& Tolerance Center
A large and hyper-modern museum in Moscow
about the history of Russian Jewry, its tragic fate in WWII
and the Holocaust
, but also the contribution of Jews to the Soviet war effort, as well as about post-war Jewish developments and problems in the USSR
and contemporary Russia
. It's a bit off the usual tourist trails but well worth the effort of making it out there. One of best, if not the very best museum of its kind!
museum is, as you might expect, relatively new – it opened to the public as recently as 2012. The conversion of the building and the development of the hi-tech and design-heavy permanent exhibition was made possible by generous funding from super-rich Jewish Russian oligarchs, such as Viktor Vekselberg and in particular Roman Abramovich, also from a number of Jewish organizations, and allegedly even Vladimir Putin contributed some personal money.
The building that the museum is housed in dates back to the 1920s when it was built in an avant-garde constructivist style as a bus garage to a unique design.
The ageing structure was eventually vacated by the transport company that owned it in the late 1990s and slated for redevelopment. Parts of the roof structure were dismantled, apparently triggering some controversy about the fate of the building.
But eventually a compromise was found, which left the original outer walls preserved, but with a largely new roof structure, and the whole refurbishment was completed in 2008. At first the hall served as a cultural centre and art gallery but soon it was announced that it was to be turned into a Jewish Museum & Tolerance Centre, while continuing to provide space for art exhibitions, and a library and research centre as well.
I've seen it claimed in various sources that this new Moscow
institution is the largest Jewish museum in the world. This I doubt. At least the famous Jewish Museum
, and also the more recently opened POLIN Museum
seemed to me to be overall larger physically, and even more comprehensive in coverage too, perhaps.
But what this Moscow museum covers significantly better and in more depth are precisely the darkest aspects: persecution of Jews and especially the Holocaust
. Here too it is emphasized that that's not what the Jewish topic can or should be solely reduced to, though. And this exhibition doesn't do that either, but it doesn't shy away from these dark parts with the same fervour as its Berlin and Warsaw equivalents and instead gives them significant space. Obviously, from a dark-tourism perspective this is a welcome thing. You learn a lot more about these aspects here, including ones not yet familiar from other institutions dealing with the subject.
What there is to see: Once you've cleared security and made your way from the gate to the museum entrance on the other (western) side of the building you are greeted by a huge cavernous but bright open space inside. The ticket and info desks are straight ahead on the left side.
Once you've purchased your ticket the staff will direct you to the starting point of the whole affair, which is the “Beginning Cinema”. It's inside the round elevated structure you will already have seen to the right of the ticket desks. It's accessed via a ramp and you then sit down in one of the seats, put on the special 3-D-glasses provided and wait for the show to begin …
… or not, as the case may be. I thought afterwards that I could easily have done without this initial element. Here's what you get: it's more than just a visual multi-media projection in 3-D. They actually call it “4-D”. The fourth element being moving seats and the occasional whiff of mist sprayed at you from little holes in the bars in front of the seats. The content of the “show” is an animated retelling of the Biblical story of Creation according to the Torah.
I don't quite understand what's it doing here. If you are a devout Jew you'll already be well familiar with the story and won't need any such indoctrination in the first place. And if you are not a believer, then this OTT onslaught of religious dramatization will hardly suffice to convert you on the spot. Frankly, I found the “4-D experience” a bit cheesy and quite awkward to sit through. So ask yourself before you go in whether you too might rather want to do without this part. I thought it was on the whole the museum's greatest weakness and could easily be skipped.
The first “proper” section in the museum is about the global Jewish diaspora
and its history, from Roman times to today. The main exhibit here is a large, round, interactive map installation. You can explore the furthest corners that the Jewish diaspora reached (even to China
– which I hadn't been aware of before).
There follows a section about Jewish culture
in general, life in the “shtetl
”, religious aspects, but also the constant threat of pogroms
in tsarist Russia
. A section about the changes brought by the 1917 October Revolution and the early decades of the Soviet Union
is next. It brought unprecedented freedoms for Jews and also gave a boost to the significant participation of Jews in politics, science and cultural life.
The style of the exhibits in most of these sections is, again, colourful, hi-tech, dramatic and quite interactive. They even have projections onto mock coffee-house tables etc. and you can move elements of these projections about through gestures in empty space picked up by hidden sensors. Technology-wise that all is certainly cutting-edge, but at times I also found it a bit for the sake of it, not really called for, or not genuinely enhancing understanding. But where the use of technology wasn't so exaggerated, it was alright and certainly added some variety.
By the way, the content of the museum is presented in Russian
but with English translations
provided for a good proportion of the texts, though not all of them. But all audiovisual material is subtitled in English and the interactive screens can be set to English too. The translation quality
is quite excellent throughout, way above the usual standards in Russia
The section that is likely to be of most interest to dark tourists, that on the Holocaust
, is also the largest here, at least space-wise. The entire far wall of the exhibition hall is taken up by a vast curved screen
, in three sections, together probably more than 20 metres wide. In front of the screen some bits of war debris, like helmets, cartwheels, rubble from destroyed buildings, as well as heaps of fake snow, have been arranged to underscore the war setting.
On the screens is projected a film
, played in a constant loop
, that is well worth sitting through in its entirety (seats are provided). It covers the period from the beginning of Nazi Germany
's attack on the Soviet Union
, the scale of the suffering of Soviet Jews, through countless massacres and the burning of villages, not to mention the extermination camps … (cf. e.g. Maly Trostinec
) The chronology of war is then continued through coverage of the decisive battle of Stalingrad
, the turning point in the war, and ultimately the Battle of Berlin
and the final victory in the “Great Patriotic War”. The film goes beyond WWII
, though, in that is also covers the repression of memorialization of the Jewish suffering after the war, when even monuments featuring the six-pointed Star of David had to be altered so that the stars became five-pointed, like the Soviet star.
Along the walls opposite the left half of the screen is a section with text-and-photo panels as well as individual interactive screens providing more details about the horrors of the Holocaust
. This includes accounts of the massacre at Babi Yar
, and features many familiar gruesome photos – such as those taken at Skede
, that you often find illustrating the topic of these Einsatzgruppen
crimes wherever they may have taken place. The story of Red Army officer Alexander Pechersky is told here too, who was taken POW
by the Germans and sent to the death camp
, where he went on to lead a rebellion which allowed him and hundreds of other inmates to escape.
In the centre of the hall facing the wide screen is a semi-separated half-enclosed space on an elevated platform inside of which names are projected onto black walls. This is a special room of remembrance and reflection. Very sombre, and a break from all the informational material and horrible images.
To the right of the big screen are the two largest artefacts
on display in this museum: a T-34 tank
and a Soviet plane
suspended from the ceiling on wires above as if flying overhead. Another screen behind these plays interviews with war veterans telling their memories, sometimes in very touching detail. Also in this section you find panels/screens dedicated to particular Jewish individuals who heroically served on the Soviet side to defeat the Nazis
This includes one on war photographer Yevgeny Khaldei who took many of the most iconic, most instantly recognizable photos of WWII
, such as the famous one of Red Army soldiers hoisting the Soviet flag on the top of the Reichstag
at the end of the war. He also covered the Nuremberg
Trials for the Soviets, producing some of the best-known images of Hermann Goering in the courtroom
. Yet Khaldei soon became a victim of the late Stalin
-era repressions of Jews and lost his job and fame and was only rehabilitated in late life (he died in 1997).
The context for this fall from grace is the topic of the next couple of sections. It was particularly tragic that the Jews' hopes for an end of repression and a better life were again crushed, this time by Stalin's propaganda campaigns
such as the “rootless cosmopolitans” campaign and the so-called “Doctors' Plot” (cf. Gulag History Museum
!), which were at least in large part anti-Semitic
in nature too. To illustrate these dark times the museum has a reconstruction of a Lubyanka
With the death of Stalin
these campaigns of repression stopped, and people imprisoned on such charges were quietly released, though not openly rehabilitated. Yet, Jewish life improved somewhat in the “thaw
” period under Khrushchev
. But disillusionment didn't go away, as Jews didn't fit Soviet ideology in religious as well as political terms. Many Soviet Jews emigrated
, the new Jewish state the Soviet Union initially supported (the USSR
was one of the first states to legally recognize Israel as an independent country) but later had a more complicated relationship with (when it became clear that Israel would not turn into a Soviet satellite state).
Some Jews remaining in Russia would opt for escapism and practise their Jewish life in private only – and to illustrate this the museum has a video-projection enhanced mock-up of a typical 1960s-1970s Soviet flat (in a “Khrushchyovka” residential block).
An interactive screen gives access to details about famous Soviet Jews
of the time, such as famous singer-songwriter Vladimir Vysotsky
or the “Leningrad Hijackers
”. The latter were a group of nine Jews (and two non-Jews) who in 1970 tried to escape from the USSR
by hijacking a plane in Leningrad (today's St Petersburg
). But they failed, were arrested, tried and initially sentenced to death. However, as this caused an international outcry, the sentences were reduced. The incident also gave a boost to the emigration movement, which gained support from abroad as well (not least Israel
One side room contains an arty installation of “passing stars
”, names of more or less well-known Soviet Jewish individuals drifting across a large blue screen (see photos
The final section
of the main permanent exhibition is called “From Perestroika to Our Days
”, and covers the last phase of the USSR
in the reform period under Gorbachev, when, for instance, it also became possible to set up dedicated Jewish memorials at sites of Holocaust
atrocities (see above), but at the same time xenophobia and anti-Semitism were on the rise again too. Following the difficult years after the the collapse of the Soviet Union and economic crises, the current Jewish community in Russia
today is said to have finally found some form of stability. The main element of the exhibition here is another huge screen with dozens of modern-day faces – a kaleidoscope of modern Jewish Russia, as it were.
After this you also pass the so-called “Tolerance Center
”, a space where quite large groups can engage in all sorts of interactive themed scenarios via little personal touchscreens and other hi-tech features (cf. the Museum of Tolerance
in Los Angeles
). Of course these more educational activities are not for individual visitors but for, in particular, school groups. In addition, this Moscow institution also has a research centre
, an education centre
, and a children's centre
, all not directed at individual international visitors like me either, so I can't say anything about them. Nor did I venture into the temporary exhibition halls
or the special library
Finally, the museum also has a substantial shop, where not only a wide range of books are sold but also various souvenirs and Jewish-themed trinkets, and a kosher café-restaurant (museum visitors get 10% off on presentation of their ticket).
, I must say that of all the Jewish Museums I've visited this one in Moscow
probably has the best exhibition from the point of view of dark tourism. The contextualization in terms of Jewish culture and history works well without being too overbearing, and the dark themes of, in particular, the Holocaust
are given ample space and are presented in some impressive multimedia ways. Also there is plenty to learn about less well-known aspects of Jewish themes in the post-war Soviet
I left with a feeling of enlightenment and was pleased that the experience did not make me feel as “exhausted” as I had been at the end visiting the POLIN Museum in Warsaw
, for instance. So overall a superb balance. Hence I can only warmly recommend going to this Jewish Museum in Moscow
. I'd go as far as saying that it's one of Russia
's best museums these days.
in the north of Moscow
, some 3 miles (5 km) from the city centre/ Red Square
. Official address: Obraztsova Street 11, building 1A, which is where the security gate is. The entrance to the exhibition is actually on the western side of the building, 300 yards on.
Google maps locators:
Access and costs:
A bit out of the touristy centre of Moscow
, but not too difficult to get to; reasonably priced for what you get.
It's a bit of a trek to get to this museum. You could use metro station Dostoyevskaya (Line 10, pale green), especially if you plan to combine the museum with the Gulag Museum
and/or Army Museum
, and then walk up Ulitsa Dostoyevskogo, turn right into Ulitsa Obraztsova and keep going until the security entrance comes up on the left. The walk takes ca. 15 minutes. You could also use tram line 9/19 part of the way to speed things up.
Alternatively you could go to metro stops Mendeleyevskaya (Line 9, grey) or Novoslobodskaya (Circle Line 5, brown) and take the tram from there to Ulitsa Obraztsova.
Yet another option is to take metro Line 10 (light green) one stop further to Maryina Roshcha, and walk from there, exiting to the south-west, cross the Third Ring thoroughfare and walk parallel to it in a westerly direction until you get to the northern end of Ulitsa Obraztsova on the left, walk this down until the museum appears on the right.
As you can imagine there is tight airport-like security with metal detectors etc. at the entrance (as at practically all Jewish institutions, which sadly seems necessary). Once you've passed through that you have to walk a path that leads all the way past the large brick building (former bus depot – see above
) to its western side, where the actual museum entrance finally is.
Opening times: Sunday to Thursday 12 noon to 10 p.m., Fridays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; closed Saturdays and on Jewish holidays.
Admission: 400 RUB (school children aged 7-17, students, pensioners: 200 RUB); extra exhibitions: 300 RUB (concession: 150 RUB), combination ticket for both the permanent and temporary exhibitions: 500 RUB (concession: 300 RUB).
Guided tours in English (and Hebrew) can be arranged in advance; from one to seven participants this costs 2500 RUB extra, from 7 to 20 participants 3000 RUB. Scheduled tours take place (in Russian, English, French and Hebrew) on Sundays at 1, 3 and 5 p.m. and cost 300 RUB per person.
Time required: Several hours if you want to see, watch, read and do everything, but for just a good browse of the main exhibition, without going through all the interactive elements, something like two hours might suffice.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
in general see under Moscow
Two other major museums of dark-tourism interest in Moscow happen to be in the same area and thus make good combinations, but it's unrealistic to try and do all three in a single day (unless at a very rushed and exhausting pace – but due to the different opening times that would only be possible on few days of the week anyway).
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
not much at all in this area – better head straight back to central Moscow
- Jewish Museum 01 - spacious atrium
- Jewish Museum 02 - 4D cinema
- Jewish Museum 03 - exhibition
- Jewish Museum 04 - Jews in the USSR
- Jewish Museum 05 - coffee house setting
- Jewish Museum 06 - with illuminated tables
- Jewish Museum 07 - interactive displays
- Jewish Museum 08 - the coming inferno
- Jewish Museum 09 - Holocaust
- Jewish Museum 10 - grand projection wall
- Jewish Museum 11 - war debris
- Jewish Museum 12 - five- vs six-point stars
- Jewish Museum 13 - behind the big screen
- Jewish Museum 14 - remembrance space
- Jewish Museum 15 - inside the remembrance space
- Jewish Museum 16 - WWII
- Jewish Museum 17 - typewriter with flatscreen
- Jewish Museum 18 - prison cell
- Jewish Museum 19 - stars
- Jewish Museum 20 - hi-tech