The Harvard Semitic Museum, which holds one of the nation's most important collections of Near Eastern artifacts, reopens today after bring closed to the public for 25 years due to lack of financial and University support.
The museum, located at 6 Divinity Ave., launches what supporters hope will be a new era of greater attention to Semitic studies at Harvard with a special exhibit documenting the plight of the Jewish community in Danzig which was forced to emigrate on the eve of World War II.
The museum's own vast collection will remain stored in the building's basement at least until the end of the "Danzig 1939" exhibit in June. Outside supporters, including the National Endowment for the Humanities and Combined Jewish Philanthropies, brought the Danzig exhibit to Harvard, but it is unclear whether the museum will have funds in the future to exhibit its own holdings.
President Bok, in a ceremony before a crowd including Danzig survivors yesterday said he welcomed the signs of life in the old building "after what has been--I am ashamed to admit--40 years of shadowy existence."
Founded in 1903 by philanthropist Jacob Henry Schiff "to promote sound knowledge of Semitic languages and history," the museum struggled during the 1930s and 1940s and closed in 1958 to make way for the Center for International Affairs, which used the building for office space until 1979.
Although the objects have been inaccessible to the public, students and researchers have worked with the collection, which ranges from ancient figurines to Arab costumes and weapons to 19th-century photographs.
"Like so many underground institutions, the Semitic Museum was able to flourish during this time," said Frank M. Cross, Hancock Professor of Hebrew and director of the museum.
Bok also said the reopening of the museum to the public was "a miracle worked against the forces of inertia." He added. "I hope we all do our part, which we have not all done in the past" to aid in promoting the public function of the museum.
But, when asked about the possibility of direct University financial support for the museum. Bok declined to comment. Museum supporters have said that Harvard funding would help insure a permanent public display of the museum's stored works.
Other privately funded exhibits are planned following the Danzig exhibit, which displays 134 ceremonial and ritual objects.
"Danzig 1939" toured the United States before coming to Harvard and will head to Germany and Tel Aviv.
The show carries particular significance for at least one member of the Harvard community Henry Rosovsky, dean of the Faculty, was one of the Danzig refugees. A photo of Rosovsky at age 10 among a group of his classmates appears in the exhibit.