How do people link the past to the present, marking continuity in the face of the fundamental discontinuities of history? A Time to Gather: Archives and the Control of Jewish Culture argues that historical records took on potent value in modern Jewish life as both sources of history and anchors of memory because archives presented one way of transmitting Jewish history from one generation to another as well as making claims of access to an “authentic” Jewish culture. Indeed, both before the Holocaust and especially in its aftermath, Jewish leaders around the world felt a shared imperative to muster the forces and resources of Jewish life. It was a “time to gather,” a feverish era of collecting—and conflict—in which archive-making was both a response to the ruptures of modernity, and a mechanism for communities to express their cultural hegemony.
Jason Lustig explores how archives became battlegrounds over control of Jewish culture from the turn of the twentieth century to the cusp of the digital era. He excavates a tradition of monumental collecting, represented by repositories like the Gesamtarchiv der deutschen Juden, the German Jews’ central archive formed in Berlin in 1903, alongside the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem and the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati, both opened in 1947, which all showcase the continual struggle over “owning” the Jewish past. Lustigpresents archive-making as an organizing principle of twentieth-century Jewish culture, as a metaphor of great power and broad symbolic meaning with the dispersion and gathering of documents falling in the context of the Jews’ long diasporic history. In this light, creating archives was just as much about the future as it was about the past.