The collection of the first Jewish museum in the world was started 120 years ago, on February 24, 1893. The first object is missing – as is half of the original collection.
The first inventory entry in a Jewish museum was made exactly 120 years ago. On February 24, 1893, the first Jewish museum in Vienna – and in the world for that matter – was given the early eighteenth-century book “Die alten jüdischen Heiligtümer, Gottesdienste und Gewohnheiten” written by Johannes Lundius. It was donated by the doctor Emanuel Kolisch, who died at the end of that same year. This object, which inaugurated the idea and vision of a Jewish museum, today an integral component of the art and cultural scene of many cities and countries, is listed as missing today.
In fact, not only this item but more than half of the objects in the first Jewish museum are missing.* The Museum was closed in March 1938 by the Nazis and its collection confiscated by the Gestapo. Some of the items were incorporated in the inventories of the Museum of Ethnology, the Austrian National Library, the Natural History Museum, and other institutions. These items were restituted between 1949 and the 1990s to the Jewish Community of Vienna (IKG) as legal successor. The remaining objects are still missing, and only a few have turned up on the art and antiques market so far.
The Jewish Museum of the City of Vienna, which was established twenty-five years ago, carries out extensive provenance research within its own collections. The collection of the old Jewish Museum was donated to the Jewish Museum Vienna as a permanent loan by the IKG, and intensive investigation is all taking place to identify objects with a stamp or label from this old museum. On the occasion of the 120th anniversary of the first donation, the Museum calls on institutions and private collectors in Austria and elsewhere to study their inventories for signs of provenance (see gallery).
In November 2013 the Jewish Museum of the City of Vienna will be celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of its foundation and the twentieth anniversary of its move to Palais Eskeles in Dorotheergasse on November 18, 1993. As with all Jewish institutions in Vienna founded before 1938, the 120th anniversary of the first Jewish Museum, which was closed and destroyed in 1938 and its members and visitors expelled and exterminated, is not an occasion for celebration. On the contrary, it should act as a stimulus to intensify efforts to pin down the objects from the original collection that are still missing today.
The Jewish Museum Vienna requests your active assistance in provenance research. Any indication that would assist in the ongoing investigations would be very welcome. We also rely on your assistance in relocating missing objects from the old Jewish Museum. Examples of indications that an object comes from the old Jewish Museum can be found here.
Contact: Alexandra Chava Seymann
* The inventory register has 5,400 entries, but some of the entries are composite ones. The list that museum curator Jakob Bronner was forced to present to the Gestapo in 1938 mentions 6,474 objects without individual specification.