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Over five hundred ritual objects, books, and manuscripts, acquired half a century ago in 1968 from the Siegfried S. Strauss Collection, comprise the foundational Judaica collection of The Magnes today. Memory Objects: Judaica Collections and Global Migrations brings these materials to light comprehensively for the first time, and also interrogates the formation of private and public Judaica collections in Europe during the great refugee crisis of the interwar period. The First World War uprooted millions across Europe, and beyond. Many Jews left Eastern Europe, bringing with them prized personal and communal belongings. In an attempt to rescue precious heritage from imminent destruction, objects often ended up with museums, collectors, and art dealers in the West.
Siegfried Strauss began collecting in Germany in 1913, and continued through the rise of the Nazi regime, whose anti-Semitic policies forced Jewish collectors to find temporary safe-houses for their possessions. Ahead of his internment in Buchenwald, Mr. Strauss secured safe passage for his collection, moving it to England. Once released, he followed it there, and later brought it to the United States, first to New York, and later to Los Angeles. This exhibition closely investigates the twice-displaced objects in the Strauss Collection—first in the wake of the First World War, and later by the Nazi regime in the Second World War. Memory Objects reveals compelling personal stories of migration and dispossession often "hidden" or "embedded" with museum objects, and questions the very meaning of cultural heritage in a time fluctuating borders and identities.