Memory Objects: Judaica Collections and Global Migrations

On View:
Feb 26, 2019 - Dec 13, 2019
The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life
2121 Allston Way | Berkeley , CA
The Magnes
Gallery Hours:
Every week, Tuesday-Friday, 11am-4pm, during the UC Berkeley Fall and Spring Semesters.

The First World War (1914-1918) uprooted millions across Europe, and beyond. Many Jews left Eastern and Southern Europe, bringing with them prized personal and communal belongings. In an attempt to rescue precious heritage from imminent destruction, these “memory objects” often ended up with museums, collectors, and art dealers in the West.

Siegfried S. Strauss (1893-1969) began collecting Jewish objects in Germany in 1918, and continued through the rise of the Nazi regime, whose anti-Semitic policies forced Jewish collectors to find temporary shelters for their possessions. Before he was interned in Buchenwald in 1938, Strauss secured safe passage for his collection, moving it to England. Once released, he followed it there, and later brought it to the United States, first to New York, and later to Los Angeles.

In 1968, The Magnes acquired more than four hundred ritual objects, books, and manuscripts from the Siegfried S. Strauss collection, as well as a detailed inventory, which reflected Strauss’s knowledge of the materials (excerpts of this original inventory are included in the exhibition texts). These objects comprise the foundational Judaica holdings of The Magnes.

Strauss Collection
Click above to view images from the Strauss Collection.

Memory Objects closely investigates a selection of the twice-displaced objects in the Strauss Collection, revealing the compelling personal stories of migration and dispossession that are often embedded within museum objects, and questioning the very meaning of cultural heritage in a time of fluctuating borders and identities.

Memory Objects: Judaica Collections, Global Migrations
Click on the image above to view images of the exhibition.

The exhibition also highlights the recent gift of Ernst Freudenheim’s Photosammlung, the photographic catalog of a Judaica art dealer who was active in Germany at the time of Strauss’ own collecting. The overlaps are significant, and help broaden our understanding of the intersections of dealership, private collecting, and public preservation of the Jewish past.

Finally, the display is augmented by a precious porcelain set that belonged to the Camondo family (of Istanbul and Paris), whose history of displacement addresses the broad implications of Jewish collecting activities up to the Holocaust, and by new video work created by Citizen Film (San Francisco) in the context of a UC Berkeley course, Mapping Diasporas, which highlights how memory objects continue to be relevant to the refugee experience to this day.

~Francesco Spagnolo, Curator

Memory Objects: Judaica Collections, Global Migrations Exhibition Catalog:


Francesco Spagnolo and Shir Gal Kochavi

Undergraduate Curatorial Assistants:
Ronnie Hecht, Alexandra Langer, Zhaolong Li (URAP)

Julie Franklin

Exhibition Specialist:
Ernest Jolly

Editing, Marketing and Social Media:
Jeanne Marie Acceturo

Graphic Design:
Gordon Chun Design

Major funding ($100,000+) for The Magnes Collection comes from Karen and Franklin Dabby, the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, the Helzel Family Foundation, the Koret Foundation,  Peachy and Mark (Z’l) Levy, Magnes Leadership Circle, Magnes Museum Foundation, the Office of the Chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley, Barbro and Bernard Osher, and Taube Philanthropies.

Additional funds for this exhibition were generously provided by Adam & Victoria Freudenheim. Research for this project was made possible in part by funds and resources provided by the Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (URAP).

Keep Up-To-Date