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Silver Formerly Owned by Jews

Unusual Objects from Our Core Exhibition Tell Stories of Jewish Life

Silver jewelry dishes, pitchers, lamps, soup ladles—from magnificent silverware to simple everyday utensils: These all once belonged to Jewish families in Hamburg.

Glass showcase full of tableware, cutlery and other silver objects

Silver formerly owned by Jews, provenance: up to 1939 unknown Jewish owners, 1939 Hamburg Tax Authority, 1960 allotted to the Hamburg Museum of Arts and Crafts (MKG) by the City of Hamburg; Jewish Museum Berlin, accession L-2018/475/0, photo: Roman März

“All German and stateless Jews must surrender any precious metal objects and jewellery in their possession at state authorised purchasing centres.”

As part of the bureaucratic process of persecution and dispossession throughout all of the German Reich, an ordinance passed in February 1939 that all “silver owned by non-Aryans” had to be handed in. Twenty tons of silver were confiscated in Hamburg alone. Most of it was melted down and a small portion ended up in public collections.

Dr. Silke Reuther, provenance researcher at the Museum for Arts and Crafts in Hamburg, on how to deal with this legacy today, Interview 2019; audio track from our JMB app, photo: Michaela Hille

Read along: Interview with Dr. Silke Reuther

Silke Reuther works at the Museum for Arts and Crafts in Hamburg and is researching provenance in the silverware collection.

Silke Reuther:

“Well, no one wants or wanted to deal with the silverware. You can see that in the simple fact that more than 3000 objects have been locked away in storage. First of all it’s a huge collection and one that we’re working through right now. What we did first was we got it all out of storage and displayed it. It was just very moving to see how much people – visitors and colleagues – were interested in tackling this subject again. And we’re now planning to archive the silver collection digitally as well, in order to make it available online, because I think that it should still be possible to return things even now. That’s something we think is important. It will never be a normal collection: it can be exhibited, but the story has to be told as well.”

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Core Exhibition: 13 Objects – 13 Stories (13)