Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The First Jewish Museum

According to most internet calendars, May 18, 2016, is International Museum Day. (This year’s celebration of International Museum Day in Israel will take place on Lag Ba’omer, May 26). Today’s Jewish Treat, therefore provides a brief history of the Jewish Museum of Vienna, which is believed to have been the very first Jewish museum.

Established in 1895, the idea behind the Jewish Museum was to promote interest in Jewish culture and history. It was supported and run by the Society for the Collection and Preservation of Artistic and Historical Memorials of Jewry. Originally, the museum focused in particular on the Jewish communities in Vienna and Galicia, but, following World War I, exhibits on Zionism and Palestine were added.

In 1913, the Jewish Museum moved to the Talmud Torah school in Leopoldstadt. At that time, the museum collection consisted of over 3,400 objects. It had several thousand more when the Nazis closed the museum in 1938 after the Anschluss (German take over of Austria).  The plundered artifacts were distributed among several museums, and the Natural History Museum in Vienna used the pieces for an anti-Semitic exhibition called “The Corporeal and Spiritual Properties of the Jews.”

Following World War II, as European communities rebuilt themselves, the original museum artifacts that had been distributed began to be returned to the museum. It was a process that continued into the 1990s, and even then, not all of the museum’s original possessions were restored. Many had been either destroyed or stolen.

In 1988, the (new) Jewish Museum Vienna was opened by the city, and the first museum’s collection was displayed in an installation at the Palais Eskeles in Dorothergasse in 1993. In October 2000, a second Jewish museum was opened in Vienna, Museum Judenplatz.

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