Before you enter this museum, take a moment and think about the following: have you ever heard your friends or peers in school make a negative comment about a group (including Jews) and say it was a joke? Have you ever heard someone deny that the Holocaust happened? Or even make a joke about Adolf Hitler or the Holocaust? This museum should help show why an understanding of the Holocaust is important, why (hateful) language is so dangerous, and why antisemitism (hatred of Jews) is an age-old idea that is wrong and needs to be challenged even today. 

In the 1930s, there were about nine million Jews living throughout Europe and only a small percentage of those lived in Germany. Most Jews lived in Eastern Europe, in an area formally called the Pale of Settlement, which was the only region where Jews were permitted to live in the old Russian Empire. This area included Latvia, Eastern Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, and Western Russia. Many of the Jews in Eastern Europe lived traditional religious lifestyles in small towns called shtetls. Some towns had large numbers of Hasidic Jews who lived highly observant and highly spiritual lives. About 3.5 million Jews lived in Poland, composing 10% of the Polish population.

Smaller populations of Jews lived in Central and Western Europe in large cities like Prague, Vienna, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Paris. These Jews tended to be more modern, more assimilated, and less religious although of course there were some religious Jews in those places as well. Surprisingly, only about 505,000 Jews lived in Germany, making up less than 1% of the population there.

The Great War of 1914-1919, later known as World War I, led to major changes in Germany. After Germany's loss in World War I and the fall of the kaiser, the country experimented with its first attempt at democracy. Known as the Weimar Republic, the period from 1919-1933 was known for its cultural creativity, fragile democracy, and weak economy. Cities like Berlin felt alive and vibrant. There were streetcars and double-decker buses rushing along the avenues. Women, now with the right to vote, had more freedom and hopes for the future than ever before.

Here are some specific questions you may want to think about as you peruse the exhibit:

    • What differences and diversity existed between the Jewish communities in Europe? What similarities held them together?

    • Where did most Jews live before WWII? How might that have influenced where and how the Holocaust would eventually take place?

    • To what extent were Jews assimilated into the countries in which they lived? To what extent were they "apart?"

    • What questions does this raise for you about the Holocaust?

Begin by viewing the stories of Joseph and Myra's families and then move on to the artifacts. In this exhibit, you will encounter the following artifacts:

    • Artifact 1: A narrated video about Jewish life before the Holocaust

    • Artifact 2: A short video introductions about Judaism: What is Shabbat?

    • Artifact 3: A short video introductions about Judaism: What is Judaism?

    • Artifact 4: A text overview of Judaism

    • Artifact 5: A map of Jewish communities in Europe in 1933 An explanation of Antisemitism

    • Artifact 6: Primary sources on historical Antisemitism in Europe before the Holocaust

JOSEPH'S FAMILY

Being born on the front of World War I meant danger. This is probably why Joseph's family fled before his birth...

MYRA'S FAMILY

Myra grew up in the only non-religious family in Kovno. Her mother had to threaten her father with divorce to get him to go to synagogue.

A video "Glimpses of Jewish Life Before Holocaust"

ARTIFACT 1

Length: 4:17 

 

Recommended viewing times: 0-2:15 or entire video

Guiding Questions:

  • In what ways was Jewish life diverse before the Holocaust?

  • How long had some Jewish communities lived in Europe?

  • What is one visual image from the video that depicts Jewish life before the Holocaust? Explain.

A video "What is Shabbat?"

ARTIFACT 2

Length: 2:53 

 

Recommended viewing times: Entire video

Guiding Questions:

  • Why do observant Jews celebrate Shabbat?

  • What do observant Jews "set aside" on Shabbat?

  • How do Jews make Shabbat a special or "sacred" time?

  • What is one visual image from the video that depicts Shabbat? 

A video "Introduction to Judaism"

ARTIFACT 3

Length: 2:46

 

Recommended viewing times: entire video

Guiding Questions:

  • What is the holiest text of Judaism?

  • Is Judaism a monotheistic or polytheistic religion?

  • How do Jews view the idea of interpreting sacred texts?

  • What is one visual image from the video that depicts Judaism? 

Judaism

ARTIFACT 4

A short History.com text overview of Judaism and Jewish practice

As Judaism is the world’s oldest monotheistic religion, dating back nearly 4,000 years. Followers of Judaism believe in one God who revealed himself through ancient prophets. History is essential to understanding the Jewish faith, which is embedded in tradition, law and culture.

Guiding Questions:

  • What is Judaism's holiest book?

  • Is Judaism monotheistic or polytheistic? Where do Jews worship?

  • What is Shabbat? How do Jews observe Shabbat?

  • What are two other important Jewish holidays?

ARTIFACT 5

A map that shows the layout of Jewish populations in Europe in 1933.

Guiding Questions:

  • Which three countries had the greatest number of Jews in 1933?

  • Were there more Jews in Germany or Eastern Europe?

  • In 1492, Portugal and Spain expelled all the Jews. How is that reflected in this 1933 map? 

What is Antisemitism?

ARTIFACT 6

 The word antisemitism means prejudice against or hatred of Jews. The Holocaust, the state-sponsored persecution and murder of European Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945, is history’s most extreme example of antisemitism.

Guiding Questions:

  • What were pogroms and how did they reflect antisemitism?

  • How was antisemitism in Germany more connected to racism than religion?

  • What were two lies or false rumors often spread by 19th century antisemitic leaders?

ADDITIONAL READING

FACING HISTORY'S
JEWISH LIFE

UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST

MEMORIAL MUSEUM