Topics: Main Topic: Culture and Heritage, Jewish Museums, Post-1989, Jewish Revival, Memory, Holocaust Commemoration, Holocaust Education, Communism, Soviet Jewry
Abstract: This article considers the representation of the shtetl in two museum narratives devoted to Jews in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. The first, the state-funded 1939 exhibit “The Jews in Tsarist Russia and the USSR” was organized by the Jewish Section of the State Museum of Ethnography in Leningrad and remained on display to the Soviet public until the Nazi invasion in June 1941. The second is the privately funded Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, which opened in 2012. Though conceived under radically different ideological and political circumstances, each exhibition conveys a significant message about the place of Jews in Soviet and post-Soviet society, respectively, and each positions the shtetl as a formative arena for Jewish civic identity vis-à-vis the Russian homeland. Across the chasm of over seventy years, these two museum projects raise strikingly similar questions about how and why cultural institutions are mobilized to define the relationship of Ashkenazi Jews and the state. In both cases, the shtetl plays a significant role in narrating this unequal relationship.