Εβραϊκό Μουσείο Ελλάδος
- The Jewish Museum of Greece
- Evraiko Mouseio Ellados
The idea of building a Jewish Museum of Greece was first conceived in the 1970’s by members of the Jewish Community of Athens, who offered every kind of assistance towards the realisation of this dream. The Museum was first established in 1977 and housed in a small room next to the city’s synagogue. It housed objects salvaged from WW II, whether artefacts, documents and manuscripts of the 19th and 20th centuries, or the jewellery of the Jews of Thrace that had been seized by the Bulgarians in 1943. The latter had been returned to the Greek government after the abdication of the Bulgarian king and the establishment of a communist regime in the country. The following years saw a thorough and careful collection of material from all the communities of Greece, under the inspired guidance of Nikos Stavroulakis, director of the Museum until 1993. The collection expanded with rare books and publications, textiles, jewellery, domestic and religious artifacts, thanks to the interest of several individuals. The Museum soon began to attract the attention of many visitors, researchers and donors. In 1981, the Association of American Friends was founded, followed, a little later, by the Association of Friends of the Jewish Museum of Greece, with members of the Jewish Communities of Athens and Thessaloniki. After years of efforts, the Museum acquired its legal status in 1989, as a non-profit foundation with a seven-member Board of Directors. In the following years the Museum’s activities expanded; they involved both the research and study of the Greek Jews - in collaboration with other foundations and researchers from Greece and abroad - and publishing. At the same time, its collection was being continuously enriched with new acquisitions from all over Greece, greatly exceeding all expectations.
Records Management and Collecting Policies
Ninety percent of all acquisitions come from donations, mainly by individuals from Greece and abroad. Otherwise, there is no systematic market research, nor is there an acquisitions budget.
As the Museum’s collection grew and its activities expanded, it soon outgrew its first premises and new ones had to be found. In 1984, it moved to a rented space occupying the 3rd floor of 36, Amalias Avenue. The exhibition was reorganized into thematic units covering the interests of its various visitors. The increasing needs of the Museum for more space, together with the dream of sometime having its own premises, led to the purchase of a 19th century neoclassical building, with the support of its Friends in Greece and abroad, the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki and the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece. With substantial financial support from the Greek Ministry of Culture and the Associations of its Friends, the old building was renovated and, in late 1997, twenty years after it first opened its doors to the public, the Museum moved to 39 Nikis street, its new address in the centre of Athens. On March 10th, 1998, the new building of the JMG was inaugurated and a new area begun for the Museum.
Archival and Other Holdings
The Museum’s collections include almost ten thousands original artifacts, testifying to more than 23 centuries of Jewish presence in Greece. Besides a few objects which Asher Moissis, president of the Jewish Community of Athens, had collected after the war, the core of the initial collection was made up of items that had been returned to Greece by the Bulgarian government, after the establishment of a communist regime in that country. These included personal effects, jewellery, domestic items, synagogual objects and documents, which belonged to the Jews of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace and were confiscated after 1941, when the area fell in the Bulgarian zone of occupation. The confiscated items had been meticulously recorded and became the first significant body of artifacts of the collection. This core material kept multiplying, mainly through the donations of individuals and communities, initially from the area of Thessaly, the island of Rhodes and the city of Ioannina. Besides rare 17th - 19th century books and publications, a significant number of ritual textiles was assembled, during the years 1977-1982. Most of them date from the Ottoman times (14th-19th centuries), and soon became one of the Museum’s main attractions, for both visitors and researchers.
In 1984 the Jewish Community of Patras was dissolved for lack of members and the interior of its synagogue, along with its textiles and ritual objects was bequeathed to the Museum. These religious artifacts are extremely significant, invaluable and irreplaceable, since they come, for the most part, from synagogues and communities, which no longer exist. After these early acquisitions, began the organization of the artifacts into categories: ritual objects, domestic and personal items, and Holocaust artifacts, documents, and information material. More donations from individuals and communities from both Greece and abroad continued to pour in, further enriching the collection.
The Museum’s relocation to its new premises (1998) brought a renewal of public interest and more donations followed. In general, the Museum has been receiving an average of 250-300 new artifacts every year, since the year 2000. Its unique collections, which are continuously being expanded, document more than four centuries of Jewish life in Greece, considering that the oldest textiles and antenuptial contracts date from the 16th century C.E. The original artifacts of the Museum’s collections are organised into various thematic categories. One of the largest is the category of Books, which includes Prayer books, Psalms, the Torah, Commentaries on Holy Texts, Kabbalah books, as well as school books, manuals of various kinds, books of history and ethnography, works of literature and poetry, calendars and albums dating as far back as the 16th century.Another significant and representative category is the one of Costumes, which includes traditional dress (18th–20th centuries) and urban outfits (19th–20th centuries), men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, and a wide variety of dress accessories. There are also clothes for infants, for circumcisions and prayer. A separate sub-category includes clothes that were traditionally part of a bride’s trousseau, such as hand-sewn underwear, shirts and nightshirts, dresses and household linen and textiles, for example bed sheets, towels, quilts, pillowcases, embroideries and lace items. Military uniforms and memorabilia make up another separate sub- category, while the Holocaust Collection includes concentration camp uniforms and a number of cloth yellow stars. There are a large number of synagogual textiles, either for use in rituals or decoration. Their variety ensures that all kinds are represented, of both the Romaniote and the Sephardic traditions. The Jewish Museum’s collections also include several synagogual artifacts, such as menorot, tikkim, rimonim, Torah scrolls, Torah pointers, tahshitim, as well as the furnishings of the Patras synagogue. Another category worth mentioning is the household objects, including crockery, cutlery, bowls and baking dishes, candle holders and more, as well as atrefacts for domestic rituals and worship, such as mezuzoth, hannukiyioth, spice containers, Shabbath candle holders and oil lamps. Many rare and important items are to be found in the category of manuscripts, including circumcision certificates (alefioth), antenuptial contracts (ketuboth), Esther Scrolls (meggiloth), personal diaries, a variety of correspondence, postcards and Ottoman decrees of the 19th century. The Museum also has a great number of documents, such as certificates, identity cards, passports, immigration and military papers, telegrams, stock certificates and bonds. Many of those are part of the Holocaust Collection. The Museum also has paintings, drawings, and engravings, original photographs and negatives, children’s toys, various kinds of shoes, coins and banknotes, dedicatory inscriptions and tombstones. Among the Museum’s collections, there are also archives of newspapers and clippings, WW II Archives, with rare historical documents, the Bulgarian Collection, containing jewellery, watches, lighters, personal items, valuables, documents, and its Collection of Works of Art. The newly formed Art Collection of the Jewish Museum of Greece contains contemporary works of art by Greek Jewish and non-Jewish artists, many of which have been exhibited in one or another of the Art Exhibitions frequently organised by the Museum, in its Contemporary Art Gallery. The Art Collection was formed as a response, first to the Museum’s desire to offer a more comprehensive view of its subject. Also, to the wish of its public to become acquainted–besides their history and tradition–with more aspects of the life and expression of the Greek Jews, such as their present artistic output, whether in music, literature or the fine arts. This collection also represents a widening of the scope of the Museum and a move towards artists beyond the community’s boundaries, as well as an effort to maintain and spur public interest by looking at issues of history, tradition, faith, identity, memory and coexistence from a new perspective.
Finding Aids, Guides, and Publication
The digitalisation of the museum’s collection was completed in 2003. Its system does not follow one of the internationally established prototypes, but is instead a simple database, adapted by the personnel themselves to cover the Museum’s documentation needs. The information fields include the artifact’s number, the date of its acquisition, the thematic category it belongs to, the main materials it is made of, its description and dimensions, its origin, its condition. Also, the way it was acquired, its donor or seller, its possible connection to other items of the collection, the number of other exhibits of the same category, its connection to the photographic archive, archival notes and conservation notes. This database is both flexible and easy to use, and will be further enriched with more fields, such as bibliographical references and participation in temporary exhibitions or other events.
Opening hours: Monday to Friday: 9.00-14.30, Sundays: 10.00-14.00, Saturdays: closed. The Museum is closed on public and religious holidays.
Conditions of Access
Access to its archives and artefacts in storage is limited only to researchers, following a written application.
Using Metro: Get off at Syntagma Station. Once in Syntagma Square, look for Mitropoleos st. (in the lower half of the square, at its SW corner). The first street branching off the left of Mitropoleos street is Nikis. Number 39 is a three minute walk from there.
Research room is equipped with computers whose on-site Intranet programs allow searching and viewing material not accessible via off-site (Internet) user.
Entry by V. Ritzaleos based on information provided by JMG's website.