The new permanent exhibition at the Jewish Museum, which opens with a gala celebration on Sept. 9, covers 2,000 years of Jewish history in Germany. Organizers are determined that the project won't be overwhelmed by the Nazi Holocaust of 6 million European Jews. "I find it very fitting that this is a place of memory, not only for those killed but also for life over many centuries,'' museum director Michael Blumenthal told a news conference.
Blumenthal, a former U.S. treasury secretary who fled Nazi Germany, recalled some of the many other places in Berlin and in Germany where the Holocaust specifically is remembered, including the Wannsee Villa, where Hitler's deputies finalized plans to annihilate Europe's Jews.
As part of the museum's efforts to focus attention on Jewish life in Germany, the last section of the new permanent exhibit concentrates on postwar Jewish history in Germany. "Jewish life in Germany is continuing to develop,'' Blumenthal said. "We don't want the visitors only to learn something about the history, but also we try to answer questions in the museum: What does it mean to be a Jew? What does it mean to be a Jew in Germany? What did it mean in early times to be a German Jew?''
Among the 3,900 artifacts exhibited will be a 10th-century copy of a decree on loan from the Vatican establishing the existence of a Jewish community in present-day southern Germany in the year 321. But the permanent exhibition won't ignore the Holocaust. The Gallery of the Missing, designed by German artist Via Lewandowsky, will use sound and glass sculpture to encourage visitors to conjure images of Jewish artifacts that mostly disappeared in the Holocaust, said Ken Gorbey, a New Zealander who oversaw the design of the permanent exhibition.
More than 350,000 people have already visited the evocative steel building designed by American architect Daniel Liebeskind where the exhibition is being installed. The building was closed in January for the installation - which Blumenthal said was likely to continue until the last minute.
The museum's opening will be marked by a week of events, beginning with a gala on Sept. 9 featuring Daniel Barenboim conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing Mahler's 7th symphony. The public will first be admitted on Sept. 12. The museum, which can accommodate more than 2,000 visitors a day, will be closed only three days a year: the Jewish holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana and on Christmas Eve.