«He was drawn to Jewish folklore.»

Tabea Buri on the collector Eduard Hoffmann-Krayer

Edu­ard Hoff­mann-Kray­er, the so-cal­led «father of Swiss folk­lo­re,» began coll­ec­ting Judai­ca in Basel in 1909. His coll­ec­tion was shown to gre­at accla­im in the exhi­bi­ti­on Monu­men­ta Judai­ca in Colo­gne in 1963/4. In 1966, the objects were core items in the exhi­bi­ti­on of the new­ly ope­ned Jewish Muse­um of Switz­er­land. Tabea Buri heads the Euro­pe depart­ment at the Muse­um der Kul­tu­ren Basel and is stu­dy­ing the ori­g­ins of the Hoff­mann-Kray­er coll­ec­tion. She explains how the folk­lo­rist went about coll­ec­ting objects.

Nao­mi Lubrich: Tabea, I’m sur­pri­sed that Edu­ard Hoff­mann-Kray­er, a non-Jew, was inte­res­ted in Jewish objects. Why?

Tabea Buri: Edu­ard Hoff­mann-Kray­er was inte­res­ted in cul­tu­ral tes­ti­mo­nies of various groups in Euro­pe – espe­ci­al­ly tho­se to which he hims­elf did not belong. He wro­te that Jewish folk­lo­re spark­ed his inte­rest alre­a­dy at an ear­ly age. He also hoped to be able to com­bat anti­se­mi­tism by incre­asing the know­ledge of Juda­ism in the society.

NL: How did he coll­ect? And which objects did he find par­ti­cu­lar­ly interesting?

TB: Hoff­mann-Kray­er co-foun­ded the «Com­mis­si­on for Jewish Folk­lo­re» and was its chair­man. At first, the com­mis­si­on coll­ec­ted sto­ries, sayings, songs and other imma­te­ri­al tes­ti­mo­nies. But they also coll­ec­ted mate­ri­al items. Hoff­mann-Kray­er was par­ti­cu­lar­ly inte­res­ted in the things of ever­y­day life, the rem­nants of fami­ly lives.

NL: How did he go about sear­ching for objects?

TB: On the one hand, the com­mis­si­on published a «ques­ti­on­n­aire for coll­ec­ting Jewish folk­lo­re,» by means of which it asked the popu­la­ti­on to send in notes and things. On the other hand, the com­mis­si­on bought pre­cious objects from antique dea­lers. Hoff­mann-Kray­er also was in clo­se cont­act with coll­ec­tors who actively loo­ked for ever­y­day objects on his behalf.

NL: How did Hoffmann-Krayer’s Jewish con­tem­po­r­a­ri­es react to his work?

TB: Some were app­re­cia­ti­ve and hel­ped finan­ce the expen­si­ve Judai­ca items. They were glad that Hoff­mann-Kray­er chai­red the com­mis­si­on becau­se they felt that the initia­ti­ve coming from a non-Jew was more effec­ti­ve than an inner-Jewish initia­ti­ve. Hoff­mann-Kray­er nevert­hel­ess fai­led to gain a broad sup­port: He com­plai­ned that the Jewish popu­la­ti­on ulti­m­ate­ly lacked inte­rest and com­mit­ment to coll­ect Judai­ca. After only ten years, the com­mis­si­on dis­con­tin­ued most of its work. Hoff­mann-Kray­er nevert­hel­ess con­tin­ued to coll­ect items for the museum.

NL: Tabea, thank you for your insight into ear­ly eth­no­gra­phic coll­ec­ting in Basel.

verfasst am 26.01.2023