The Langerman Collection – an archive of visual anti-Semitism
Born in Antwerp in 1942 as the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants, Arthur Langerman began collecting anti-Semitic images during the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961. He had lost almost his entire family in the Holocaust, which he himself survived in a children’s home of the Association des Juifs en Belgique. Seeking answers to the questions where such hatred came from and how it could commit such crimes, he found in anti-Jewish images abundant evidence, and at the same time a potent cause, of the growth of anti-Semitism over the centuries.
Langerman began to look for and collect anti-Semitic artifacts, at first unsystematically but later with passionate commitment, professional system, and global outreach.
On the track of everyday anti-Semitism – collecting lest we forget
For the most part, Arthur Langerman’s family and friends looked askance at the objects filling his apartment, so for many years his collector’s passion remained a largely private affair. He had no real interest in presenting his finds to the public. However, the increase in overt anti-Semitic sentiment and crime after 2010 stimulated him to change course. Alarmed and deeply disturbed, he resolved in 2017, after more than half a century as a private collector, to make his holdings available for research, exhibitions, and educational purposes. His express wish was that the collection should be used to investigate the history and impact of anti-Jewish prejudice, shed light on its genesis, and serve as a warning to this and coming generations. In March 2019 he transferred ownership of his archive to the Arthur Langerman Foundation, which – under the trusteeship of Berlin’s University of Technology (TU Berlin) – has undertaken to continue Langerman’s personal commitment. Today the Arthur Langerman Archive for Research into Visual Anti-Semitism (ALAVA) at TU Berlin’s Center for Research on Anti-Semitism manages the world’s biggest collection of anti-Jewish images and opens it in accordance with its originator’s intentions.
Arthur Langerman in 2017 with a poster from the Musée des horreurs series originating in France during the Dreyfus Affair (© Damien Caumiant)
600 years of anti-Semitic artifacts
The Belgian Holocaust survivor’s collection contains examples of almost every anti-Jewish myth and stereotype in existence. Currently comprising some 8100 items, it includes 3500 postcards, more than 1000 hand-drawn sketches, several hundred posters, pamphlets and flyers, and a number of illustrated books, periodicals and newspapers, as well as many paintings, engravings, drawings, sculptures, and everyday objects. Dating from the 16th–21st centuries, the items stem largely from Europe, but also from the USA and Middle East.
The Langerman Collection presents the visual repertoire of anti-Semitism in its whole range of contradiction, defamation, and vicious intent, with motifs deriving not only from Christian anti-Judaism, cultural and social hostility to Jews, and the modern ‘racial’ anti-Semitism of the National Socialists that underlay the Holocaust, but also from anti-Semitic propaganda against Israel. Overall, the Arthur Langerman Archive bears devastating and undeniable witness to the persistent, international, and adaptable qualities of everyday anti-Semitism. At the same time it represents a unique source of material for research, as well as historical and preventive education and remembrance.
Anti-Semitic postcards from the Langerman Collection (© Angelika Königseder)
The Arthur Langerman Archive for Research into Visual Anti-Semitism (ALAVA)
Currently still under development, ALAVA is the academic, organizational and administrative arm of the Arthur Langerman Foundation. A prime aspect of its work is to conserve, classify, and inventory the Langerman Collection for the professionally interested public. Once this is done, the collection will be made available in digital form for research and education in the reading room of the library of the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism at its new location in Kaiserin Augusta Allee. It will at the same time form the core of an ongoing archival operation, as ALAVA continues to collect visual anti-Semitic artifacts, both past and present.
The ALAVA team also conducts fundamental research on the visual repertoire of anti-Semitism, launching and supporting projects both on the Langerman Collection and on the wider history of the field. Doctoral students and postdocs working on a thesis are invited to use the archive’s holdings for their research.
Information, education, prevention
ALAVA holdings are currently being prepared as a basis for informational, educational, and preventive projects concerned with the recognition of visual stereotypes and the analysis and deconstruction of their methods and impact. Teachers and youth-group leaders will be invited to use the materials in the classroom, in workshops, and in continuing education and information programs.
As well as being used for ALAVA’s own exhibitions, the archive’s holdings may be loaned to external institutions. Museums, remembrance sites and other cultural bodies can approach the archive with ideas for such projects, and support is offered in the development of exhibition concepts.
In order to display the breadth and diversity of its holdings and arouse the interest not only of the research community but also among the wider public, ALAVA presents every half year an Object of the Semester illustrating a specific motif or topos of visual anti-Semitism or a particular material or formal aspect, and commenting on its historical background, development, and significance. Highlighting the role of anti-Jewish images in the propagation and reinforcement of anti-Semitic prejudices and conspiracy fantasies, these objects foster interest in, and deepen awareness of, visual stereotypes and their workings.
The historian Carl-Eric Linsler is curator at the Arthur Langerman Archive
for Research into Visual Anti-Semitism.
Title image: The new location of the Center of Research on Antisemitism at TU Berlin, Kaiserin-Augusta-Allee 104-106 (© TU Berlin/PR/Felix Noak)