Berlin’s pre-war Jewish life captured at exhibit

By Sarah Marsh

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s thriving pre-war Jewish
community as captured on black and white photographs went on
display in Berlin’s Jewish Museum on Friday with an exhibit of
90 stirring images by photographer Roman Vishniac.

The portraits of lively street scenes, artists and
intellectuals in Berlin taken just before the Holocaust recall
a vibrant Jewish culture in the German capital. The previously
unpublished pictures were only found after Vishniac died in

Jewish culture flourished in Berlin before the Nazis took
power — it was one of the world’s 10 largest Jewish centers
and many of Germany’s top scientists, such as Albert Einstein,
were Berlin Jews. There were about 160,000 Jews in Berlin in
1933, but only 1,400 in 1945.

“These photos show a city where everyone was involved in
culture, art, politics and philosophy,” said Sarah Kushinsky,
25, whose grandfather was taken to a concentration camp but
survived and later emigrated to Australia.

“They show the Jewish culture at its peak before the
crash,” said Kushinsky, who is a student in Switzerland and
went to the exhibit’s opening on Friday with her grandfather.
“I don’t think there will ever be anywhere like Berlin was then

Vishniac, known for his pictures of pre-war Jewish life in
Eastern Europe, was a Russian-born Jew who went to the United
States. He was a biologist, linguist, art historian and
philosopher as well as a photographer.

His pictures of Jewish communities of Eastern Europe taken
on the eve of World War Two are included in his most famous
collection of pictures called “Vanished World.”

David Prince, who survived Auschwitz and emigrated to
Melbourne, said he was delighted by the exhibit.

“Germany was recognized as the most cultural country at the
time, and suddenly turned into the horror of mankind,” said
Prince, 80. “We take great pride though in the knowledge that
the cultural wealth shown in these photos is part of Jewish
history, and that we survived and continued tradition.”

“My favorite photo is the one of workers breaking into an
impromptu Jewish dance in a work camp in the Netherlands,” said
Alana Honigman, a 20-year-old student from the United States.
Her father had lost most of his family in the Holocaust.

Germany now has the world’s fastest-growing Jewish
population. Though still a fraction of the half-million strong
community when the Nazis came to power in 1933, it has more
than doubled in a decade to about 100,000 with immigration from
the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe.

Despite Germany’s history as the nation that carried out
with grisly efficiency the murder of some six million European
Jews, thousands of Jews have elected to emigrate to Germany
because they want to stay in Europe.