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The Jewish StarShare

Warsaw

Michael David (American, b. 1954)

Warsaw, 1980

  • Pigment and wax on Masonite
  • 63 x 63 in. (160 x 160 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Gift of Lenore B. Lippert and Barbara E. Lippert in memory of Michael Myron Lippert, 1986-92

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Warsaw

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Warsaw

The six-pointed star is often known as the Jewish Star, the Star of David, or the Shield of David (Magen David in Hebrew). The origin of the star's connection to Jewish identity is uncertain. The six-pointed star has long been used as a decorative motif, and by the Middle Ages, it was also associated with the Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition. The symbol was first used as the emblem of a Jewish community in medieval Prague. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, its use spread from Prague to other Jewish communities in Europe. It was only in the nineteenth century--and especially after the star was chosen as the emblem of Zionism in 1897--that the Magen David became universally recognized as a distinctly Jewish symbol.

During World War II, the Nazis appropriated the Jewish Star for their own ends. Soon after the German invasion of Poland in 1939, the Nazis ordered all Polish Jews over the age of twelve to wear a white armband inscribed with a blue Star of David. The use of a Jewish badge gradually expanded to other territories occupied by the Nazis, often taking the form of a yellow cloth star marked with the word Jew in the local language. In some places, children as young as five were required to wear the badge.

The badge was meant to differentiate and isolate the Jews. If a Jew was caught without a badge, he or she was subjected to harsh punishment--sometimes even death. The use of the Jewish badge was a revival of a medieval practice; in many lands during the Middle Ages, Jews were required to wear identifying articles of clothing to set them apart.