of Willy Brandt

Willy Brandt, New York 1957
© Estate of Fred Stein

Fred Stein took a passionate interest both in those he portrayed and their work. With André Malraux, Arthur Koestler, Egon Erwin Kisch, and countless other peers he discussed the political landscape in Europe of the 1930 and 40s. Willy Brandt and he became firm friends and remained so all their lives long, and likewise others whose portrait he made. In a letter of 10 May 1983, Brandt recalled:

“I met Fred Stein when we were both refugees and fighting the totalitarian Nazi regime with the rather modest means at our disposal. He was a man ahead of his time, an avant-garde and brilliant photographer, inspired by the commitment to justice and concern for truth so clearly reflected in his photographs.  continue reading