My Jewish Museum
by Joshua Rocker, Marketing Intern
I remember visiting the Jewish Museum for the first time as
a seven-year-old, when it was stationed in East Finchley. Every Sunday, on the
top floor by a desk near the steps, Leon Greenman, an Auschwitz survivor, used
to sit and speak to visitors about his experiences.
My parents had taken me to listen to his story, and I was so
fascinated by this first encounter that I decided to visit him weekly in the
museum after my Sunday school classes, and eventually in his care home before
Returning to the museum – now in Camden
as an 18 year old,
interning in the marketing and events department, I am no less in awe of Leon.
He never lost his humanity in the camps; I remember one story where he replaced
a potato he had secretly stolen out of hunger from an inmate who had refused to
share with him. After the Holocaust, he fought tirelessly against fascism until
his death at the age of 97.
I think that Leon’s story is at the heart of what the Jewish
Museum is about; promoting Judaism as a living faith to counter prejudice. I
was initially surprised to learn that non-Jewish schools make up nearly all
school visits to the museum – of which there are many – but now I realise I
shouldn’t have been as it is vital that everyone hears the museum’s message.
I think that one of the most powerful objects in the museum
isn’t an exhibit as such, but a giant poster of Leon with the words “How will
you make a difference?”. This is a question that speaks to all of us, regardless
of race, religion or background.
Photograph of Grete Glauber and her mother
There are many other inspirational stories too. On display
is a photo album Grete Glauber took with her on the Kindertransport, which
rescued Jewish child refugees from the Nazis by bringing them to Britain; I think
of her bravery, as I couldn’t imagine leaving my parents behind with only a
photo to remember them by. The stories of immigrants settling in the East End, working
long and hard hours, also demonstrates the sacrifices people were prepared to
make for a better life.
There are many objects in the museum – lots I found out not
even on display – but concentrating on just one at a time highlights the
importance of the museum in showing that we are all united by common hopes and
fears, that we are more similar than different.
Being Jewish myself, there are some other things that I have
come across that particularly excite me. One of my first jobs was to find food-related
objects in the museum for a social media campaign. I instantly went on the
lookout for something from Bloom’s, closed now but once one of the most famous
kosher restaurants, as I have fond memories of my grandparents taking me there
for a salt beef sandwich.
A server at Bloom’s
If I’m ever walking around the museum to research something,
however, I always make sure to spend a few minutes in Leon’s gallery to remind
myself of his plight. Suddenly hearing his voice on the video display makes me
feel like a seven-year old boy again, sitting in the Finchley Jewish Museum
listening to one of the most heroic people that ever lived.