Friday, August 1, 2014

Understanding the Power of Artifacts

In preparation for my departure from the Museum of Jewish Heritage, I was going through a drawer of photographs. Back in the olden days, the press office sent out prints of our artifacts, before e-mailing a JPG was an option. I asked Erica Blumenfeld, senior registrar and manager of traveling exhibitions, and Jen Roberts, associate registrar, to look at the array of images to see if they needed them for any reason.

One of the photographs was of Heinrich Himmler’s annotated copy of “Mein Kampf.” My first assignment as PR Manager was setting up an appointment for a New York Post reporter to come and examine the artifact and talk about how it came to the Museum (it was donated anonymously). I think it was my second day at work. When I mentioned that this was the first artifact I knew personally, Erica and Jen revealed that the book was the first artifact that they each encountered in their MJH careers as well.

There are 25,000 objects in the collection. Our start dates were separated by 10 years. This seemed beyond coincidence so I asked them to share their experiences.

Erica’s first encounter with “Mein Kampf” took place within her first month here. An author wanted information about the book and Erica had to look for the portions requested. She says at first it was a book and then as she was going through it, its character changed. It wasn’t just any book. It was a charged object that belonged to one of the most despicable human beings who ever lived and it was “a shocking realization to hold in my hands the same object he held in his hands.”

Jen Roberts started at the Museum July 14, 2008 and on July 16 Jen was asked to scan pages of “Mein Kampf.” She asked Erica some technical questions and then she was left alone with the book. She says she felt overwhelmed by the weight of what it meant to work here. It was the first time Jen handled an object, any object, in an official capacity as a Museum employee. “You’re interacting with these items on a very intimate level. As registrars, we are ingrained to have a certain type of reverence for objects. When this book is your first object you understand the seriousness of the subject matter of this Museum.” The pages of the book, which is on display on the second floor, are flipped every few months, so Jen still interacts with the book on a regular basis.

Erica and Jen tweet about matters registrarial. Follow them on Twitter @MJHReg for more behind-the-scenes glimpses of our collection. 

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