A new exhibition at UC Berkeley’s Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life tells the stories of more than 70 scholars, writers and artists — many of them Jewish, related to Jews, or political dissidents — who escaped the rise of Nazism and fascism in Europe in the 1930s and ‘40s and brought their talents and dreams with them to UC Berkeley.
“UC Berkeley was definitely better off for opening its doors to these people who were seeking a home, and it is still benefitting from that today,” said Francesco Spagnolo, the lead curator of the exhibition “Saved by the Bay: The Intellectual Migration from Fascist Europe to UC Berkeley.”
The exhibition tells how the immigrants made new homes in the San Francisco Bay Area and continued, or began, to garner top awards in a wide range of arts and sciences, while contributing their unique perspectives to campus debates on issues such as free speech and the Cold War-era Loyalty Oath then required of University of California employees.
“[This exhibit] is unique in that it chronicles an aspect of UC Berkeley’s history that is not very well known by the public at large and by the students and faculty,” said Daniel Viragh, who is a Ph.D. candidate in History and was the 2012-2013 Fellow at the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life. Viragh worked closely on research aspects of the project and was also responsible for hiring and managing nine undergraduate students to assist him in the research process.
Overall, how would you rate the experience of working on this project?
Very important. I very much enjoyed being exposed to a museum setting, in which the boundaries are slightly more relaxed than in a traditional classroom. The students were offered research guidelines, versus a syllabus. They were hired as something similar to contractors. The sense of empowerment, which such opportunities provide, is unparalleled.
How does this experience add value to your career?
I am looking forward to a career which combines research and teaching in new ways. Sometimes, classroom boundaries are useful. And yet this was as close to a real world research experience that the students ever had. The museum setting and the URAP (Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program) project gave the students the opportunity to take control of their work, much like one would through a consulting project for a client. Students need such real-world experience.
Why do you believe this particular exhibition is a ‘must-see’?
Most of the artifacts on display were once the personal documents of professors who walked our campus. In this sense it is a very accessible exhibit, but it is also very personal. “Saved by the Bay” showcases the often private stories of immigration which these intellectuals faced before becoming known and respected scholars in their fields. Ours is a world-class institution but it is worthwhile to remember that it is the private individuals who make it so. And their private stories are often inaccessible because the focus of a university’s glory is usually research. Here finally is a personal and unequaled look at what Berkeley meant in private to some extraordinary individuals.
“Saved by the Bay” runs through June 27 at 2121 Allston Way in Berkeley. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday, 11:00 am-4:00 pm. Admission is free. More information is online at the exhibition’s website.
Review by Marcia Tannre, Berkeleyside