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Culture

Collection of "Persecuted Art" Finds Permanent Home

The world’s first museum for “persecuted art” has opened its doors in the Israeli city of Ashdod, near Tel Aviv. Two Jewish art collectors from Cologne have provided the impulse for the unique exhibition.

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Newly opened -- the first Museum for Persecuted Art in Ashdod, Israel.

German President Johannes Rau and Israeli President Mosche Katzav presided over the unveiling of the Bar-Gera museum dedicated to persecuted art in the 20th century on Sunday, June 22, 2003 in the city of Ashdod, Israel.

Named after a Jewish couple, and passionate art collectors, Kenda and Jacob Bar-Gera, the museum is the first of its kind in the world and houses a vast collection of art that was banned in the former Soviet Union, under the Nazi regime in Germany and the fascist Franco government in Spain.

Keeping alive the memory of the Holocaust

Johannes Rau in Aschdad

German President Johannes Rau, right

President Rau(photo) paid tribute to the duo’s efforts to put together the collection. "Kenda and Jacob Bar-Gera have not only given persecuted Russian artists their lost respect back, but many German painters also thank them for their artistic rebirth," he said.

Kenda Bar-Gera, whose husband Jacob died in January this year, is a survivor of the Lodz and Auschwitz Nazi concentration camps. She attended the opening ceremony on Sunday. "Despite the atrocities inflicted upon you by the Germans, you have extended your hand once again to my country and its people," Rau said.

The German president also said keeping alive the memory of the Holocaust was the most important responsibility of his generation. "We must always explain to our children what happened and how it could come to that," he said.

The biggest collection of Russian non-conformists

The museum, located in a four-storied sprawling building of glass and sandstone with a view of the Mediterranean, is home to over 340 works of art stemming from the 1930s to the 1980s. Most of them belong to the Bar-Gera collection that was meticulously built up over 30 years.

Jacob & Kenda Bar-Gera

Bar-Gera-Museum in Ashdod international museum for persecuted art

The Jewish pair (photo), who divided their time between Cologne and Tel Aviv, paid special attention to collecting works by artists of the second Russian Avant-garde or those artists who didn’t want to embrace the official art directive of the post-Stalinist Soviet Union. The paintings and other art objects were smuggled into Germany by hiding them in the suitcases of diplomats, traveling businessmen and students, thus making the Bar-Gera collection of Russian non-conformists the largest of its kind in the world

After the end of the Cold War, the Bar-Gera collection piqued interest among several countries where the duo’s collected works originated from. In 1996, the collection was exhibited under the title "Russian Non-conformists" at the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. It later traveled to Moscow, Frankfurt am Main, Leverkusen, Verona, Italy, and then to Witten, Germany.

"A child of persecution"

The enthusiasm with which the collection was received led Kenda and Jacob Bar-Gera to search for a final permanent resting place for it. They set up a foundation called "International Museum for Persecuted Art – Israel", whose sole aim was to build a museum for the collection. Headed by prominent personalities from the fields of politics and arts, the foundation raised the necessary €25 million through fund raising drives in Europe, the U.S. and Israel as well as through art auctions.

The Bar-Gera’s dream has finally been realized in the form of the museum in Ashdod. Though Jacob Bar-Gera did not live to see its opening, his wife Kenda told news agency Dpa that the art collection was the dominant factor in their lives.

"My main work was to dedicate myself to forgotten, politically persecuted artists," she said. "It had possibly to do with the fact, that I was myself a child of persecution."

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