A genizah is a storage area for worn-out religious books and, by extension, for liturgical objects that cannot be discarded. Since they cannot be disposed of, they are placed in a hiding place in the synagogue awaiting their burial. Genizot were regarded as having little interest in France, unlike other countries in the Ashkenazi world more aware of the value of vestiges of communities annihilated by the Holocaust.
In autumn 2012, the extraordinary discovery of a genizah in the attic of the synagogue at Dambach-la-Ville in the Bas-Rhin brought to light thousands of documents and objects dating from the 14th to the 19th century, “saved from the skip” by researchers and volunteers. This genizah contained an extraordinary wealth of vestiges, both in their variety and their age: 15th-century parchments, 16th-century printed books, early 17th-century mappot or wimpels (embroidered circumcision sashes), 18th and 19th-century mezuzot (verses from the Torah contained in cases), tefillin(phylacteries), and a host of other objects.
The Héritage inespéré, une découverte archéologique en Alsace exhibition casts fascinating new light on the history of the Jewish communities in Alsace, among the largest in France before the Emancipation and which disappeared due to the rural exodus and the Holocaust.
As well as the Dambach genizah, the exhibition features several examples from genizot discovered by chance at Mackenheim, Bergheim and Horbourg, also saved in extremis.
The exhibition explores the origin of these objects, allowing them to speak for themselves and showing, despite their apparent modesty, the great value of this type of heritage for our knowledge of the daily life of these rural communities and their evolution over several centuries, from the beginning of the modern era to the first half of the 20th century. Studying genizot also enables us to question our attitude to objects, why we value some, throw away others or preserve and pass them on to our family or community.
Curators: Claire Decomps, head curator of the Inventaire de Lorraine, and Elisabeth Shimells, curator of the Musée alsacien de Strasbourg.
Scenography: Atelier Caravane.