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The First World War (1914-1918) uprooted millions across Europe, and beyond. Many Jews left Eastern and Southern Europe, bringing with them prized personal and communal belongings. In an attempt to rescue precious heritage from imminent destruction, these “memory objects” often ended up with museums, collectors, and art dealers in the West.
Siegfried S. Strauss (1893-1969) began collecting Jewish objects in Germany in 1913, and continued through the rise of the Nazi regime, whose anti-Semitic policies forced Jewish collectors to find temporary shelters for their possessions. Before he was interned in Buchenwald in 1938, 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.
In 1968, The Magnes acquired more than four hundred ritual objects, books, and manuscripts from the Siegfried S. Strauss collection, as well as a detailed inventory, which reflected Strauss’s knowledge of the materials (excerpts of this original inventory are included in the exhibition texts). These objects comprise the foundational Judaica holdings of The Magnes.
Memory Objects closely investigates a selection of the twice-displaced objects in the Strauss Collection, revealing the compelling personal stories of migration and dispossession that are often embedded within museum objects, and questioning the very meaning of cultural heritage in a time of fluctuating borders and identities.
The exhibition also highlights the recent gift of Ernst Freudenheim’s Photosammlung, the photographic catalog of a Judaica art dealer who was active in Germany at the time of Strauss’ own collecting. The overlaps are significant, and help broaden our understanding of the intersections of dealership, private collecting, and public preservation of the Jewish past.
Finally, the display is augmented by a precious porcelain set that belonged to the Camondo family (of Istanbul and Paris), whose history of displacement addresses the broad implications of Jewish collecting activities up to the Holocaust, and by new video work created by Citizen Film (San Francisco) in the context of a UC Berkeley course, Mapping Diasporas, which highlights how memory objects continue to be relevant to the refugee experience to this day.
~Francesco Spagnolo, Curator
Memory Objects: Judaica Collections, Global Migrations Exhibition Catalog:
Explore a digital map of objects from the Strauss Collection below.
Curators: Francesco Spagnolo and Shir Gal Kochavi
Undergraduate Curatorial Assistants: Ronnie Hecht, Alexandra Langer, Zhaolong Li (URAP)
Registrar: Julie Franklin
Exhibition Specialist: Ernest Jolly
Editing, Marketing and Social Media: Jeanne Marie Acceturo
Graphic Design: Gordon Chun Design