Jewish Heritage Europe

Association of European Jewish Museums 2013 conference report

Conference participants outside the Jewish Museum in Hohenems. Photo AEJM ©Dietmar Walser

The Association of European Jewish Museums held its annual conference November 16-20, with sessions taking place at the Jewish Museums in Munich and in Hohenems, Austria, with a side trip to Switzerland to visit the Jewish Museum of Switzerland in Basel and the Braginsky Collection in Zurich.

AEJM President Hanno Loewy, the director of the Hohenems museum, has sent us a report on the meeting, which we summarize here.


Some 80 participants took part, from Jewish museums all over Europe and also from Israel. The conference was titled “Where We Are: Site, Space and Context,” and major themes were the future of Jewish Museums in Europe and plans for joint activities.

Specific points touched in key note lectures, workshops, discussion panels and museum presentations included questions regarding the relation between museums and their respective urban and historical space, with political interests in the society, and with the expectations of their respective audiences.

The conference took place 70 years after Kristallnacht, and Dr. Jörg Skriebeleit, director of the KZ-Memorial at Flossenbürg in Bavaria, opened the conference with a keynote address noting the contradictory proximity between the memories of Nazi terror and Jewish life that is inscribed into the postwar history of locations such as Flossenbürg and the neighboring town Floss, as well as in many other places in Europe.

In her presentation, Dr. Felicitas Heimann-Jelinek of Vienna discussed the diverse success stories of Jewish museums with an eye to their background of interests and conflicts in society, making Jewish museums a kind of case study for identity and sites of a somewhat elitist creation of meaning – something that can be a challenge and a problem for the museums alike. She encouraged the museums to confront these interests with both self-confidence and self-awareness, and to take the opportunity, “to address Jewish history and experience also as a pattern of other minorities’ histories and experiences. […] With the Jewish experience of migration Jewish museums generate also new memories, they make the historical and cultural memory more dynamic.“

In various workshops about curatorial practice stressed that confronting these challenges also means confronting visitors and visitors communities with an attitude of openness and a “culture of curiosity,” rather than with a monopoly to educate.

New Members and Board Members

Newly elected board members include Bernhard Purin (Jewish Museum Munich), Lucja Koch (Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw) and Joanne Rosenthal (Jewish Museum London)  who joined Hanno Loewy (Jewish Museum Hohenems) and Erika Perahia-Zemour (Jewish Museum in Thessaloniki).

The past year saw five new institutions from Russia, Latvia and Germany accepted as AEJM members.


For the fourth time the Curatorial Education Program (CEP) was organized in March 2013, this time in Munich. This is an intensive training program that dwells on the particular richness and diversity of the collections of the hosting venues, supported generously by the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe. In 2014 the CEP will take place in Amsterdam, focusing on the diversity of the material heritage of the Sephardic and Ashkenazi heritage in Europe. With the cooperation of the Jewish Museum Berlin, the AEJM plans to intensify this program in the coming years.

The AEJM held its second Educators’ Training Program for museum educators, focusing on the problems and needs of modern museum education, hosted by the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. In 2014 the Educator’s Training Program will be hosted by the Jewish Museum in Oslo, supported by the David Berg Foundation in New York.

The Association increasingly offers consulting services for its members. The Advisory Visits Grant Program, sponsored by the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe, enables member museums to apply for an expert visit to assist in curatorial or other challenges. This program has already proved productive and fruitful.

In 2014 the AEJM furthermore will concentrate on the development of a new website that will help to communicate not only with the members but also with a general interested audience of Jewish museums.

There is also new cooperation between Paideia, the Jewish academic program organized in Stockholm and elsewhere and with the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe, which will jointly sponsor a conference in Amsterdam in March 2014 called (Re)shaping the (Re)presentation of Jewish Culture: The Future of Jewish Museums in Europe, which is expected to draw participants from all over Europe.

 The next AEJM Annual Conference is scheduled for November 2014, in Warsaw.