April 4, 2013

Jew in a Box


The Jewish Museum in Berlin has a “Jew in a Box” exhibit to educate Germans. I get the idea of having Jewish people participate in reminding Germans of their past, but I have to wonder if the premise from which they start is the right way to go. Maybe it’s a reaction to an existing condition, but the method seems to suggest not that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it; there seems to be an undercurrent of “looky here, here’s a Jew!” To riff on an old and bad joke: “like 1945, only breathing!”


…To be most accurate, it is a Jew in a Box answering the public’s questions on all things Jewish:

Jew in a Box German Jewish Museum

To better explain my reaction, it would be like putting blacks on display to familiarize whites with their physical characteristics rather than talking about civil rights and the struggle. Because we, as a culture, claim to understand that certain things are immutable and due us as humans. Then I read the backstory and wondered if there is a point: there are only 200,000 Jews living in German today. So when the base of the box in which the person sits says “Are there still Jews in Germany?’, maybe an automatic response would be to addend a “why” to the start of the question.

And if that isn’t enough, the museum leaves itself wide open to “turnabout is fair play” for this:

Eichmann Trial

— Karen Donley

(photo 1: © Jüdisches Museum Berlin, photo by Linus Lintner caption: The Jewish Museum Berlin’s glass box for Jews.photo 2: Markus Schreiber, File/Associated Press caption: In this March 22, 2013 file photo, Israeli Ido Porat prepares to be the first person acting as the Jew in a glass box, on the first day of the exhibition The Whole Truth everything you always wanted to know about Jews at the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Nearly 70 years after the Holocaust, there is no more sensitive an issue in German life as the role of Jews. With fewer than 200,000 Jews among Germanys 82 million people, few Germans born after World War II know any Jews or much about them. To help educate postwar generations, the Jewish Museum in Berlin offers a Jewish man or woman to sit inside a glass box for two hours a day through August to answer visitors questions about Jews and Jewish life. The base of the box asks: Are there still Jews in Germany? A lot of our visitors dont know any Jews and have questions they want to ask, museum official Tina Luedecke said. With this exhibition we offer an opportunity for those people to know more about Jews and Jewish life. But not everybody thinks putting a Jew on display is the best way to build understanding and mutual respect. photo 3: AP photo 4: Getty Images caption:After 14 weeks of testimony with more than 1,500 documents and 100 prosecution witnesses (90 of whom were Nazi concentration camp survivors) the Eichmann trial ended on August 14. Eichmann was convicted on all counts.)

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Karen Donley
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