A Brief History of the Archives
A Brief but Engaging History of the Cuba Archives
In 1983, an exhibit was organized under the auspices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta called Jews and Georgians: A Meeting of Cultures, 1733–1983. That exhibit contained wonderful memorabilia and artifacts from Jewish families, businesses, synagogues and organizations. It was a terrific success, and helped the Jewish community feel proud about its contributions to Georgia and surprised that "junk" from their attics was actually interesting.
Then, when the exhibit closed, those materials had to be given back. The dismantling of that show highlighted the need for a permanent space dedicated to the interpretation and preservation of the Jewish experience. The Breman Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Museum is the physical reality that grew out that awareness.
Painting of Breman Museum
founder, William Breman,
found in the lobby of the museum.
Between 1984 and 1992, The Federation allowed the staff, which included a director, an archivist, and an administrator, to create what became components of the present museum. These included a community archive (then housed in a closet), a Holocaust Resource Center and exhibition, an oral history project, special exhibitions, and programming.
How do you start an archive?
We were very fortunate in that Rabbi Harry H. Epstein, the rabbi of Ahavath Achim for over 50 years, trusted us. He turned his very unprocessed papers, including sermons written on tiny little pieces of paper, over to us. From 1985 through 1995, we only collected material from Atlanta.
We were also fortunate to have had a Jewish Federation executive director by the name of Edward M. Kahn who was a saver. The records of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and its predecessor organizations date back to 1912 and include important and essential documents relating to the history of social service, fundraising, and communal relationships.
Establishment of The Breman Museum
In 1992, William Breman gave the lead gift, ensuring the creation of the museum. In the summer of 1996, The Breman opened in the Selig Center in midtown Atlanta in time for the Olympics.
Over 80% of the photographs, manuscripts and objects showcased in the exhibition Absence of Humanity: the Holocaust Years come from our collection. Not only do we collect material on Southern Jewish life but from survivors of the Holocaust who have made their homes in Georgia. We are exceedingly proud of this exhibition, which draws over 20,000 school children annually.
The Creating Community exhibition was originally designed in 1994 and debuted at the Atlanta Historical Society. It was then reconfigured for our space in the Selig Center in 1996, opening in time for the Olympics. Presently, we have over 600 objects, textiles, manuscripts and photographs in the gallery.
The exhibition is dated, and one of our major goals is to redesign this space to include material from across the States of Georgia and Alabama. In preparation for that goal we are collecting items as well as oral histories and hope to have a number of interactive components placed within the gallery.
By 1996, when we made our move to the new building we were ready, in fact more than ready, to start collecting throughout the State. We were fortunate that the State of Georgia was offering funds through the Georgia Historic Records Commission for new collecting programs.
The newly founded Breman museum took advantage of those funds and changed its collections policy to include material throughout Georgia.
Jewish Ladies Aid Society, Columbus, Georgia.
Our first road trip was to Columbus, where Gail Cohn, a Columbus native, introduced us to the Jewish community there. We were lucky—Gail’s Conservative father married her Reform mother and she was able to connect us with everyone from both the synagogue and the temple. We have since made similar trips to Rome, Ocilla, Fitzgerald, Albany, Bainbridge, Thomasville, Brunswick, Macon, Cornelia, Dalton and Augusta and many other towns across Georgia and recently, in Alabama.
In 1999, The Georgia Historic Records Preservation Commission awarded the Archives a grant to hire an additional person (Ruth Einstein) to help collect and educate about preservation of historic materials around the State.
In Albany, Sandy and Ruth found the minute books of the Hebrew Ladies’ Benevolent Society going back to 1878 stored in a clothes closet. At Temple Beth Israel in Macon, they put on dust masks and braved the dirt-floor basement (which necessitated stepping over a desiccated cat) to find the papers of Rabbi Isaac Marcuson, which had sat untouched and deteriorating for over fifty years. These are just a few stories. Even now we know so much has been lost...sometimes we're just a little too late.
Archivist Sandy Berman back in the day.
Sermon from the collection of Rabbi Harry Epstein.