Religious Experience & Museum
Michelle Kjøge Ettrup, Anna-Dora Maron & Trine Drechsler
On September 1st 1939 Hitler’s Germany occupied Poland and the persecutions of Jews by the Nazis started shortly after.
What happened is widely known and now – almost 80 years after – the Holocaust is still a sore topic. Especially in Poland, many are still affected by it, and have family members who lost their lives during the persecutions. The Polish are very aware of their legacy and what happened during World War II.
As a tourist in Krakow, you can go on various trips through the Old Jewish Quarter, where you are told about how it was to be Jewish during that time in history and what it’s like being Jewish now in Krakow.
The Schindler Factory
The end point of the historical introduction is: “The Schindler Factory”. The factory is a large museum that is visited by almost all of Krakow’s tourists.
It is a large domain of cultural encounters, it engages all of your senses with its various exhibitions; they start in Krakow in the year 1939, after which you go through them all until you end up in the year 1945.
On this trip through time you follow the Polish Jews, right from the first Nazi decrees about discrimination against the Jews, to their detention in the ghetto, on to the concentration camps and then to the liberation.
The whole journey through time is historically and culturally influenced; at the end of this captivating journey it takes a sharp, abstract and religious turn.
Feeling included through the Tora
Your trip through history ends in the religious scripture of Judaism – the Torah. The Torah is a sacred scroll from where the Jewish people can read about their religions laws. But instead of the sacred words of the Torah, quotes from Jews during the occupation appear in different languages. Polish, English, German, French and Hebrew.
One quote says “Ich hatte rechts zum Leben” – “I had the right to live”. In this space within the Torah you feel part of the history. This gives the audience a feeling of closeness and compassion with the Jewish people of Poland. It also brings religion to the forefront of the exhibition.
The history of Danish Jews
The Jewish community has been present in Denmark for the past 400 years.
At present there are roughly about 10.000 Danish Jews residing in Denmark, most of them live in Copenhagen. During the course ‘Kulturmøder og forskelle’ we visited the Jewish museum and the orthodox synagogue in Copenhagen.
The interior of the Jewish museum was designed by Daniel Libeskind, who also drew the plans for the Berlin Jewish museum.
Protection of the Jewish museum
When you first arrive at the museum you are met by police who guards the doors of this old royal brick building. This gives the visitor a strange welcome but also a reality check.
Next you enter through some very heavy doors in to this very esthetic room that spells Libeskind all over it.
The décor spells out mitzvah, so when you walk around you walk within the word. This was done to symbolize the peaceful coexistence of the Danish Jews and the rescue of the Danish Jews in 1943.
The exhibition itself is all covered up behind thick glass, presenting its items in a very esthetically beautiful way. However, this also means that the exhibited items and stories feel a bit distant. And this got us thinking about the artifacts that were on display behind the thick glass. What are the stories behind all those objects and what did they mean to the once who owned them? Would they feel happy about the display of these objects?
Jewish museums as contact zone
Looking at James Clifford’s essay from 1997 “Museums and the Contact zones” he uses Mary Louise Pratt’s theory “arts of the contact zone”. In his text he describes the mismatch between what the Portland art museum in USA and the Native American elders thought were important to display and what stories where important to be told. We were told by the lady showing us around that the museum and its source communities were not always agreeing on how to tell the history of the Danish Jews.
The orthodox Danish Jewish community, “Mosaisk Trossamfund”, feels that the story that is being told is not told in the correct way, and that a lot of history is missing from the museum. Also, the museum displays talks about the existence of many different directions of “Judaism” and this is problematic for the orthodox Jewish community as they only recognize one direction of Judaism. This then in turn means that the museum says that it is telling us the story of Jews in Denmark but that the largest Jewish community in Denmark feels that they are often misrepresented in this display.
This again points to the various power struggles where it is the majority telling the story of the minority. And where the narratives of the minorities get kind of lost in all the artifacts.
Room for improvement in the Danish Jewish Museum
In view of the above, there is thus room for improvement in the Danish Jewish Museum, which is why it is beneficial to get inspiration from the Polish Jewish Museum.
The Polish Jewish Museum invites you to a more inclusive experience in the form of personal narratives that enables our individual remembrance.
The Danish museum tends to objectify the Jewish community and does therefore not include the audience in a personal narrative. This could have been achieved by for example, video installations, old letters, personal stories or mood music to stimulate our senses and bring the experience closer to our personal life.
With small financial means, it may be a challenge for the Danish Jewish Museum to develop more interactive displays and until then, the museum gives a much needed insight in important parts of Danish Jewish history.