When the exhibit opened, there was tepid and nervous applause from some critics. A reviewer for the newspaper Die Welt said he was not a fan of "the Jew in the Box" but observed that it was an honest (and perhaps brave) effort to acknowledge and deal with the "tension" that Germans feel toward their Jewish neighbors.
One of the volunteers in the box told the newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung that he tries to show how Jewish life is much like the lives of other Germans. "There are Jews who live on welfare," he told questioners. "There are Jews who do not go to the synagogue to pray, but who do tai chi and yoga."
The exhibit is not only about the Jews in the glass box. It illustrates what happened in Hitler's time with documents, photographs, wall texts and snippets from television programs, illustrating how the Holocaust was treated in the popular media.
One interactive display called "Jew or Not?" presents photographs of Charlie Chaplin, Bob Dylan, Marilyn Monroe, Justin Bieber and other show-business celebrities and invites museum-goers to guess whether they're Jewish or gentile.
"Clearly, the goal here is to 'educate' through whimsy," observes Bruce Bawar on Frontpagemag.com, an Internet magazine. The museum's website calls this approach to educate "evenhanded and witty," and Cilly Kugelmann, the museum's program director, says "an exhibition can sometimes be light and playful." (Light and playful Germans. Who knew?)
It's the symbolism in the presentation that upsets many older Germans. "The Jew in the Box" is too close to the memory of Adolf Eichmann, one of the executors of "the final solution," who was put on trial in 1961 for crimes against humanity and at his trial sat in a glass box for his own protection.
He was convicted of crimes against humanity and paid for them at the end of a rope. The glass box made a lasting impression on the German generation now slipping swiftly into history.
Several of the volunteers call sitting in the box for two hours, taking questions, an "artistic expression" in itself. "With so few of us," Leeor Englander tells a Berlin reporter, "you almost inevitably feel like an exhibition piece."
If this is art, it's not beauty, but maybe it's an attempt to get at truth.
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