Pioneer to Peer: The Jewish Museum of Switzerland

The Jewish Museum of Switzerland opened as Europe’s first German-speaking Jewish museum after the war in 1966. The museum was praised for presenting a splendid collection of Judaica from Basel’s ethnographic museum and displaying these objects in a context dedicated exclusively to Judaism. Formerly restricted to one showcase among many, where the objects told the history of Judaism as one of several rural communities, the collection now had a house dedicated to Judaism as a world religion.

The development of the Jewish Museum in the following 50 years can be summarized in three phases: first, the Jewish Museum of Switzerland enjoyed its status as a pioneer and collecting hotspot (1966–1988). In the following twenty years, it witnessed thirty new Jewish museums open in Germany and Austria with bold, new ideas, albeit specific to post-Holocaust Germany and thus not transferable to Switzerland (1988–2010). Currently, the Jewish Museum is looking to redefine its role as a peer among the many Jewish museums in Europe, but as the only institution of its kind in Switzerland (2010–2018).