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Jewish museum of Odessa
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The Museum of History of Odessa Jews “Migdal Shorashim” was opened in November of 2002 by the Jewish community centre “Migdal”. Previously, the history of Odessa’s Jewry was not exhibited or displayed in any other museum around the city. This exact absence served as the primary reason for the unveiling of this historical treasure.

Let us not forget that during the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, Odessa had the third largest Jewish population in the1 world (after New York and Warsaw). During this time period the city served as a home to numerous Jewish writers and poets including Mandel Moiher-Sforim, H. Bialik and1 S.Chernihovsky. It was a place were great historians such as S. Dubnow and I.-G. Glayzner lived. Early founders of the Zionism movement M. Lilienblum and Pinsker along with world known Zionist leaders V. Jabotinsky, A. Ginsburg (Ahad-ga-Am), M. Usyshkin, M. Dizenhoff and others also spent their days in Odessa.

In 1910s Jews play a key role in the arts and cinematography developing in Odessa. The city also welcomes new talent in the realm of Jewish literature such as I.Babel and others who choose to produce their classics in the Russian language.

At the beginning of the 1920’s Jews comprised the largest ethnic group in the city (over 40%) and some ten years later they are still ranked among the top three ethnic groups in the city (over 30%).

However historical tragedies of the Second World War took its toll on the Jews of Odessa where thousands of Jews were killed in the Odessa region during the Nazi occupation. Despite the fact that Odessa’s Jewish population continued to reduce in the period of 1950-80’s down to 20%, it is fair to say that the overall influence of Odessa’s Jewish community on developments in science, arts and the overall culture of the city is immensurable. Starting with 1960’s we can observe the growth of the Jewish resistance movement in Odessa otherwise known as the struggle of the refusniks. Alongside these events in the city and the later developments of perestroika Jewish migration out of the USSR and the simultaneous rebirth and revival of the Jewish community define the 1990’s period in post-Soviet Odessa.

Despite the small parameters of the museum (total area of exhibition space is 160 sq meters) “Migdal Shorashim” serves as the only Jewish museum in all of the Ukraine where over a period of five years it has gathered a rich collection of 7000 materials (including documents, photographs, books, newspapers, postcards, religious garment, household goods, music instruments and other pieces of art). One thousand exhibits from the entire collection of the museum represent its permanent collection.

1Every year the museum receives thousands of guests, leads a great number of excursions and tours, welcomes numerous researchers and students from the USA, France, United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Easter Europe and other countries around the world. Along with other programs led by “Migdal”, an annual conference titles, “Odessa and Jewish civilization” serves to bring researchers working on Jewish topics in Odessa even closer to one another. Following the conference “Migdal” publishes collections of the presented papers, brochures and other insightful materials dealing with Jewish history of Odessa.

The museum also supports initiatives in the area of Jewish research and in its joined efforts with other Jewish organizations, Ukrainian state museums, archives, and various universities in the city and the grater Ukraine not to mention a great number of foreign specialists and researchers, works to popularize Jewish history of Odessa

The activities and events of our museum are regularly covered by the local, national and international media.

The majority of our expositions have been generously donated to our collection by local public figures, leaders of Jewish organizations, ordinary citizens of Odessa as well as members of the city’s large Diaspora community who continue to cherish their native city. In particular, we are extremely grateful to Odessa’s collectors A. Drozdovsky, D. Konstatinovsky, M. Poisner, A. Rozermboim, journalists F. Kohriht, E. Golubovsky, A. Misuk, the Verkhovsky family, the Naydis family and the Dusman family. We would also like to extend our gratitude to many members of the Jewish community centre “Migdal” and the Association of Ghetto Survivors, The Centre of Jewish culture, Odessa’s Art Museum and many other Jewish and non Jewish organizations operating in the city.

With great sorrow we recently parted with our loyal friends D. Frumina and B. Minkus whose material and artistic contribution will always be cherished and looked after in the1 museum.

The financing of the museum is supported by various international Jewish philanthropic organizations (first and foremost “JOINT”) and private donors.

In April of 2007, with the assistance of the Rothschild Foundation, the museum opened a new exhibition entitled “Jews of Odessa: is it only the past?” where one of our main goals was to analyze and connect different periods of Jewish Odessa rather than follow the chronological history of the city’s Jewry.

1Demographic tendencies are illustrated by graphs which speak of the total number of Jews in major European cities at the end of the 19th century.

In the window display of the same exposition room you can find fragments of grave stones which date back to the 1770’s discovered in the centre of the1 city by the archaeologies A. Dobrolubsky. Their existence supports the historical claim that Jews have been living in the Khadjibei region prior to the establishment of Odessa.

With the help of the monitor in this room you can get familiar with the number of Odessa’s Jewish population at different periods of the city’s life where percentages of Jews varied from 10% in 1975 to 34% (approximately 200 thousand) in 1912 and from 44% in 1920 to 6% (65 thousand) in 1989.

In the museum you will also find a small collection of monetary bills (including “The Odessa currency”) which highlight the theme of Jewish financial activity in Odessa. . Postcards of Jewish aid organization dealing with ill or impoverished Jews called “Ezras Hoilim” and the private letter of M. Usyshkin written on the form of the “Palestinian Committee” illustrate of the time in Odessa’s Jewish history were Jews could not only help their neighbour but also use their finances and strength to build the foundation of the Israeli State.

Fragments of the 1968 newspaper displayed on the wall, created by the artist I. Shenker to commemorate his father’s birthday, discusses the immense career opportunities which Odessa (unlike other cities of the Russian Empire) could provide to its Jewish population.

The topic of Jewish press in Odessa is illustrated by various newspapers such as “The Day” 1869-71 (sponsored by the Russian Haskalah) which was published slightly earlier than the Zionist press “Jewish Thoughts” originated in 1918. On the same display you can find a fairly recent 1990’s publication of Moldova and Odessa’s Jewish community called “Our Voice” which speaks of Jewish rebirth in the former Soviet Union. At the same time, special attention is directed to the role of Jews in the general city publications with a grand display of various issues of the popular newspaper of the 20th century, “The Odessa News”.

Situated one next to the other, we have a picture of Jewish children in post Soviet Jewish Odessa and a rather similar photo (which dates back to 1914) of young Jewish children of Minkus celebrating Chanukah in one of the city’s sanatoriums.

Other photographs of the main characters alive in the “Odessa Myth” (H. Serebryaniy, L. Utesov, P. Stolyarsky, D. Oistrach and others) are located next to a set of documents and articles about the 1st Ukrainian Museum of Jewish Culture and the 5 year old history of the Migdal Shorashim Museum.

In another window display you can expositions related to another highly acclaimed profession where Jews were among the majority: medicine. Here you can find names of famous doctors who had an active role in political and philanthropic organizations around the city.

On the way to the next room, any visitor has a chance to set foot on the “Stones of Old Odessa”. Students of the School of Jewish Art located in the “Migdal” centre have beautifully decorated a number of stones with images of old buildings at one point visible on the streets of Odessa.

In this next room you can find a collection of materials dedicated to the production of a major Odessa company “V. Vysotsky and Co”( a tea production company). Included among other materials is the letter which the famous tea merchant Vysotsky wrote, himself, to the Jewish Enlightenment Society asking the Hebrew press to publish an acknowledgement of his award for the best essay on Jewish history. Another recipient of such an award was the famous S. Dubnow whose photos are displayed not far from the above mentioned materials.

In the same room one can find photographs of acclaimed figures of Jewish literature including H. Bialik, Mendele Moiher-Sforim, Ahad-Ga-Am, Sholom Aleihem and others. In the window display located in that exact room you can find the “Sefer Hagada” of H. Bialik and I. Ravnizky. There you will also find “Shirim” of S. Chernihovsky published in 1910’s. The same display also illustrates a number of materials, photographs and documents telling of the Jewish Hospital and the Craftsman Society “Trud” (Labour) both of which operated in Odessa.

On the walls of this historically rich room there is a gallery of photographs which take the visitor into the lives of leading figures of Jewish culture and activists of the Jewish political movement (primarily Zionism). In the same line of photos there is a photograph of the Jewish Self Defence League (1905). Next to this image you can look directly at the faces of early Jewish settlers heading to Eretz Israel on board the famous ship “Ruslan” (1919)

In the second display case one can bare witness to the religious life of Odessa’s Jewry. Here a collection of religious garments and ritual objects along old postcards of Odessa’s once living and breathing synagogues lead the visitor through the history of Judaism in the city.

The less lively yet extremely important topic of Jewish cemeteries is also introduced in this display case through fragments of old grave stones, postcards and modern day photographs of the destruction of the 2nd Jewish cemetery.

Not far from the religious and sacred exhibits, the visitor can glance at bare statistics of Odessa’s synagogues and prayers houses which at the beginning of the 20th century were said to be over five hundred. Above this astonishing list, there is a photograph of G. L. Veprik-the last leader of the synagogue allocated to Jewish butchers. Veprik himself died in the years of the Shoa but the building of the old butcher’s synagogue is now a home to numerous Jewish organizations including the “Migdal” centre and the Odessa Society of Jewish Culture.

With a slight sense of nostalgia, the next exhibition room of the “Migdal Shorashim” Museum looks at the culture of the early 20th century. Here on display the visitors can find original copies of musical notes of Jewish lyrics printed in Odessa in beautiful Art Deco style. Grounding these musical creations are a few pieces of elegantly carved furniture which have been donated to the museum. The most dear of this small collection are two pieces in particular; the cupboard which belonged to the family of I.Babel and decorated their apartment on Rishelevskaya Street and the bed frame donated by the family of Adel’ Gersh-Leybovna- who died together with her husband Moisee Krasnopolsky during the Holocaust. The bed frame featured in this room was a creation of the Jewish Craftsman Society “Trud”.

In the same walls it seemed appropriate to display a “self portrait” of D. Frumina (1934) a renown Odessa artist and teacher who in many ways represents a connecting link between the artistic culture of the elder generation of artists and educators working at the beginning of the century (including T. Fraerman) and Frumina’s own students many of whom became well known Jewish artists of the 1960-70’s.

The subsequent exhibition room allows us to remember and reflect on the eccentric flourishing and the tragic destiny of Yiddish culture during the Soviet period. A number of documents printed in 1917 (including the organizational statue of the Russian Jewish sports club “Makabbi” established in Odessa prior to the coming of the Soviet regime) highlights varied Jewish movements and organizations in Odessa.

The graduate diploma of the 57th state school written in Ukrainian and Yidish (1928), lottery and membership tickets of OZET, writing desk of I. Druker a well known Yiddish writer, table set of Note Lur’e, a collection of rare photographs and documents belonging to the actors of the Odessa State Theatre, the painting of S. Rashkovoy “On the Jewish Communal Farm” painted in 1933- all this reminds us of a time when Hebrew was prohibited along with any Jewish political movements, when religious activity and practices was practically banned and yet at the same time national (Yiddish) culture of the Jewish population was flourishing.

In one of the display windows of this room the documents and photos exhibited reveal the active participation of Jews in the defence of Odessa from Nazi occupation in 1941. It is here that one can also see that honorary medal for “righteous citizens of the world”, which was granted by the institute Yad Vashem to professor V. Shevalev, director of the Odessa psychological hospital, and his son Andrey, a young student at the time, who jointly rescued thousands of Jews during the time of World War II.

The tragic memory of the Holocaust in the Odessa region is collected in a separate small hall of the museum. In close proximity to the horrifying numbers of Jewish victims during the Nazi occupation (in Odessa and the city region close to one fourth of a million Jews perished) a few pictures of those exact victims and their families are displayed.

A separate set of materials are dedicated to the family of Leonid Dusman, today’s principal researcher of Holocaust in the Odessa region. Included in the exposition is a photograph of the gymnastic team of “Makkabi” taken in 1917; pictured among other athletes are the father and uncle of L. Dusman both of whom died on the war front. As well, a photograph of Dusman’s older brother, a boy who died in a fire along with tens of thousands of other Bessarabia and Odessa Jews while being trapped in the artillery warehouse. Also included in the collection is a portrait of Leonid Dusman who himself witnessed life in the Domanevsky ghetto one year after his 10th birthday.

In the same room of tragic memories of the Dusman family history there is a small blanket and his father’s college hood, which his mother used to keep small Leonid warm while walking the “road of death” (the road on which Jews from Odessa were herded out of the city in the winter of 1941). Near to this family memorial, there is a row of photographs taken in the 1990’s of newly built city monuments commemorating the tragic mass killings of Jews in Odessa.

Across from this exhibition one can find a plan (reconstruction) of the artillery warehouse buildings drawn by L. Dumer, who so kindly donated his “private museum” of the Holocaust history in Odessa all the way from San Francisco.

Next to Dumer’s plan there is a pre-war picture of the young doctor Gleyzer, who was executed during the war and a unique document (with a strong Romanian stamp) describing the “redistribution of personal belongings of ghetto prisoner Sarah Gleyzer”.

Included in the exhibition are also materials about the family of Manya Trok who served as a military doctor in 1941. A picture of her parents (who perished during Nazi occupation) is also exhibited. Alongside Trok’s pictures one can find the first edition of the journal “Lehaim”, whose editor in chief happened to be the husband of Mani Trok’s granddaughter who managed to survive the War.

Walking along, one runs into a small corridor redecorated into a kitchen with an old stove, pots and pans of different generations, household tools, small burners, and other goods telling of the everyday life and craftsmanship of Odessa’s Jewry.

Instruments of shoemakers, engineers, barbers and others are also displayed in the next hall. Among many exhibits there are some very intersting scales engraved with the original stamp of the production factory of Y. Kanter and a measuring cup “quarter” (1884) with an original signature of the craftsman Shmoel Pinhus (the son of whom founded the first Odessa Institute of Measurements and Scales ).

In this hall documents and photographs related to the 1905 pogroms in Odessa neighbour with a written sentence addressed to D. Naydis for “pro Zionist propaganda” carried out after the Sixth Day War along side present day anti-Semitic flyers, komptometr (made in the USA, 1919), given by ORT to a native of Odessa with a contemporary Jewish newspaper, announcing the opening of the Jewish Finance and Economics University in Odessa. Also included in this collection are a set of documents and photographs of Jewish organizations which opened in Odessa in the early 1990’s as well as souvenirs presented to the museum from the Baltimore Jewish community.

And perhaps the most touching and precious set of exhibits is the music box of Polina Blinder’s grandmother made at the turn of the century and the chuppah under which Polina (present day assistant to the director of “Migdal”) herself stood on the day of her marriage to Zvi Girsh (present day editor in chief of the Odessa newspaper Shomrey Shabos).

All this and much more you can see while visiting our museum which is located on Nejinskaya Street, 66 and is open for your viewing every day from 13:00-19:00 (except for Fridays, Saturdays and Jewish holidays) and on Sundays from 10:00 – 16:00.

You can contact us on +38048-728-9743, or via email museum@migdal.ru. For further updates and news related to the museum you can visit us on this website.

Michael Rashkovetsky
Director of the Migdal-Shorashim Museum

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