Both 1492 and 1942 were the subjects of major exhibits in Europe this year - one looking at how Jewish life has rooted itself since Jews were forced to scatter from their Spanish centers of life, the other exploring the time when Jews were not disbursed, but collected, onto trains bound for death camps.
The years, and their memories, were recalled this year in Berlin with a special exhibition called "Patterns of Jewish Life." For French Jews, this 50-year anniversary also is being remembered with sadness. Parisian lawyer Serge Klarsfeld commemorated it by organizing a train ride of concentration camp survivors and their descendants from Paris to the Polish camp, Auschwitz. He also put together an exhibition, "The Year of the Roundup," drawing solemn lines of rememberers to the reception area of the Paris City Hall. Later, the organizers moved the exhibit one subway stop up the Metro to the Tomb of the Unknown Jewish Martyr - to better accommodate the crowds during this tourist season.
The Berlin exhibition at the Martin Gropius Bau, which ended recently, tracked how Jews have taken their spiritual heritage and culture all over the world for about 4,000 years. Hundreds of thousands thronged the show, which cost the Berlin city government and the Federal Republic $6.25 million. Architect Christian Axt, who designed the show, wanted to bring over Philadelphia's Monument to Six Million Jews that sits at the Parkway, but the cost would have swallowed almost two-thirds of the total budget, so the plan was dropped. Even creating a gypsum copy would have cost about $180,000, a price tag too high for exhibit planners.
The American section of the exhibition included Ben Shahn's The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti" (1932), a lovely 1899 high angle photograph of New York's Hester Street and the rococo Torah Ark (1899) from Adas Yeshurun Synagogue
from Sioux City, Iowa. The huge American section was one of 28 visual essays that dealt with everything from the history, religious foundations, even the history of matzoh, represented in a commissioned painted by Larry Rivers.
"The Time of the Roundup" in Paris is subtitled "The Exodus of Jews in France during the War." Its poster shows an innocent-looking child wearing the despised yellow star and looking totally vulnerable. The exhibition is harrowing, - the limp Auschwitz prisoner's uniform hanging forlornly from the wall, the photographs of emaciated near-cadavers after liberation, a police chief's letter to a Jew in the Bristol Hotel in Paris telling him not to worry, he's not Jewish enough to be concerned about the future.