By Noa Gutow-Ellis, Collections and Exhibitions Assistant
Currently on display at The Museum of the City of New York is the Cultivating Culture: 34 Institutions That Changed New York exhibition illuminating New York City’s Cultural Institutions Group. This group, MCNY explains, “Provides City support to 34 institutions across the five boroughs that help cement New York’s status as the cultural capital of the world.”
As one of these 34 institutions, the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust had the opportunity to contribute artifacts for inclusion in the exhibition. This provided a remarkable chance to share highlights from the Museum’s 30,000+ object collection. How did the Museum’s staff select only a few objects to represent the depth and breadth of the collection?
Michael A. Morris, Curatorial Associate, explained, “Our collection enables the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust to tell the story of 20th century Jewish history with a focus on the Holocaust as told from the perspective of the Jews who lived through it.” The vast majority of objects in the Museum’s collection have family stories attached to them, and it was important to reflect this in the objects selected for the Cultivating Culture exhibition. Morris had to strike a balance between representing the objects’ stories, the Central European geographic area heavily represented in the Museum’s collection, and the physical space limitations that go along with an exhibition featuring objects from 34 institutions when applying his curatorial eye to this project.
Ultimately, Morris decided to feature three objects in the exhibition. The first, a birthday card made in the Lodz Ghetto in 1944, speaks to the ways Jews lived during the Holocaust – and the lives survivors built afterward. The Lodz Ghetto housed factories that Germany relied on for their textile production during World War II. Juda Putersznyt oversaw one of those factories, and in 1944, for his 27th birthday, the boys who worked under Juda made him a birthday card: “On the occasion of your birthday. Best wishes for J. Putersznyt sends a grateful first group of professional courses at the furniture factory.” Juda survived the Holocaust with his wife, Rywka, whom he met and married in the Ghetto. They immigrated to the United States in 1962, and his children donated this artifact to the Museum.
The second object is a kiddush (sanctification) cup which J. Meyerhof used to celebrate the birth of his great-grandson, Richard Oppenheimer, in 1863. Richard helped to found the Kestner Gesellschaft art gallery in Hanover, Germany that is still in operation today. He took this kiddush cup with him to Chile in 1936 in order to escape Nazi Germany.
The final object included in Cultivating Culture is a drawing by Helga Weissova, born 1929, who packed art supplies when she was deported to the Terezin Ghetto in 1941. While imprisoned in the Ghetto, she depicted the life she saw around her. This included acts of spiritual resistance, like the drawing below. Titled Hanukkah in the Attic L410, Weissova captured a clandestine Hanukkah celebration taking place inside Ghetto housing. Still an active artist today, Weissova survived the Holocaust and lives in Prague.
Taken together, Morris hopes these objects help “visitors walk away with a keener sense that the objects in the Museum of Jewish Heritage collection are multifaceted, and that every victim of the Holocaust has a personal story.” This speaks to the Museum’s practice of educating visitors not only about the ways in which people died during the Holocaust, but also about the ways in which they lived.
Morris also noted the significance of the Museum’s inclusion in the Cultivating Culture exhibitions. “I hope that visitors see the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust standing shoulder to shoulder with other Cultural Insitution Group museums and institutions,” Morris said. “We are one of many intellectually stimulating and life enriching institutions that help create the rich intellectual and cultural topography of New York City’s five boroughs.”
Cultivating Culture: 34 Institutions That Changed New York is on display at The Museum of the City of New York through February 9, 2020.