Words of Farewell and Orbituaries to Bernhard Purin

In this article, we publish words of farewell and obituaries for our esteemed colleague Bernhard Purin.

Bernhard, the sentence that always comes to my mind first when I think of you only makes valuable sense in German: “Ich geh’ Fürth und Ihr bleibt da!” You created these words for the farewell night at a Heuriger in Vienna when you left the team of the Jewish Museum Vienna to become director in Fürth in 1995, almost 30 years ago.
The sentence you borrowed from Struwwelpeter and recited with your unmistakable wit was as beautiful as it was typical of you: a piece of literature of questionable sentiment reinterpreted with a proper dose of irony to make a situation unmistakably comprehensible for everyone: funny, unambiguous, dualistic.
I admired how resolutely you were the first to leave the collective that existed in Vienna at the time in order to embark on your own journey. I sat in the same office with you for one or two years, so I knew that you knew what you wanted. You had a detective’s instinct, a desire for debate (Auseinandersetzung), but even more so a strong will to understand, unravel and communicate things until everyone understood them. And you were good with yourself alone, but at the same time you also loved the collective, as you showed in your loyalty to AEJM. What may sound like a contradiction to others, you lived. Alone with many. These many do miss you.

– Werner Hanak, Department of Culture, Basel / Museen Basel 

I am very saddened to hear of the sudden death of Berhanrd Purin. I admired his broad knowledge, his curiosity and his ability, to find and research so many different topics and stories. He realized his vision of new museums and exhibitions. His death is a real loss. What will the AEJM conferences be like without Bernhard? All my condolences to his family and friends and to the colleagues of the Jewish Museum München.

– Sabine Kößling, Museums of Lübeck and freelance curator

Dear friends,
We were shaken and saddened to hear of Bernhard’s unexpected passing. Bernhard was a dear friend, and his loss sends shockwaves in the lives of any who knew him, both personally and professionally. Bernhard was the remarkable blend of being both immensely knowledgeable and unwaveringly humble. As anyone in the field of Jewish ceremonial objects can attest, Bernhard was an authority of Judaica, and he was always generous with his time, his knowledge, and his enthusiasm for his field. He was warm and kind, and his gentle demeanor was his calling card. His legacy will forever stand, in the form of the Jewish Museums he founded and directed, and in the hearts of everyone who had the privilege to know him and the honor to work with him. On behalf of our colleagues at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, we pray that Bernhard’s memory will forever be a blessing to all he touched.

– Dr. Rachel Sarfati, Chief Curator, The Israel Museum 
– Sharon Weiser-Ferguson, Senior Curator, The Israel Museum

With great sadness I have learned the news about Bernhard Purin’s premature death. Bernhard and I met for the first time in 2014 in Lisbon at the AEPJ’s Meeting of the European coordinators of the European Day(s) of Jewish Culture. I remember him as a warm and open person, and as a sympathetic and knowledgeable colleague. Moreover, Bernhard was the one who introduced me with the AEJM’s network and encouraged the application of the institution where I work at for AEJM’s membership. I remain truly grateful to him for this initiative that opened new possibilities for our small organisation, which among others resulted in gaining new friendships and promoting many successful international collaborations. I wish to express my deepest condolences to Bernhard’s family, his closes friends, and coworkers.”

– Marjetka Bedrač, Center of Jewish Cultural Heritage Synagogue Maribor

The sudden death of Bernhard Purin has shaken us all. The tale of Bernhard’s relationship with the Jewish Museum Vienna is a long one. He was part of the museun’s founding team until 1995, when he became director of the Jewish Museum in Fürth. Together, we inventoried the first objects from the IKG’s collection, when everything was still more or less improvised. Many beers were drunk, and conversation carried on through the night. Bernhard was always unconventional, and since his youth, hard to picture without his snuff. He had his own intellectual and curatorial style, which he held onto his whole life.
As he made his first steps into provenance research in Jewish museums, he conceived the exhibition “Beschlagnahmt” (“Confiscated”) which told the story of the First Jewish Museum in Vienna after the rise to power of the Nazis. In 1938, the museum’s objects were confiscated and many of them displayed in an antisemitic exhibition entitled “Das körperliche und seelische Erscheinungsbild der Juden“ (“The physical and psychological appearance of Jews”) in the Natural History Museum in Vienna. Thereafter, the majority of the objects were deposited in the Museum für Völkerkunde (now the Weltmuseum) and restituted to the Viennese Jewish Community at the start of the 1950s. Thanks to Bernhard’s meticulous research, more objects from the holdings of the First Jewish Museum were able to be found. These were objects which had been shared out between various Viennese institutions during the Nazi period, and which could be traced back to the Museum. The exhibition “Beschlagnahmt” was displayed in the five different sites where stolen objects from the Museum had been kept.
A thirst for knowledge, combined with unwavering persistence, were just some of Bernhard’s most distinctive traits. When he was on the hunt for new findings, nothing could deter him. He was always prepared to share his knowledge – and he did so tirelessly and passionately. The world of Jewish museums was his home. Bernhard was never to be missed at an AEJM annual meeting, and was a constant support to his colleagues.
He maintained close ties with the Jewish Museum in Vienna after he left for Fürth. And even as he continued to climb the career ladder and was called to become the director of the Jewish Museum in Munich, he remained close to us here in Vienna. His second home in Rosenburg lay on the path between the two cities, in fact closer to Vienna. This was certainly no accident, and allowed work meetings to be arranged in outstanding Heurigen in the Kamptal. Bernhard had planned to come back to Vienna after his retirement. He wanted to carry out further research on the Museum’s collection and to help us work on our extensive archival material. We would all have been looking forward to having him back on our team, bringing with him his enterprise, his knowledge, and his humour. Bernhard, we miss you, and we would have wanted more time with you.

– Team of the Jewish Museum Vienna 

Like many colleagues in the world of Jewish studies I was shocked and saddened to learn of of the sudden and unexpected passing of our friend Bernhard Purin. I’ve known Bernhard for some 25 years and have always profited from and respected his deep knowledge of the field, his even temper, and witnessed his highly effective interpersonal skillset. As president of the Harry Friedman Society in New York I’ve invited Bernhard to lecture to our long-established group of collectors and curators on several occasions, and he always delivered clear and stimulating talks about German Judaica and associated restitution issues. Personally, I’ve had occasion to lend Bernhard medals from my own collection for inclusion in his invariably well organized inventive and educational exhibitions and was able to advise him about other numismatic issues. As a friend, Bernhard was always unhesitatingly and courteously prepared to assist, introducing me to other professionals in the field and helping me to acquire relevant publications. During many visits to Munich and AEJM meeting, and during Bernhard’s stays in New York, we had occasion to meet, and I eagerly looked forward to his friendly companionship on such occasions. Bernard was a leader and an ornament of the fellowship of professionals and amateurs within the world of Judaica; he will be sorely missed.

– Ira Rezak

Bernhard Purin’s death came as a shock to us and we are saddened by his early and unexpected passing. He was a lovely man and a generous colleague. He supported our work at the Jewish Museum Westphalia repeatedly, as a member of our academic advisory committee for the development of the last permanent display and also in the context of our provenance research. His incredible knowledge and expertise in various fields of Jewish history, material culture and museums, his intelligence, good humour as well as his kindness will be greatly missed. We would like to offer our sincerest condolences to his colleagues, close friends and family.

– Kathrin Pieren & the team of the Jewish Museum Westphalia

The Jewish Museum of Belgium wishes to express its deepest feelings of condolences on the passing by of Bernhard Purin, both for his family, his loved ones, his friends and his colleagues. We hold him in our memories with respect and appreciation.

– Barbara Cuglietta, director, and the team of the Jewish Museum of Belgium

Bernhard was a fine scholar, an enlightened museum professional, a committed humanitarian and a genuine friend for over 20 years. He will be greatly missed by all who knew and worked with him. I mourn his passing.

– David Glasser

I am sharing the sorrow of all friends and colleagues for the loss of Bernhard Purin, a good and generous man, a sapient scholar always ready to respond to any quest with a smile.

– Jack Arbib

I was very fond of Bernhard and have strong memories of him, connected with my early days in AEJM, as I served with him on the Board for two terms. He was open and friendly to a ‘newbie’, giving me valuable advice and insights into the work and priorities of the Association. It was always a comfort to know that he remained a strong and meaningful beacon of our work over the years, an integral part of the circle of colleagues that look after Jewish Heritage in Europe.
He will be much missed, but he will always be part of that circle, now and in the future.

– Zanet Battinou, Director of the Jewish Museum of Greece

There was so much to admire about Bernhard Purin: His curiosity, his knowledge, his unconventional ideas, his quiet personality, his brave choices, and his support of young colleagues, among them myself, 25 years ago.

He will be greatly missed. Let us take consolation in what he leaves us: A rich bequest of publications, exhibitions, and a strong AEJM network. His life was too short, but his legacy will be long.

– Naomi Lubrich, Director of the Jewish Museum in Switzerland 

Deeply saddened by the news of the sudden death of our colleague and friend Bernhard Purin, we remember him with great affection and sincerely regret his friendliness and great professionalism. We will miss him so much, it will be a real sorrow not to meet him again in the AEJM meetings and we embrace with love his family and friends.

– Alessandra Di Castro, Olga Melasecchi and all the staff of the Jewish Museum of Rome