A Second Look

Occasionally there’s an item in our collection that only reveals itself at second glance: for instance, this photograph of a group of men, taken in Lissa in the Prussian province of Posen, in 1913.

A group of friends in suits, drinking wine.

Walter Frost (1893 – 1968) with friends
Lissa, Posen, 1913, photography
© Jewish Museum Berlin, gift of Edith Marcus née Frost

You have to look very closely to recognize what’s lying on the table. In the left foreground, next to the various traces of an alcohol-infused social gathering, is an issue of the magazine Ost und West (East and West), and further to the right is a donation can for the Jewish National Fund with a Star of David on it. These objects allow us to connect the barely 9 x 14 cm little picture with the Zionist movement.

The Jewish National Fund (“Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael” in Hebrew) was founded in 1901 to raise money to buy land in Palestine. The Fund’s revenue came from donations, often gathered in simple blue-and-white tin cans labeled with the Star of David. The “blue cans” could be found in Zionist households as well as at clubs and events.

Title page design of the magazine "Ost und West"

Title page design of the magazine “Ost und West” by Ephraim Moses Lilien

The magazine Ost und West was dedicated to Jewish art, literature, and science. Its creators wanted to endow Jewish culture with new impetus by bringing Eastern and Western European Judaism into more contact with one another. Ephraim Moses Lilien designed the title page. A beautifully dressed woman, adorned with the Star of David and wrapped in the thorns of exile, holds a rose of Jericho between two sprigs in her hand. When you put the dry desert plant in water, it always blooms anew.

Zionism especially fascinated the younger generation. Given that fact, it’s fitting to see how ‘wet behind the ears’ the group of men in the 1913 photo were, meeting most likely in someone’s living room. We unfortunately don’t know where exactly they met or what the occasion was.

Should we ever display the little photograph, we will perhaps combine it with those objects on the table: an issue of Ost und West and a Jewish National Fund donation can. Piquing the interest of museum visitors and attracting them to exhibits in such a small format with such subtle details requires a particular effort on the part of the curators. Or would you have fallen for our little photograph ‘at first sight’?

Maren Krüger, Exhibitions

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