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CULTURE & HERITAGE - Culture & History


Moscow's Jewish Museum: "A living museum for a lively people"
October 20, 2011   Pauline Tillmann
 auschwitz museum
Russia was once home to five million Jews. Today, the few thousand remaining in Moscow have a new place to explore their heritage.
There are over 100 state museums in Moscow, but for Jewish history there are none. That changed this past May with the opening of a private museum dedicated to the history of the Jewish people in Russia.
There was a time when many Jewish people called Russia home. At the beginning of the 20thcentury, more than 5 million Jews lived in the Russian empire. Then came two world wars, Stalinism and three waves of mass exodus. As a result, today only a few hundred thousand remain. The Jewish population of Moscow is estimated to be 250,000. No one is certain of the exact figure, since there is a national census only once every 10 years, and even then, not every Jewish person states that they are, in fact, Jewish, although today they do not have to fear any official consequences for this identity. During the Soviet era, it was a different story. Many universities and institutes refused to admit Jews.

Nevertheless, Leonid Liflyand was still able to have a successful career as an engineer. “It is way too easy to say that every failure is because you are Jewish,” said Liflyand, who is now 67 and runs the new Jewish museum in Moscow. The founding of the museum caused quite a sensation in the Russian capital. For years, the Jewish community discussed suitable locations and reasonable financing measures for the museum, but after years of discussions that led nowhere, Liflyand and author Vladimir Ustinov took matters into their own hands.
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Since the museum opened in May, the numbers of visitors has exceeded expectations. More than 2,500 people have come to visit the small, remote museum. Many visitors are schoolchildren on outings with their classes; sometimes survivors come. The collection consists of 5,000 exhibits: a combination of items on loan, donations and privately owned items. Only one-fifth of the collection can be displayed at a time, because space is at a premium, but the exhibits are frequently rotated.
The museum, which has a total of about 3,000 square feet of space, used to be an office, so it is made up of several small rooms. Every exhibit is original, and they are created with the greatest attention to detail.........
 “When I was born in Moscow in 1944,” he said, “there was no thought of religion.” In the 20 years since the fall of the Soviet Union, that has all changed dramatically. Today, Russian Jews would know what terms like menorah, tefillin and Torah mean. But Liflyand wants Jews to visit the museum to connect with their cultural heritage as well as their faith. Entrance to the museum is free, and he hopes that over the next few years, it will become a lively meeting point for Jewish Muscovites. He wanted to create “a living museum for a lively people.”To this end, he is planning events, readings, discussions and other ways to exchange ideas, between young and old, between Jews and non-Jews.

Moscow's new Jewish Museum appeals for tolerance
November 22, 2012      Emmanuel Grynszpan
An impressive collection of historical documents and documentary films retraces the last two centuries of Jewish life in Russia. The first Jewish Museum in Russia was financed by private funds and opened to the public on November 12, 2012.
The Jewish Museum and Center of Tolerance is clearly not a museum “created by Jews and for the Jews,” but a place to improve the image of Jewish people among the Russian population. Source: ITAR-TASS
 auschwitz museum 3Shimon Peres et Vladimir Poutine

Israeli President Shimon Peres traveled to Moscow for the inauguration of what is now the largest Jewish museum in the world. It occupies a little less than 91,500 square feet of the Bakhmetevsky Bus Garage — a constructivist building erected in 1927 and designed by famous architect Konstantin Melnikov........

 “We thought of the museum as a chronological journey along two axes, both leading up to World War II,” said Ralph Appelbaum, the museum’s designer. “With the exception of the T-34 tank that liberated Europe, we have very few original objects. Instead, we concentrated our efforts on the collection and creation of documentary films.”
The clever lighting arrangement draws visitors’ attention to the huge photographs on the walls. Sculptures and artifacts describe Jewish life: From the 18th-century “shtetls”(villages with an overwhelmingly Jewish population) Jews were confined to by the Czarist government, to their lives in the large cities in the 20thcentury.

A chronological tour
The tour begins with a 10-minute film entitled “The Beginning,” which covers the time from the Creation to the start of the Diaspora. Leaving the cinema, visitors are greeted by a large“emigration globe” illustrating the unique geographic dispersal of the Hebrew people. Life-size models with holograms, videos and sculptures recreate the interiors of Jewish homes in shtetls.
Then, there is the exodus to the large towns in the late 19thcentury, retraced using the example of the open city of Odessa, where one can sit at the table of the author and dramatist Sholem Aleichem (the pen name of Solomon Naumovitch Rabinovitch) and those of other local Jewish personalities.....

“History is not always a fascinating subject for young people,” said Appelbaum, one of the most respected museum designers in the world. “Our efforts are mainly directed at young people. We use social technologies like voting, with interactive knowledge tests and touchscreens, to make knowledge child-friendly.”
The historical tour has not been watered down. In the center of the museum, where the two main axes converge, there sits a huge panoramic screen on which images are projected that document the most tragic moments of World War II: Babi Yar, the mass executions carried out by the Nazis, the Siege of Leningrad, the Battle of Stalingrad and the final victory. There is a pyramid-shaped memorial in front of the display where visitors can light a candle in memory of the millions of victims whose names scroll endlessly on the huge black screen.

Interactivity to attract young people
The museum stresses interactivity and openness to the widest possible public, especially young people. This effort to look outward marks a desire not to fall into communitarianism or sectarianism — a prejudice of which the Jewish people are so often the victim. This is clearly not a museum “created by Jews and for the Jews,” but a place to improve the image of Jewish people among the Russian population.
“The idea is to emphasize the diversity of the peoples living in Russia,” Appelbaum said. “Whatever your ethnic origin, you can affirm it as such in Russia.”
Hence the museum’s full name: The Jewish Museum and Center of Tolerance, which appears to be something of a sacrifice to “political correctness.” The VIPs who attended the inauguration all showed their respect for President Vladimir Putin, “who immediately supported the idea of a new Jewish museum,” said Aleksander Boroda, president of the museum and of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia.
Indeed, there are noticeably fewer exhibits covering the darker episodes in Russo-Jewish history. These include, for example, the pogroms of Czarist Russia and the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” forgery fabricated by the Czar’s police force, which continues to do damage to this day. Emphasis is instead placed on the persecution endured jointly by both peoples during World War II.
In the message sent by Vladimir Putin for the inauguration, the president recalled that both peoples are proudly determined to defend the memory of that tragic era and to combat any form of revisionist history. Despite a little diplomatic gloss, the Jewish Museum is indisputably one of the most effective memorials in the world today.

© RIA Novosti. Alexei Nikolskiy
Putin Hopes Dispute Over Jewish Archives Resolved

MOSCOW, June 13 (RIA Novosti) –

 Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed hope on Thursday that moving the disputed collection of Jewish religious texts to the newly built Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow puts the issue to rest.
A complex legal dispute over the so-called Schneerson Library has turned into a full-scale diplomatic feud between the United States and Russia since a US court ruled that Russia must return about 12,000 books and 50,000 manuscripts from the collection to an Orthodox Jewish community in New York.
Putin in February suggested moving the Jewish archive from Moscow’s Lenin Library to the new museum.
“I hope that the transfer of the Schneerson collection, which undoubtedly is of great interest and value for the Jewish people and not just for Russian Jews in particular but also for Jewish believers residing in other parts of the world, will resolve this issue finally,” Putin said during a visit to the Jewish center.
Russia's chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, who accompanied Putin during the visit, praised the Russian president’s decision as “a heroic deed,” calling it “a Solomon decision.”
About 500 digitized copies of manuscripts from the Schneerson Library were handed over to the Jewish museum on Thursday. They will be accessible online.
According to Viktor Vekselberg, head of the Jewish center’s board of trustees, the rest of the digitized Jewish books will be transferred to the museum by the end of the year.
The Schneerson Library is a collection of books and religious documents assembled by the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement over two centuries prior to World War II in Belarus. It is one of the main Jewish religious relics.
Part of the collection amassed by Lubavitcher Rebbe Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson was nationalized by the Bolsheviks in 1918. Later, about 25,000 pages of manuscripts fell into the hands of the Nazis, and were later seized by the Red Army and handed over to the Russian State Military Archive. This part of the Schneerson Library is now kept in the archive of Lenin’s Library in Moscow.
The other part was taken out of the Soviet Union by Schneerson, who emigrated in the 1930s.
Since 1991, the year of Schneerson's death, leaders of the Brooklyn-based Orthodox Jewish movement have been trying to regain possession of the library, saying it was illegally held by the Soviet authorities after the war.
In 1991, a court in Moscow agreed to turn over the library to Chabad. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the ruling was ignored. The Russian government now says it wants to keep the archive for future scholars.
In 2010, a court in Washington confirmed the American Jewish community’s right to the library, but Russia called the court’s decision illegitimate. In late 2011, a US court ruled that Russia must return about 12,000 books and 50,000 manuscripts from the library.
Russia, which considers the collection as part of the country’s heritage, has refused to hand over the collection despite a $50,000 per-day fine imposed by the court.