Treasured Belongings: The Hahn Family & the Search for a Stolen Legacy

Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre

The Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre is nominated for a 2020 BCMA Outstanding Achievement Award, Excellence in Exhibitions Award for their exhibition “Treasured Belongings: The Hahn Family & the Search for a Stolen Legacy,” an original and artefact-rich exhibition about personal and cultural loss, reconciliation in the aftermath of injustice, and intergenerational relations in the context of the Holocaust.

This exhibition brings to the forefront a lesser-known aspect of the Holocaust: the systematic looting of personal, intellectual and cultural property of Jews under the guise of law by the Nazis. It tells the story of a German-Jewish family, the Hahns of Göttingen, owners of one of the most significant collections of silver Judaica in pre-war Europe, as they navigate escalating Nazi persecution, leading to their separation and displacement, the confiscation of their possessions and the murder of Max and Gertrud Hahn.

Exhibition curators interweave the Hahn family history with the contemporary restitution efforts of the family’s descendants. The exhibition highlights efforts made by Vancouver-based Dr. Michal Hayden (grandson of Max and Gertrud Hahn, and himself a collector) to retrieve artefacts belonging to his grandparents found in the permanent collections of museums in Germany. Visitors engage through multimedia entry levels including text, images, artefacts, graphics and digital components including touchscreen and audio-visuals. More than forty items belonging to the Hahn family are displayed: these works speak to the impressive connoisseurship of Raphael Hahn (collecting in the 19th century), Max and Gertrud Hahn, and the remarkable diversity of their original collection. Artefacts on display are the oldest ever exhibited by the VHEC, and include Judaica as well as secular western and non-western art. Among them are an etching created in 1519, antique books (late 17th and 18th centuries), megillot on parchment rolls (18th and 19th centuries), an oil painting (18th century), Chinese embroidery and pith paper paintings (late 19th century), Meissen porcelain and art prints (20th century). The rare artefacts — never before exhibited to the public — are presented on hand-built conservation-grade mounts emphasizing their uniqueness and delicacy. Mounts were made by Carl Schlichting, winner of a 2017 BCMA award for innovations in mount-making.

Treasured Belongings illustrates how the issue of looted art in permanent museum collections — a significant concern facing the sector today — is seen and understood through the eyes of an artefact’s rightful owner. The exhibition contributes to essential conversations about the work museums and governments are doing, and need to do more of, in order to acknowledge painful facts of white supremacy in their institutions, theft in their holdings, and the redress of historic wrongs.