The Jewish Museum of Switzerland preserves and conveys Jewish history and cultural heritage and gives insights into present-day Jewish life. Its collection comprises a large number of highly diverse objects and artefacts relating to Jewish life in Switzerland and other European countries.
The Jewish Museum of Switzerland was founded in 1966 as the first Jewish museum in the German-speaking world since the Second World War. Today, it hosts exhibitions and events at its location in the heart of Basel. The initiative behind the museum came from members of the Jewish society «Espérance» (a chevra kadisha) who had been deeply impressed by the Monumenta Judaica exhibition in Cologne in 1963/64, which included Jewish objects and artefacts from Basel. The first director of the Jewish Museum of Switzerland was Katia Guth-Dreyfus (1926-2021), who led the institution from 1966 to 2010. She was followed by Gaby Knoch-Mund, director from 2010 to 2015. Since 2015, the museum has been headed by Naomi Lubrich. It is currently located at Kornhausgasse 8 in Basel. In 2023, it is scheduled to move to larger premises at Vesalgasse 5, close to the University of Basel’s «Kollegienhaus». This is also the district where the cemetery of the first Jewish community in Basel had been situated in the Middle Ages.
Diverse collection from various ages
The first objects to be displayed at the Jewish Museum of Switzerland came from the Judaica collection of the Swiss museum of folk culture (today called Museum der Kulturen Basel). In the following years, the collection was expanded with items from Basel and the Upper Rhine region, from the two Jewish villages Endingen and Lengnau in the Surbtal valley, as well as from numerous other parts of Switzerland and Europe. Special mention must go to the «Lengnauer Mappot», a collection of 218 Tora pennants from a period of almost 300 years.
Focal points in terms of content are ceremonial objects made of silver, richly embroidered textiles from the 17th to the 20th century, and documents relating to Jewish cultural history in Switzerland. The museum’s monumental Medieval gravestones and prints in Hebrew produced in Basel are considered to be historically unique. Documents in connection with the Zionist congresses in Basel and original letters of Theodor Herzl give evidence of Basel as a city where events of global relevance took place. The museum also collects contemporary Judaica, including Jewish art and objects of everyday life from Switzerland.
Conveying and discussing Jewish life
The Jewish Museum of Switzerland contributes to the public discourse on Jewish life in Switzerland in the form of special exhibitions, events and publications. Since 1999, the Jewish Museum of Switzerland has also been responsible for coordinating the Swiss programme at the annual European Day of Jewish Culture. Overall, the museum is committed to conveying Jewish life in Switzerland in terms of its history, religion, cultural heritage, and present-day aspects.
Close relationship and cooperation with the SIG
The SIG is represented on the board of the Jewish Museum of Switzerland. SIG President Ralph Lewin is a member of the museum and SIG Vice-President Ralph Friedländer is a member of the patronage committee for the museum’s new premises.