The Jewish Museum of Westphalia (Dorsten)
In June 1992 the Jewish Museum of Westphalia
started its first activities in Dorsten, a small town located in
North Rhine-Westphalia. The Museum is a private institution run
by the “Association for Jewish History and Religion”
(Verein für jüdische Geschichte und Religion e.V.) and
the “Jewish Museum of Westphalia Foundation”. While
the association is primarily responsible for the work of the museum,
the foundation is concerned with funds for cultural activities and
A few years ago a modern extension was built
which was opened in August 2001 and it is here that the permanent
exhibition is now housed. Visitors can learn about Jewish history
in Westphalia and the Jewish religion and they have the opportunity
to experience Jewish history and culture in a regional context as
well as to reflect on Jewish life in Germany in the past and present.
The permanent exhibition is divided into two
sections: “Jewish Religion and Culture” and “Jews
in Westphalia”. The first part of the religion and culture
section focuses on “Torah – Synagogue – Community”.
The Torah is the centre of Jewish Life. The Torah scroll written
on parchment contains the five books of Moses. It is kept in the
Synagogue, the house of prayer and meeting for the Jewish community.
In the second part where Jewish life is shown in relationship with
the Torah, visitors can find out more about the subject of “Home
– Family – Individual” and Jewish life under the
influence of a changing social environment.
The third part “Jewish Life in Westphalia
– Destruction and a New Start” refers to the terror
that Jewish people were subjected to during the Nazi regime which
ended in the loss of all their rights and destruction. Despite their
experiences during the Shoa, after 1945 some of the survivors decided
to start a new life in Germany. In the fourth part of the permanent
exhibition, “New Jewish Life in Westphalia”, large black
and white photos give some impressions of modern Jewish community
life. Since 1996 the photographer Dirk Vogel has had personal contacts
with Jewish communities in the area allowing him to take pictures
of many special events like Purim, family celebrations and afternoon
get-togethers for senior citizens. Other pictures show the celebration
of Chanukah, synagogue services of the liberal Minyan and other
official and private activities. Dirk Vogel’s pictures show
people who have found a new Jewish home in Westphalia.
In the “Jews in Westphalia” section,
fourteen stories illustrate the history of Jewish people in Westphalia
from the Middle Ages to the present day. The stories of the men
and women – merchants, teachers, artists, rabbis, politicians,
footballers and others – illustrate the life of Jewish and
non-Jewish Germans together in Westphalia in difficult and easier
times. This part of the exhibition begins with a medieval collection
of coins which was found in Münster in 1951. It also tells
the story of how many Jewish families moved from rural areas to
towns where their social status grew in importance and describes
the confused times in Weimar and the terrible situation during the
Nazi regime: stories of discrimination, camps, exile, liberation
and a new start after 1945. The exhibition ends with testimonies
of the politician Jeanette Wolff from Bocholt and the textile merchant
Rolf Abrahamsohn from Marl who still plays an important role in
discussion of the past as well as German-Israeli friendship.
The exhibition of “Jews in Westphalia”
not only shows the crises and catastrophes of German-Jewish history
but also looks at other aspects: good relationships between Jews
and gentiles benefiting everybody. The decision to display both
an historical chronicle and impressions of Jewish life gives visitors
the opportunity to experience different aspects of past and present.
Special exhibitions are housed in the refurbished old building of
the Museum. And the library with more than 5000 books on Jewish
culture and life provides interested visitors with a wealth of information.
In the foyer of the museum there is a fine selection of books from
the “LiteraturHandlung” book store which has large shops
in Berlin and Munich.