The introduction presents the book’s core argument that twentieth-century Jewish archives were not just about the past but also about the future: We can look to a process whereby Jews turned increasingly toward archives as anchors of memory in a rapidly changing world. Jews in Germany, the United States, and Israel/Palestine all sought to gather the files of the past in order to represent their place in Jewish life and articulate a vision of the future. It situates these projects in the history of community-based archiving and archival theory and methodology, as well as Jewish history at large. It also dives into the ways we can see archive making as a metaphor for the broader patterns in modern Jewish history, as Jews sought to gather the sources and resources of their culture both before the Holocaust and especially in its aftermath.
keywords: Jewish archives, Jewish history, community-based archives, modern Jewish culture, turn to archives, cultural capital, archival theory,
This chapter uncovers the history of the Gesamtarchiv der deutschen Juden, the central archive of the German Jews, which operated from 1903 until it was confiscated by the Nazis in 1943. It details the Gesamtarchiv’s attempt to create a singular archive of German Jewish history in Berlin, and also opposition to the project of centralization, and it situates the archive within the wider trends of archival science. It thereby explicates the Gesamtarchiv’s vision of total archives and traces its legacy across the arc of the twentieth century. This archive was intended to help produce the history of Germany’s Jews and also to help manage its communities, but it was ultimately turned into an instrument for the domination of Jewish life by the Nazi regime. Altogether, this chapter offers the Gesamtarchiv as a starting point for a global network of Jewish archives that followed the Gesamtarchiv’s vision of archival totality.
keywords: total archives, Gesamtarchiv der deutschen Juden, Berlin, German history, Eugen Täubler, Jacob Jacobson, Deutsch-Israelitische Gemeindebund, Société pour l’histoire des Israélites d’Alsace et de Lorraine
This chapter follows the history of the Jewish Historical General Archives in Jerusalem, founded in 1939 and opened in 1947, which in 1969 changed its name to the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People. This archive sought to bring Jewish archives from all over the world to Jerusalem under the banner of what they termed the “ingathering of the exiles of the past.” Its leaders, including Alex Bein and Daniel Cohen, who spearheaded the effort to gather materials from Europe, hoped to draw upon the legacy of European Jewry and thereby place Jews around the world within a sphere of Israeli cultural hegemony. In this archive, one finds an extension and intensification of the Gesamtarchiv’s dream of a total archive of Jewish life—and a powerful instance showing both its possibilities and the problems of fundamentally reframing the Jewish past.
keywords: Zionism, Israel/Palestine, Jerusalem, Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, Alex Bein, Georg Herlitz, Ben-Zion Dinaburg (Dinur), Central Zionist Archives, ingathering of the exiles
This chapter introduces another model of total archives, Jacob Rader Marcus’s American Jewish Archives, founded in 1947 at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. The AJA offers a counterpart to the Jerusalem archives considered in chapter 2. In the course of his time directing the AJA, from 1947 to 1995, Marcus developed another type of total archive, but one that represented an ideal of diaspora and dispersion as Jewish values and archival virtues. The process of gathering archives to Cincinnati reflected Marcus’s personal perspective on the history of America’s Jews, in particular by looking at it from a western-hemisphere perspective, through his efforts to gather materials from the earliest Jewish settlements in the Caribbean and South America. In addition, he created an archive of copies, looking to gather as much as he could in duplicate rather than in the original.
keywords: American Jewish Archives, Hebrew Union College, Jacob Rader Marcus, Cincinnati, American Jewish History, American Jewish Historical Society, diaspora, microfilming
This chapter chronicles battles over the restitution of Nazi-looted archives from Worms and Hamburg, which were eventually transferred to the Jewish Historical General Archives in Jerusalem, and also the contested possibility of establishing Jewish archives in 1950s Germany. It argues that restitution was really about the transfer of the German Jewish past into the realm of history. Israeli archivists and their restitution agency allies argued that Jewish life was at its end—and feared that establishing new archives in Germany would provide a kind of “birth certificate” for fledgling Jewish communities. The chapter traces this history to the 1980s and 1990s, when new Jewish archival efforts in Germany reflected the growth of Jewish communities in Germany.
keywords: German History, Holocaust, Worms, Friedrich Illert, Hamburg, Bernhard Brilling, Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland, Zentralarchiv zur Erforschung der Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland, Centrum Judaicum, Gesamtarchiv der deutschen Juden
This final chapter argues that struggles over archival ownership and the possibility of archival totality continue far beyond the years immediately following World War II. It considers three case studies to consider new forms of total archives being created through virtual collections and digitization: The Center for Jewish History in New York City (formed in 1994/1995 and opened in 2000), the efforts by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research to digitize materials found in Lithuania and reunite them with their own files, and the Friedberg Genizah Project’s initiative to digitize and join together fragments of the Cairo Genizah found in repositories around the world. These case studies showcase enduring visions of monumentality and indicate how archival construction is not merely the province of the past. Instead, the process of gathering historical materials is a continual process of making and remaking history.
keywords: digitization, virtual collections, total archives, Center for Jewish History, Leo Baeck Institute, YIVO, American Jewish Historical Society, Lithuania, Cairo Genizah, Friedberg Genizah Project
This chapter considers the overall impact of the twentieth-century proliferation of archive activities in Jewish life and the rising paradigm of total archives in particular. By looking at the development of Jewish archiving in Germany, the United States, and Israel/Palestine, we see the concrete manifestation of the impulses of a “time to gather” in Jewish cultures around the world. These efforts represent a kind of community-based archives, but also the internal tensions: What happens when there is a widespread understanding of the value of archives, and they represent resources of cultural capital worth fighting for? This conclusion also places the history of Jewish archives and the struggles to “own” the past in the broader context of the emerging information society. Altogether, this history indicates contentious struggles over what it means to have control over history in its most practical terms.
keywords: total archives, Jewish archives, archival memory, information age, community-based archives