Eight months after re-opening, Berlin’s celebrated Jewish Museum takes stock at a time when Germany is furiously debating a recent wave anti-Semitism across Europe.
The Berlin museum
Berlin’s lauded Jewish Museum evaluated the past half year of its renewed existence on Wednesday, at a time when Germany is in the middle of a heated debate on the role its Nazi past has in current criticism of Israel.
Museum director W. Michael Blumenthal said that though it was the museum’s duty to follow the debate, the results or aspects would not have "any effect on the museum’s program." Blumenthal, who has headed the museum since 1997, nevertheless criticized recent statements by Free Democratic Party deputy chairman Juergen Moellemann that many in Germany perceive as blatantly anti-Semitic.
"You can, of course, criticize the government politics of Israel," Blumenthal said at a museum press conference on Wednesday. But, he added, Germans have a "national responsibility" to remember the past and to "proceed with caution" when making such statements.
"In the moment in which criticism is combined with criticism of Judaism, that’s when it gets too hot," said Blumenthal, who fled Nazi germany with his parents and later became US Treasury Secretary under President Jimmy Carter.
Politician apologizes for statements
Moellemann, who heads the German-Arab Association, came under fire a few weeks ago for defending the Palestinians’ right to carry out attacks on Israel’s land. Last week he accused Michel Friedman, the deputy director of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, of fueling the spread of anti-Semitism in Germany with his "intolerant, hateful style".
Moellemann has since apologized, but the debate continues to command print in German dailies and news weeklies.
Blumenthal emphasized that it will not find its way into the exhibition halls of the new Jewish Museum of Berlin, re-opened last September featuring the chaotic and impressive addition by American architect Daniel Libeskind.
Since re-opening its doors, the museum has enjoyed more than 500,000 visitors, with the mark expected to hit 550,000 by the end of May, said Blumenthal. These visitors have been treated to an examination of the chronology of the German-Jewish relationship, which outgoing project director Kenneth Gorbey points out encompasses more than just the Nazi atrocities.
Getting the balance right
"I wanted to get the balance right," Gorbey, who came on in April 2000 to guide the museum to its celebrated opening, told DW-WORLD.
In remarks marking the end of his tenure, Gorbey acknowledged those critical of the museum and its focus. One critique he accepts wholeheartedly is that the museum hadn’t done enough to explore the tension between Jews and non-Jews in Germany and tension within the community itself.
He said the museum would continue to make an effort to reflect not only past by current scholarly and sociological debate.
"A museum can never be static," Gorbey said.
New project director, Cilly Kugelmann, will take over in September. A new exhibit opening Thursday features paintings of photos taken of Sigmund Freud’s Vienna apartment before he fled the Nazis by Brooklyn artist Robert Longo.
Kugelmann said future exhibits would include the immigration of the German Jews during Nazi rule, the exodus to Israel in 1947 and the origins of Kosher cooking.
If the first eight months are any indication, the museum’s future is quite secure, said Blumenthal.
"The museum," he said "is a success."