Close up | 08. November 2023

...don’t tell a false story...

by Hannah Landsmann
© David Peters
Presented in November 2002 at the Jewish Museum Vienna, the exhibition One Night and One Day told of the events that occurred in Vienna from November 9, 1938 to November 10, 1938, using an impressively clear chronology printed on the walls of the exhibition area on the second floor. It was possible to read here who took their own life when and how, and at what time which synagogue in which district was “burned out,” as stated in the fire department records. Charred and damaged objects from Viennese synagogues and a ring that had been exchanged for a piece of bread in the Theresienstadt ghetto accompanied this chronology. The exhibition, curated by Felicitas Heimann-Jelinek, was architecturally implemented by Martin Kohlbauer.
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© JMW
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© David Peters

The exhibition was well-attended and experienced by quite a few pupils as part of workshops. The chronology of the twenty-four hours remained as an instrument for approaching unimaginable events in various communication formats beyond the duration of the exhibition. It was immediately clear from the time frame that it was not a Kristallnacht but a Kristalltag in Vienna. It took a little longer to replace the German term Kristallnacht or Reichskristallnacht in Austrian school textbooks with the Novemberpogrom or Reichspogromnacht.

By the end of the 2010s, most historians had abandoned the idea that the National Socialists had invented or circulated this word. Today it is assumed that this term was coined colloquially and that the prefix Reichs- was intended to have an ironic undertone. The Nazis highly valued powerful expressions, especially if they contained the prefix Reichs… Since the 1980s, however, there has also been a prevailing view in German-speaking countries that Kristallnacht is a trivializing term that downplays the atrocities committed against Jews on that night and that day. Internationally, the term Kristallnacht is still commonly translated as “Night of the Broken Glass.” The international Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem uses the expression “Kristallnacht pogrom.” Raphael Gross, the Swiss historian and President of the German Historical Museum, said on Deutschlandfunk in 2018: “Personally, I have the feeling that the most important thing is to know what you are talking about.” (“Warum ist der Begriff ‘Kristallnacht’ verschwunden?” Deutschlandfunk, November 9, 2018, https://www.deutschlandfunk.de/nachgefragt-warum-ist-der-begriff-kristallnacht-verschwunden-100.html, accessed November 5, 2023).

On the third floor of the Dorotheergasse museum the large central display case in the Visual Storage contains objects that originate from Viennese synagogues and prayer houses as well as from the Jewish communities in the federal states. On the front, the inscription “Währinger Tempel” refers to the location of the synagogue at Schopenhauerstrasse 39 in Vienna’s 18th district, which was “burned out” on November 10, 1938 at 12:35 p.m. Charred and battered Torah jewelry is presented here on a floor containing display cases. As part of a workshop for elementary school students, which was not about the events of November 9th and 10th, 1938, but about the beautiful Torah jewelry and the respective Hebrew terms, a girl said, when asked why these objects had not been cleaned or restored, that the museum would then be telling a false story. Yes, you have to know what is being talked about. The exhibition collection presented on the third floor of the museum is (also noticeable for young guests) a monument and a memorial.

Incidentally, the remembrance of the November pogrom, as part of the “One Night and One Day workshop, can not only be booked in the month of November.