Thursday, December 22, 2011

Preserving Artifacts of Anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitic propaganda used to be mass-produced and available in the guise of home accessories. Manufacturers in Europe and the United States caricatured Jews as shabby, greedy and menacing, and put these depictions on cigar boxes, candlesticks, trays, tiles, walking sticks, puppets and board games.

Peter Ehrenthal, a Judaica dealer in Manhattan, has assembled about 600 anti-Semitic artifacts ranging from somewhat jokey to appalling. On Jan. 5 a third of his collection will go on view at the Wolfson Museum of Jewish Art in Jerusalem in a yearlong show, “The Eternal Jew: Objects of Hatred From the Peter Ehrenthal Collection.”

Mr. Ehrenthal, 91, who runs Moriah Galleries on Fifth Avenue, is a Jewish dentist’s son from Romania who lost much of his family during the Holocaust. He said he spent tens of thousands of dollars for some anti-Semitic works. Although he concentrates on pre-World War II material, some items in his collection date to the 15th century. Nineteenth-century peddler statuettes are mildly unflattering, while the posters with graphic accusations of theft and murder can be sickening.

"Today’s Jews are not used to seeing themselves like this," he said during a recent interview at the gallery, while he leafed through a catalog of the collection. He added, "I grew up with this." On the table beside him was a recent acquisition: a cookie jar in the form of a kneeling Jew clutching money bags, an object typical, Mr. Ehrenthal said, of anti-Semitic works once made by the Royal Doulton factory in Britain.

His purchases often turned up in the backrooms of galleries and bookstores; dealers after World War II, wary of offending customers, would keep anti-Semitica out of sight. Mr. Ehrenthal has found works designed by important artists, including the British illustrator E. A. Cox and the Viennese sculptor Bruno Zach.

In the collection’s Americana contingent, a matchbook promotes lakefront “restricted camps” that excluded Jews. A Life magazine illustration by the cartoonist Harrison Cady shows tiny Jews tying up a Gulliver representing New York society, with ribbons labeled “real estate,” “jewelry” and “haberdashery.”

Peter Ehrenthal and his son Michael, a co-owner of the gallery, have not decided what to do with the collection after the Israel exhibition, but hope to find a museum willing to keep it together. They have a few objects on view at the gallery: a German tankard depicts soldiers banishing Jews to Palestine, and in a bronze relief a Jew begs for mercy at a customs post.

During previews at the Wolfson Museum, older visitors have come away shaken, said the curator, Nurit Sirkis Bank. "They are offended, they have tears in their eyes," she said. "But they say it is so important to exhibit this material."

For more interesting topics related to archaeology, visit archaeology excavations.

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