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Exhibit at Berlin Jewish Museum Stokes Debate

  • Michael Scaturro

An exhibit at Berlin's Jewish Museum aims to educate museum-goers about Jews in Germany today. Nearly 180,000 German Jews were killed in the Holocaust, almost the entire community in Germany in the lead up to World War II. Today, the number of Jews in Germany has grown but the percentage of Germany's total population is still miniscule.

One display in the show has a Jew sitting in a plexiglass box answering questions about Jews from visitors to the museum. Some critics say the show is degrading, and headline writers have dubbed the exhibit "Jew in a Box." But, the show seems less controversial to those visiting the museum.

The exhibit at Berlin’s Jewish museum seeks to answer frequently asked questions about Jews.

Are all Jews religious? What makes food Kosher?

What do Jews wear on their heads and why? And who can become a Jew?

One display is a plexiglass cube, open at the front, where a Jew sits every day but Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, answering questions from museum-goers.

On a recent day, Signe Rossbach, a Jew from Berlin, sat in the cube and talked to non-Jews who approached. She said she wanted to participate because most Germans have never met a Jew.

"They don't meet any Jews, most of them, and I thought this was a great idea," she said.,

A German-Canadian couple were surprised by the cube, but they liked it.

"I always seem to find that Germans, my husband being one, and his family, are very undereducated when it comes to knowing who the victims at their hands in the Second World War were," said Karen. "They don't really have any understanding of what a Jew is culturally."

"We come from that generation, we still have part of that guilt in us, even, even though we never did anything personally," her husband Robert said.

Curator Michal Friedlander, also Jewish, says she was motivated by the fact that many young Germans say the Holocaust was so long ago, there's no need to discuss it anymore.

"We want them to remember the terrible history but perhaps there is a new way to enter into dialogue," he said.

Historian Alexander Hasgall, another visitor, said the box is a good idea.

"This exhibition is an experiment. It can really fail, when we see everyone’s just laughing, and nothing else," he said. "But maybe it opens new ways to deal with Judaism, taking into account that German society is evolving, and Jews are a part of this society.”

The exhibit runs until September 1 this year.