Interview with Dr. Hanno Loewy, Director of the Jewish Museum of Hohenems
Jguideeurope: How does your Museum relate to the European Days of Jewish culture?
Hanno Loewy: Our Museum is – in more than one way – a European Jewish Museum. To tell the truth: for us every day is a day of European Jewish Culture. We are situated on the border between Austria and Switzerland, and on the crossroads between Northern Europe and the South, Western Europe and Eastern Europe. The Jewish community of Hohenems was a hub of Jewish families between Austria, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, France and England. Most of them were transnational by essence, involved not only in international trade, but also in cultural transfer and in the international exchange of ideas and ideals.
For the second time we now discuss the idea of Europe and the crisis of Europe – from a Jewish perspective. In 2014, 100 years after the beginning of WW I, we presented the 700 years of transnational history of the Jews in the Habsburg empire and the catastrophe in which this world was destroyed, already in the years between 1914 and 1918.
And this year we present the “Last Europeans”, those Jewish pioneers of human rights, of a united Europe that was meant to end the crimes against humanity after the Shoah. And all the open ends of discussion, in which way this Europe fulfilled its promises or not.
What events will be featured at the Museum regarding the Festival?
People will show up to see the exhibition and to stroll around in the Jewish quarter, and the whole town, encountering the “European Squares” we developed together with 12 different groups of Hohenems citizens during the summer and with the Swiss artist Yves Mettler.
They represent the diversity of the town today, including traditional associations like the choir “Nibelungenhort and one of the hotspot of urban discourse, the “Visions Café”, local business people, or a group of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan who attend German language courses in a local cultural center.
They all discussed their personal relation to Europe and their hopes about its future and wrote their personal “European story”.
At the same time we will offer special programs for children and families, following the footsteps of a Jewish lady in Hohenems 100 years ago, between her home and the local Jewish butcher, the Jewish poorhouse, in which some of her relatives lived, and the Synagogue, the Jewish school, and the Jewish coffee house in which all kinds of locals met.
Engaging in a dialogue about tradition and modernity, religion and secularism, kosher rules and modern liberties, “Heimat” and cosmopolitanism.
Can you tell us about the upcoming exhibitions at the Museum?
After discussing the crises of Europe from a Jewish perspective we will focus on the urban development in the town during the winter. A rather neglected street will become part of the towns center in the course of the next years as a major development area.
In fact, this street was the first one that – after 1806 – was a place where both Jews and Christians settled next to each other, when the town grew in the beginning of the 19th century as a part of new developments taking place when the region came under Napoleonic rule. The street became the home of people on the margins, peddlers and poor, small traders, inn keepers and distillers.
Now a splendid Jewish Villa that marks the edge of this part of town will be turned into a “House of literature”, the new town hall will be build next to it and major housing structures. An occasion for us to ask critical questions about gentrification and social tensions, about migration, upward mobility and impoverishment.