Exhibit of Jews in Germany raises interest, ire


In this March 22, 2013 file photo, visitors surround Ido Porat, the first person acting as the ‘Jew in a glass box’, on the first day of the exhibition “The Whole Truth … everything you always wanted to know about Jews” at the Jewish Museum in Berlin. AP FILE PHOTO/Markus Schreiber

BERLIN — “Are there still Jews in Germany?” ”Are the Jews a chosen people?”

Nearly 70 years after the Holocaust, there is no more sensitive an issue in German life as the role of Jews. With fewer than 200,000 Jews among Germany’s 82 million people, few Germans born after World War II know any Jews or much about them.

To help educate postwar generations, an exhibit at the Jewish Museum features a Jewish man or woman seated inside a glass box for two hours a day through August to answer visitors’ questions about Jews and Jewish life. The base of the box asks: “Are there still Jews in Germany?”

“A lot of our visitors don’t know any Jews and have questions they want to ask,” museum official Tina Luedecke said. “With this exhibition we offer an opportunity for those people to know more about Jews and Jewish life.”

But not everybody thinks putting a Jew on display is the best way to build understanding and mutual respect.

Since the exhibit — “The Whole Truth, everything you wanted to know about Jews” — opened this month, the “Jew in the Box,” as it is popularly known, has drawn sharp criticism within the Jewish community — especially in the city where the Nazis orchestrated the slaughter of 6 million Jews until Adolf Hitler’s defeat in 1945.

“Why don’t they give him a banana and a glass of water, turn up the heat and make the Jew feel really cozy in his glass box,” prominent Berlin Jewish community figure Stephan Kramer told The Associated Press. “They actually asked me if I wanted to participate. But I told them I’m not available.”

The exhibit is reminiscent of Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann sitting in a glass booth at the 1961 trial in Israel which led to his execution. And it’s certainly more provocative than British actress Tilda Swinton sleeping in a glass box at a recent performance at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Eran Levy, an Israeli who has lived in Berlin for years, was horrified by the idea of presenting a Jew as a museum piece, even if to answer Germans’ questions about Jewish life.

“It’s a horrible thing to do — completely degrading and not helpful,” he said. “The Jewish Museum absolutely missed the point if they wanted to do anything to improve the relations between Germans and Jews.”

But several of the volunteers, including both German Jews and Israelis living in Berlin, said the experience in the box is little different from what they go through as Jews living in the country that produced the Nazis.

“With so few of us, you almost inevitably feel like an exhibition piece,” volunteer Leeor Englander said. “Once you’ve been ‘outed’ as a Jew, you always have to be the expert and answer all questions regarding anything related to religion, Israel, the Holocaust and so on.”

Museum curator Miriam Goldmann, who is Jewish, believes the exhibit’s provocative “in your face” approach is the best way to overcome the emotional barriers and deal with a subject that remains painful for both Jews and non-Jews.

“We wanted to provoke, that’s true, and some people may find the show outrageous or objectionable,” Goldmann said. “But that’s fine by us.”

The provocative style is evident in other parts of the special exhibition, including some that openly raise many stereotypes of Jews widespread not only in Germany but elsewhere in Europe.

One includes a placard that asks “how you recognize a Jew?” It’s next to an assortment of yarmulkes, black hats and women’s hair covers hanging from the ceiling on thin threads. Another asks if Jews consider themselves the chosen people. It includes a poem by Jewish author Leonard Fein: “How odd of God to choose the Jews. But how on earth could we refuse?”

Yet another invites visitors to express their opinion to such questions as “are Jews particularly good looking, influential, intelligent, animal loving or business savvy?”

Despite the criticisms, the “Jew in the Box” has proven a big hit among visitors.

“I asked him about the feelings he has for his country and what he thinks about the conflict with Palestine, if he ever visited Palestine,” visitor Panka Chirer-Geyer said. “I have Jewish roots and I’ve been to Palestine and realized how difficult it was there. I could not even mention that I have Jewish roots.”

On a recent day this week, several visitors kept returning to ask questions of Ido Porat, a 33-year-old Israeli seated on a white bench with a pink cushion.

One woman wanted to know what to bring her hosts for a Shabbat dinner in Israel. Another asked why only Jewish men and not women wear yarmulkes. A third inquired about Judaism and homosexuality.

“I guess I should ask you about the relationship between Germans and Jews,” visitor Diemut Poppen said to Porat. “We Germans have so many insecurities when it comes to Jews.”

Viola Mohaupt-Zitfin, 53, asked if Porat felt welcome as a Jew living among Germans “considering our past and all that.”

Yes, Porat said, Germany is a good place to live, even as a Jew. But the country could do even more to come to terms with its Nazi past, he added. He advised the would-be traveler that anything is permissible to bring to a Shabbat dinner as long as it’s not pork.

“I feel a bit like an animal in the zoo, but in reality that’s what it’s like being a Jew in Germany,” Porat said. “You are a very interesting object to most people here.”

Dekel Peretz, one of the volunteers in the glass box, said many Germans have an image of Jews that is far removed from the reality of contemporary Jewish life.

“They associate Jews with the Holocaust and the Nazi era,” he said. “Jews don’t have a history before or after. In Germany, Jews have been stereotyped as victims. It is important that people here get to know Jews to see that Jews are alive and that we have individual histories. I hope that this exhibit can help.”

Still, not everyone believes this is the best way to promote understanding.

Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal from the Jewish Chabad community in Berlin said Germans who are really interested in Jews and Judaism should visit the community’s educational center.

“Here Jews will be happy to answer questions without sitting in a glass box,” he said.

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  • efff_you_fools

    i heard that the holocaust killed all the good seed people so i wonder how many bad seed people are there now on earth in human bodies but heard that 98% of the world’s population are bad seed people.

    • Euan Mac


      • billy31

        100% of the world’s population are bad seed people. it is only our belief that can turn us into good seeds.

  • kidsPorts

    ”Are the Jews a chosen people?”

    They were, as a part of the whole nation Israel. But Israel, including Jews, failed in performing its prestation in the the covenant with God.

    • wanluna

      how were you able to say that they have already failed?
      have you seen the completed story already?

  • i_am_filipino

    “Are the Jews a chosen people”? Ask your God and if he does not reply, then he hates you. If he replied ” then you must have understanding of the Jew”.

  • wawa2172

    “Are the Jews a chosen people”? I guess No. The Chinese are well love by God in today’s generation because communist do not believe in heavenly power and must be save. They are the mightiest nowadays and will make the life of other people though its military and economic might. It would suffer the burnt of God in due time like any other countries who abused the goodness of god. History repeats itself, nag hirap ang mga intsik but they are given a chance to have riches that they are experiencing nowadays. They are chosen because god have to save those who do not believe in him and billions of the Chinese don’t.

    • wanluna

      The Babylonians were mighty then, and so were the Assyrians and the Romans, and dont forget the Nazis…but the Jews outlived them. all those mighty empires are gone. but the Jews continue to flourish and contribute alot for the betterment of mankind.

  • wanluna

    “Some people like the Jews some do not. But no thoughtful man can deny the fact that they are, beyond any question, the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has appeared in the world” – Winston Churchill

    If you think about it really, one will realize that the jews, as few as they are, has survived the Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian, and the Roman empire. they have survived the Nazi genocide and Islamic persecution, and yet has flourished to give us artists and scientists, men of thought and reason that has affected our modern life. all those empire has come and gone and yet the jew still stands.

    Classical and modern culture include prominent jewish names. Political thoughts and movements are also influenced by the jewish thought. Economics has a lot of prominent jewish names.

    Science and Technology is riddled with developments in Israel that has already changed the modern world and will continue to change the future. Medicine and Agriculture is a major focus of development in this small country that is only as big as Region 3 in the Philippines. their agricultural technology is so advance that they have made the desert bloom and has become a major exporter of agricultural produce.

    Israel is surrounded by those that wants to destroy it; Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia yet it has stood strong, developing defense technology that even America refers too.

  • slim6744

    This idea of JEWS being the “chosen people” by GOD… very dangerous thinking. A JEW might INTERPRET this as a LICENSE to BILK another GENTILE in a business deal to “separate” a GENTILE from his money. In other words… SCAM the GENTILE in a FINANCIAL transaction.

    JEWS are very well known to do this. It has happened hundreds of thousands of times in the HISTORY of the BUSINESS WORLD. To use the expression…”anti-Semitic” would be putting it………very mildly. I wouldn’t do business with a JEW if my life depended on it. I just don’t trust them.

    Another reason HENRY FORD……..didn’t like them either…… Please….don’t call me anything…….but late for supper.

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