Musings From A Practicum Student

Hello blog readers! My name is Alexandra Stermer, and I have been working at the Archives of the Jewish Public Library since January as the professional component of my Master of Library and Information Science at McGill University. I was lucky enough to be selected for a position at the JPL-A, working on the Bronfman Jewish Canadiana Collection. This is a special collection which was created in the 1960s and has grown to contain hundreds of thousands of ephemeral documents from the 19th century to the present. It is divided into subjects such as: Fine Arts, Jewish Studies,  Religion, and Personalia.

You might be thinking something along the lines of ‘Ephemeral? What on earth is this woman talking about?’ It’s true that ephemera is not a word that is used often in everyday conversation, but it is very important in the world of archives. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term as “things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time.” This includes documents like posters, business cards, newspaper clippings and newsletters – things that the average person would not hold on to for long, but that serve as important evidence of the activities of the Jewish communities in Canada. Archivists are very interested in ephemera for their historical and research value – these objects can present a snapshot of a moment in time that would perhaps otherwise be forgotten.

In the next few months, I will be posting on the blog to update readers on my progress and share some of the most interesting items I come across. For today, here is a timely and touching document, considering that this year is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the surviving remnant of European Jewry.

This pamphlet was distributed at a 1954 memorial exhibition organized by the Jewish Public Library. It showcased 51 drawings by Moritz Liebling, a Polish Jewish artist who was murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. The drawings are still preserved in the archives, but without this documentation, important background information would be lost to history. The text provides what little information is known about Mr. Liebling, his life before the war and his path through the Holocaust. It also describes how the drawings were acquired by the JPL, and contains an emotional letter written by renowned local artist Louis Muhlstock.

I invite you to examine the digitized images of the document. It made me consider how practices of commemoration and memorialization in the Jewish community have simultaneously evolved and stayed constant as the Holocaust has begun to disappear from living memory. As time moves us farther away from the horrors of the genocide, how will the memory of its victims and survivors be preserved?

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