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First Week at the Skirball Museum

Thursday, October 8, 2015

This summer I am interning at the Skirball Museum, which is part of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) campus in Cincinnati, Ohio. The museum, which was “the first formally established Jewish museum in the United States,” houses a collection of archeological, religious, and ritual Jewish artifacts, and also focuses on the history of Cincinnati’s Jewish community and the Holocaust.[1] It is an exciting time for the museum, as it just acquired the B’nai B’rith Klutznick Collection, which will greatly enhance the museum’s holdings and exhibits. The new collection was very recently delivered and is currently being processed. The HUC-JIR campus also contains the American Jewish Archives, Klau Library, and other resources that will be vital tools for conducting research and pursuing my interest in American Jewish history.

My position will give me general exposure to a museum’s inner workings, and I will also be working on specific projects throughout the course of the summer. These projects include researching artifacts in the museum’s collections and conducting oral history interviews with donors of the items in order to document their history. Two such artifacts have been identified, one of which is a miniature Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible. Preliminary research on the history of such miniature books reveals that they were often made for travelers to bring with them, whether in the case of traders who traveled for business or emigrants leaving their homes and bringing sacred texts with them.[2] Stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks about the artifacts.

IMG_4617Skirball Museum Building

A central focus of my summer will be helping with development of an exhibition on Holocaust photography. James Friedman’s “12 Nazi Concentration Camps” is a collection of 30 color photographs of 12 concentration camps. These photos defy standard representations of concentration camps because they are in color and because they probe at issues of tourism in connection with the sites, memory (or lack thereof) of those living near the camps, and memory of the descendants of survivors and survivors themselves. These photos will be presented with other documentary photographs of concentration camps, serving as a point of comparison to explore issues of memory and artistic depiction. This week I familiarized myself with the work that has already been started on the project and have begun researching other photographs to include in the exhibition. I look forward to collaborating with other institutions, reflecting upon issues of memory and commemoration, and otherwise delving into this project as it evolves.

Dora Apel’s work Memory Effects: The Holocaust and the Art of Secondary Witnessing analyzes Friedman’s photography along with other artists of the second generation who did not directly experience the Holocaust but instead are what she terms “secondary witnesses” to the event.[3] This work is a vital resource in developing the exhibition and building upon my own understanding of memory as constructed in different generations. My internship directly ties in with my interests in Holocaust memory, Jewish artifacts, oral history collection, and museum work, and I am excited to learn more about these subjects in the upcoming weeks.

[1] “Skirball Museum in Cincinnati,” Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, accessed May 21, 2015,

[2] Julian I. Edison, Miniature Book News no. 86 (September 1995): 3-4, UNT Digital Library, accessed May 21, 2015

[3] Dora Apel, Memory Effects: The Holocaust and the Art of Secondary Witnessing (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002), 12.