The History of Our Collections
Our collections trace their roots to the Jewish Department of the Berlin Museum. This museum of city history in the western part of the city was located in the building of the old Superior Court of Justice, erected in 1732, which now contains the entrance to the Libeskind Building.
Initial Inspiration and Kernel of the Collection
The Berlin Museum had its initial inspiration for a Jewish museum in the 1970s. With the support of the Gesellschaft für ein Jüdisches Museum (Society for a Jewish Museum), many of whose members were Berlin-born Jews who had emigrated during the Nazi era, founded in 1975 and sponsored by funds from the Stiftung Deutsche Klassenlotterie Berlin, the museum began assembling a collection.
The kernel for the Judaica collection was the collection of Zvi Sofer, a cantor from Münster, acquired in 1981. It was joined by exceptional individual pieces such as George Wilhelm Marggraff’s Hanukkah lamp from 1776. Day-to-day artifacts from Jewish families have also been in the scope of the collection from the beginning.
In the Footsteps of the First Jewish Museum in Berlin
Carefully chosen visual art was also acquired, such as the Biblical paintings of Lesser Ury and the nearly complete collection of Jakob Steinhardt’s graphic art. This followed in the footsteps of the Berlin Jewish community’s Jewish Museum – destroyed by the Nazis in 1938 – the only Jewish Museum of its time to document the work of contemporary Jewish artists. Several works of art from the holdings of that first Jewish Museum in Berlin are now in our collection, for example portraits of figures from the Jewish Enlightenment, which the Israel Museum presented to us as a permanent loan.
Transition to the Jewish Museum Berlin Foundation
When the Jewish Museum Berlin was established as an independent federal institution in 2001, the holdings of the Jewish Department of the Berlin Museum were transferred to the Jewish Museum Berlin Foundation. At the same time, the mandate of our collection expanded. Today, our museum collects artifacts of Jewish history from all regions of Germany, not only Berlin.
The collection is now the most extensive of any Jewish museum’s in Germany; however, compared to those of other museums of cultural history, it is still fairly modest.