In World War I

The Festival of Liberation at the Front

Yesterday evening, Monday, 14 April 2014, was the start of the eight-day Passover festivities. These kick off each year with the first Seder, the name of which derives from the Hebrew word seder, meaning order, because a particular ritual sequence is observed the entire evening.

The ritual Seder program is laid down in the Haggadah, an often beautifully illustrated book. (Incidentally, some especially precious Haggadot are currently on display in our special exhibition “The Creation of the World” and our director of archives recently described in his blog why even a nondescript Haggadah might be of great value to a museum.) Traditional texts and songs are recited from the Haggadah. Symbolic dishes and drinks deck the tables, ready to be consumed at specific moments during the evening.

Men in uniform occupy seats in a theater auditorium.

German soldiers celebrate Passover in the occupied town of Jelgava (near Riga). © Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: anonymous. Donated by Lore Emanuel

But why is this night different from all other nights? This is a question that Jews all over the world ask themselves year after year at the Seder dinner. The answer is: it is the festival of liberation, for it commemorates the Israelites’ exodus from slavery in ancient Egypt. Everyone is supposed to feel, each year, as if she or he personally is about to leave Egypt. As a token of tribute to this new-won freedom, people comfortably recline while eating and drinking—for to take this position was the prerogative solely of free individuals in antiquity, not of slaves.  continue reading


Iron Crosses in Kreuzberg

The Jewish Museum is located in the well-known Berlin neighborhood of Kreuzberg, which is also home to a 66-meter high hill that gave the district its name in 1920: Kreuz meaning ‘cross’ and Berg ‘mount’ or ‘hill’. A monument designed by Friedrich Schinkel had been erected there about 100 years prior in memory of the war of liberation from Napoleon. On top it has always been bedecked with an Iron Cross. Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III first endowed the building of the monument 200 years ago, on 10 March 1813, the birthday of his late Queen Luise. A drawing of Schinkel’s design for the Iron Cross has been passed down to the Kupferstichkabinett’s collection (Museum of Prints and Drawings). In 1870 and 1914 respectively, Emperors Wilhelm I and II made subsequent endowments of the Iron Cross for particular service by German soldiers.

Numerous Iron Crosses can be found in the Jewish Museum’s collection, in many cases together with the respective certificates.

50 squares with iron crosses

Iron Crosses in Kreuzberg – view of the object data bank of the Jewish Museum
© Jewish Museum Berlin

They nearly all date from the time of the First World War, in which around 100,000 Jewish soldiers participated on the German side. Among them were Julius Fliess (1876-1955) and Max Haller (1892-1960), whose medals are now in the Jewish Museum’s possession.  continue reading