Jewish museum officials decry Vienna exhibit destruction


BERLIN (JTA) — Directors of Jewish museums and educational institutes in Europe have written an open letter condemning the destruction of a 16-year-old exhibit at the Jewish Museum of Vienna.

The exhibit, based on holograms, was removed recently to make way for a new exhibit due to open next summer. According to the museum’s website, efforts to preserve the exhibit proved technically impossible.

Public criticism grew after photographs of the shattered exhibition made their way onto museum-related blogs.

In the open letter to Danielle Spera, director of the Vienna Jewish Museum since July, the critics said they expected colleagues to "show dignity and respect for their own institutional history. And the same dignity and respect should be shown to our colleagues and their work."

According to the letter, the holograms "were among the most remarkable presentations of Jewish history in the world of Jewish museums and beyond." They were designed to underscore the point that concrete cultural objects had been destroyed in the Holocaust.

Directors of Jewish museums in Germany, Belgium, Holland and Austria were among those who signed the letter.

Cilly Kugelmann, program director at the Jewish Museum Berlin, told JTA that she hoped the letter would raise awareness about the importance of preserving historic museum displays, even though they must sometimes make way for new innovations.

"One should not throw the old overboard," she said.

Kugelmann, who said she was "shocked by the destruction," said there had been no response to the letter.

On the museum’s website, Peter Menasse, director of the financial and organizational department, describes the holograms as a "trademark" exhibition that showed the history of Vienna Jewry, but that also were showing signs of wear and tear. He wrote that one slip and the safety glass used for the holograms shattered into thousands of pieces, tanking plans to preserve them.

In an interview and fashion shoot last year in the Austrian magazine First, Spera said it was her greatest wish to design a permanent exhibit that would show all facets of Jewish life in Austria.

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