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Talent, Ambition, Wealth

Jewish Women in the Arts in the 19th Century

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Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel was a gifted composer who led a rich creative life but never achieved the fame of her brother Felix. Marie Barkany made her way from a provincial Habsburg town to the stages of Berlin and Paris as an actress in classic German dramas. And as a patron of the avant-garde, Adele Bloch-Bauer literally became an icon of fin-de-siècle Vienna in the works of Gustav Klimt.

For these three women born into Jewish families, the arts were a passion and a calling, but art also offered them an agency in shaping society and culture that was otherwise denied them as women and Jews. In the nineteenth century, many German-Jewish families improved their economic position dramatically.  However, many elite occupations and social circles remained closed to even very acculturated Jews.  Thus art and literature became important ways that talented Jewish men and women could both express themselves creatively and perform German culture for themselves and the wider society.

Each woman is represented in Leo Baeck Institute's Shared History Project through an object: an ornate wooden cross that once decorated Fanny's music room, a sumptuous costume worn by Barkany on stage in Paris, and the iconic portrait of Adele that became known as the “Woman in Gold.” These three artefacts offer entry points for exploring the freedom that the arts offered Jewish women in the 19th century, as well as the limits of that freedom. At this panel discussion, historians Marsha Rozenblit (University of Maryland), Deborah Hertz (UC San Diego), Lisa Silverman (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee), and Stefan Hofmann (Saxonian Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Leipzig) will discuss the stories of each woman and link them to the larger social transformations of the 19th century.

About the Panelists

Marsha L. Rozenblit is a social historian of Jews in Central Europe and the Harvey M. Meyerhoff Professor of Modern Jewish History at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is the author of The Jews of Vienna, 1867–1914: Assimilation and Identity (1983) and Reconstructing a National Identity: The Jews of Habsburg Austria During World War I (2001).  In addition, she has co-edited Constructing Nationalities in East Central Europe (2005) and World War I and the Jews: Conflict and Transformation in Europe, the Middle East, and America  (2017). She has published 35 scholarly articles on such topics as Jewish religious reform in 19th-century Vienna, synagogue affiliation in 19th-century Baltimore, and Austrian Jewish women during World War I.  She is currently completing work on “Identifying as German: The Jews of Moravia, 1848–1938.” She is a member of the Academic Advisory Board of Leo Baeck Institute – New York | Berlin and an advisor to the Shared History Project.

Deborah Hertz is the Herman Wouk Chair in Modern Jewish Studies and a professor in the Department of History at UC San Diego. Hertz is the author of How Jews Became Germans: The History of Conversion and Assimilation in Berlin and Jewish High Society in Old Regime Berlin (both of which have been translated into German). She has published over 30 articles in the field of German-Jewish history and the history of Jewish women. She is currently working on a new book with the working title “Visionaries, Lovers and Mothers: Radical Jewish Women from Conspiracy to Kibbutz” that covers women in anarchist, terrorist, socialist, Yiddishist, feminist and Zionist movements from New York City to Vilna to Odessa to the kibbutzim in Palestine.

Lisa Silverman is Associate Professor of History and Jewish Studies at UWM. She is the author of Becoming Austrians: Jews and Culture between the World Wars (Oxford, 2012) and co-author (with Daniel H. Magilow) of Holocaust Representations in History: an Introduction (Bloomsbury, 2015; second edition 2019). She has also co-edited several volumes, most recently Austrian Studies 24: Jews, Jewish Difference and Austrian Culture: Literary and Historical Perspectives (2016), with Deborah Holmes. Her other co-edited volumes include, with Arijit Sen, Making Place: Space and Embodiment in the City (Indiana, 2014) and, with Deborah Holmes, Interwar Vienna: Culture between Tradition and Modernity (Camden House, 2009). She serves as Contributing Editor of the Leo Baeck Institute Year-Book for German-Jewish history and is a member of the editorial board of Shofar: an Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies.

Stefan Hofmann is Research Associate at the Project “European Traditions – Encyclopedia of Jewish Cultures” of the Saxonian Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Leipzig. He served in the editorial staff of the seven-volume Enzyklopädie jüdischer Geschichte und Kultur (Encyclopedia of Jewish History and Culture; 2011–2017) which is currently being translated into English. Additionally, he is copy-editor of two series of critical editions of sources in Jewish history (Archive of Jewish History and Culture; Library of Jewish History and Culture). His main areas of research are the cultural history of the Jews, the history of theater, and the history of antisemitism. He co-edited a special issue of the Dubnow-Institute Yearbook on Holocaust memory in theater and film (together with Jörg Deventer; 2015). Currently, he is writing a dissertation with the working-title “Of Masks and Mimicry. Jewish Acculturation on German Stages 1815–1918.”