Photographic testimony: on the history of the Herbert Sonnenfeld collection

108 years ago, on 29 September 1906, in the Neukölln neighborhood of Berlin, the photographer Herbert Sonnenfeld caught his first glimpse of the light of the world.

His photographs constitute one of the largest and most important portfolios in the Jewish Museum Berlin’s photographic archive. The Sonnenfeld collection consists of some 3000 negatives taken between 1933 and 1938. Along with Abraham Pisarek and Arno Kikoler, Sonnenfeld is one of the few Jewish photographers to document Jewish life in and around Berlin in the 1930s, passing down to us today an unparalleled photographic witness to that period.

Black and white picture of an man with a camera in his hands. He looks directly at the phtographer

Herbert Sonnenfeld, photograph by Leni Sonnenfeld, Berlin ca. 1935
© Jewish Museum Berlin, purchased with funds from the Stiftung Deutsche Klassenlotterie Berlin

Herbert Sonnenfeld first worked as an insurance employee before being laid off as a result of the Nazi regime’s anti-Semitic measures. He came to photography circuitously and was an autodidact. Following a trip to Palestine in 1933, his wife Leni approached various Jewish newspapers and offered them her husband’s pictures. They were enthusiastic, promptly bought up the prints, and asked for more. Thus began Sonnenfeld’s career as a press photographer.
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Searching for the New Germans

A Visit to the Academy’s Reading Room

Why do we keep books like Muslime im säkularen Rechtsstaat (Muslims in Secular Rule of Law), Diaspora Identities, or z.B. 650 Jahre Rixdorf (E.g. 650 Years of Rixdorf) at the Jewish Museum? Answering this question is the task of the Academy Programs on Migration and Diversity. How to find these books, however, falls to the library.

A reading room visitor gets advice from the librarian at the information desk.

Reading room of the Jewish Museum Berlin’s library
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Mirjam Bitter

Imagine that you want to learn about social structures, clubs, and immigrant biographies in Berlin, particularly in Kreuzberg, to which you yourself moved from Hesse two years ago. After visiting the museum one fine Sunday afternoon, you take a look at the new Academy, where, you heard, a friend of yours recently attended an event about the ‘new Germans.’ The Academy is closed on the weekend, but a museum host informs you that it has a library. You return on Monday and ask in the reading room about Turks in Kreuzberg. The librarian would love just to tell you, “second shelf on the left, all the way to the back – what you’re looking for is right there.” Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple.  continue reading


On Lovable Old Coots and “a kind of infection” Called Love

A Birthday Tribute to an Inquisitive Storyteller

Book cover "Juden und Worte" with a picture two armchairs

Book cover of the German edition of “Jews and Words”
© Jüdischer Verlag im Suhrkamp Verlag

On the occasion of his 75th birthday on 4 May, we wish to congratulate Amos Oz, a great writer who visited the Jewish Museum Berlin no less than twice last year. The award-winning Israeli author—he has received, inter alia, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (1992) and, more recently, the Franz Kafka Prize for Literature (2013)—and his daughter, the historian Fania Oz-Salzberger, presented their jointly written book Jews and Words (2012) here last October. In four highly entertaining chapters, “secular Jewish Israelis” draw on the genealogy of reading and writing to trace historical continuity in Jewish traditions. They ask which female poet may have penned the Song of Solomon, reflect on other “vocal women,” and philosophize on matters such as the importance of time and the interplay of collectivism and individuality.

A house between trees

Building in a real kibbutz, photo: Mirjam Bitter
Creative Commons License

In March 2013, Amos Oz paid a visit to the Museum wearing his literary author’s hat, so to speak, to present his latest publication Between Friends (2013, Hebr. original Be’in Khaverim 2012). The eight interconnected short stories in the volume are set in the fictitious Kibbutz Yekhat and immediately attest the author’s familiarity with kibbutz life. Oz left his intellectual father’s home for a kibbutz at the age of fourteen and a half, and lived and worked there for three decades. His descriptions of typical kibbutz settings—the communal laundry, kitchen, and dining room, the cowsheds and chicken coops, huge orchards and swimming pool—instantly made me feel at home, too, since I lived for a while on a kibbutz in the late 1990s. Discussions at Yekhat about the children’s house, on the other hand, situate the action specifically in the 1950s, the Golden Age of kibbutzim.

The stories deal with the universal constants of human nature: love, loneliness, and the struggle to make major decisions in life.  continue reading