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New group forms to stop Jewish legacy being airbrushed from history
THE 'airbrushing' of Jewish history from Winchester could soon be rectified by a group of local people.
There is no mention of the medieval Jews in either the City Museum or at the Great Hall, despite the importance of the Jews in the 200 years before their increasing victimisation and expulsion from England in 1290, an early example of ethnic cleansing.
Winchester Castle even had a tower called the Jews' Tower where they were imprisoned, yet there is no mention of this in the permanent exhibition at the Great Hall opened in the late 1990s. A Jewess, Licoricia, was one of the wealthiest women in 13th century England before her brutal murder.
The invisibility of the Jews is despite one of the major roads in the city centre being called Jewry Street.
Southampton University academic Professor Tony Kushner has researched the issue and believes the history has been "airbrushed" because, unlike much Winchester heritage, it presents the city in an unfavourable light.
"Medieval Jewish Winchester is currently invisible. It is largely a negative story and people do not like telling negative stories. But Winchester should start to tell this story," he said.
Prof Kushner said the 'heritage' industry preferred to tell a positive and inclusive stories and had so ignored the violent and prejudiced parts such as the treatment of the Jews. But he alleged it "represents a major failure of imagination in the 'city of memories' and the triumph of a form of localism defined by parochialism and exclusivity. With regard to medieval Winchester Jewry, it represents their second removal."
Now a local group has come together to highlight the history with a new leaflet, a heritage trail and perhaps even a plaque somewhere on Jewry Street.
One member, Danny Habel, said the group is conducting research with a view to making proposals later in the year.
Mr Habel said it was "a surprise" that there was nothing in the major heritage institutions on Jewish history. "The fact it is now called Jewry Street shows there was a history. It has been a bit concealed. But it is a not a history to be proud of. In the Middle Ages Jews were not considered to be people."
Patrick Davies, a senior member of the City of Winchester Trust, said of the absence: "I think it is a dreadful failing and it ought to be rectified in the City Museum and the Great Hall as a matter of urgency."
Until 1985 there was a small painting in the Cathedral labelled 'Jewboy', a highly derogatory term.
In a statement, the city council said: "Winchester has a rich and varied history. The city’s museums and leaflets tell only a fraction of the stories that can be told. Many more aspects are explored and publicised by academics, authors and other organisations.
"The council is always keen to increase understanding and awareness of the city’s history through its visitor leaflets and websites and would be pleased to hear from Prof Kushner if he has research that can be used to help tell the story of Jewry Street and the Jewish community in Winchester."
Prof Kushner has written about the issue in his book Anglo-Jewry since 1066: Place, Locality and Memory, published by Manchester University Press.
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