Department of History and Cultural Studies at Freie Universität Recognizes Simon's Knowledge of Jewish History in Berlin
No 003/2018 from Jan 12, 2018
The founding director of the New Synagogue Berlin - Centrum Judaicum Foundation, Dr. Hermann Simon, has received an honorary doctorate from Freie Universität Berlin. At a ceremony on Friday, the Department of History and Cultural Studies honored Simon as one of the most profound scholars of Jewish history in Berlin. Simon’s life and work represent Jewish life in Berlin in a unique way.
Hermann Simon was born in 1949 in East Berlin as the son of Jewish parents who had survived the Holocaust underground and in exile. He was an active member of the small Jewish community in East Berlin, also serving on the board. He studied history and Oriental studies at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, where he earned his doctorate in 1975. From 1975 to 1985 he worked as a research assistant and curator of oriental coins at the Numismatic Collection of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
In 1988 Hermann Simon was instrumental in the conception and design of the first exhibition on Jewish life in the GDR. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary and commemoration of the November pogrom, the exhibition was first displayed in the Ephraim Palais in East Berlin and then, still before German re-unification, in the Martin Gropius Building in West Berlin. In the following three decades, Hermann Simon initiated, curated, directed, and accompanied a large number of other exhibitions on very different topics of Jewish life and the remembrance of Jewish victims.
The nominating committee of the Department of History and Cultural Studies emphasized that the thematic spectrum of these exhibitions extends far beyond the local history of Berlin. Through this work Simon became a bridge builder and pioneer of cooperation between East and West Berlin. Furthermore, the committee stated, "The culmination of Hermann Simon’s work is undoubtedly the Centrum Judaicum in the New Synagogue Berlin, which was founded in 1988 and inaugurated in 1995 and where he served as director until his retirement in 2015. The Centrum Judaicum rapidly evolved into the most important place for scholarly research and the presentation of Jewish life in Berlin."
The president of Freie Universität, Peter-André Alt, praised Simon’s lifetime achievements in the research and presentation of Jewish life. Alt emphasized that the New Synagogue Berlin - Centrum Judaicum Foundation is invaluable for the scholarly study of Judaism, both nationally and internationally. The network that Simon built up was also particularly important for the Berlin-Brandenburg Center for Jewish Studies, which was founded in 2011. Alt stressed that this type of continuity is very advantageous.
Steffen Krach, the Berlin State Secretary for Science and Research, noted that Berlin owes a great deal to Hermann Simon’s "important contributions to the Jewish history of our city." Krach said that Simon had a profound influence on Berlin with his scholarly work and his own intellectual biography. In particular, "His life and work can be taken as a role model for us and our commitment. This is especially true nowadays when we again encounter hate and intolerance. Education, compassion, historical responsibility, judgment - these are all traits that we need more than ever today, and we can find them in the work and life of Dr. Hermann Simon."