In 2007, the College of Charleston Special Collections was pleased to accession the papers of William A. Rosenthall, rabbi, scholar, and collector of Judaica. Graciously donated by Rabbi Rosenthall’s widow Irene, this internationally important collection of fine art prints, topical files, sermons, printed materials, artifacts, and other historical papers form the William A. Rosenthall papers and the William A. Rosenthall Judaica collection.
Rabbi Rosenthall began collecting Judaica during his childhood, inspired after receiving a postcard of the Hauptsynagoge in Mainz, Germany, from his grandmother. Searching all corners of the globe, he amassed a spectacular collection of printed material and artwork that traces the portrayal of Jews by scholars, artists, laypersons, and even anti-Semites from the 16th to the 21st centuries. The collection includes over 100 linear feet of rare books, fine art, postcards, illustrated journals, greeting cards, pamphlets, broadsides, newspapers, cartoons, etchings, chromolithographs, watercolors, medallions, stamps, and textiles.
The materials document the Jewish people: their lives, history, religious ceremonies, dress, and customs. A particular collecting focus of Rabbi Rosenthall was images of synagogues, including interior and exterior building views, maps, and panoramas. The images depict synagogues located around the globe, including European synagogues destroyed by the Nazis or converted to stables and warehouses. Many of these images as well as illustrations and photographs of Jewish ghettos, costumes, and cemeteries were grouped by subject and location and stored in approximately 90 portfolios. The portfolios also include Jewish caricatures, postage stamps, New Year cards, portraits of individuals, and clippings from Jewish journals and publications.
The collection also consists of Rabbi Rosenthall’s files on Jewish artists and other collectors of Judaica as well as issues of Ost und West, Allgemeine illustrirte Judenzeitung, Gemeindeblatt der Jüdischen Gemeinde zu Berlin, Múlt és Jövő, and Psst!. Many items found in Rosenthall’s collection of Judaica are one-of-a-kind and therefore represent a unique and valuable source for scholars.
Special Collections also holds the William A. Rosenthall papers, which chronicle Rosenthall’s rabbinical career and his involvement in a variety of organizations, include his writings, publications, and voluminous topical files on Jewish culture and history. The collection comprises over 15 linear feet of newspaper articles, correspondence, sermons, brochures, reports, bulletins, notes, and biographical files. Materials relate to William A. Rosenthall’s rabbinates, including his 16-year tenure at Charleston’s KKBE; his lectures and exhibits on Jewish art; and his leadership in the World Union for Progressive Judaism.
Since 1995, Special Collections has become a nationally recognized repository for manuscript collections and cultural materials relating to the southern Jewish experience. These materials form the Jewish Heritage Collection and chiefly relate to South Carolina. The collection includes the records of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE), the first reform synagogue in the United States; the records of other congregations across the state; the Holocaust Archives, which document the experiences of survivors and liberators residing in South Carolina; family collections; business and organizational records; and a substantial number of oral histories on growing up Jewish in the South.
In 2009, the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) awarded the College of Charleston a generous grant to process and catalog its “Hidden Collections”—foremost among them the William A. Rosenthall papers. The project team, consisting of Special Collections staff, archivists, archival assistants, consulting scholars, and student volunteers and interns, completed processing the rabbi’s papers and began digitizing individual items from his vast collection of Judaica.
In 2012, CLIR awarded a second grant to the College to support the processing of the William A. Rosenthall Judaica Collection. In addition to processing the Judaica collection, project staff continued digitizing collection materials to add to the Lowcountry Digital Library; almost 5,500 prints and postcards are available online through LCDL. The funding also supported the creation of an online exhibit of collection materials entitled The Life of the Synagogue, which builds on the collection’s strength in this area.