“Giving a Voice to Women”

In conversation with the MúzeumCafé prize-winner Krisztina Kelbert

Despite her young age, Krisztina Kelbert, the winner of this year’s MúzeumCafé prize, has demonstrated an extraordinarily productive career as a museologist: she is a successful author, the curator of highly popular exhibitions, and a recognised conference organiser and speaker. The starting point and basis of her research and other work are formed by the history material of the Savaria Museum in Szombathely, which she oversees and nurtures as a historian-museologist and head of department. By the end of 2016, she had systemised the results of her research on the life and history of Szombathely’s Jewry in a book of over 650 pages, titled Eye to Eye. Pictures from the History of Szombathely’s Jewry, which received the first prize in the ʺBibliophile and Specialist Publication” category of the Beautiful Hungarian Book 2016 Competition in June 2017. Her bilingual, English and Hungarian, volume is not only a spectacular publication of the photographs of the Knebel Collection preserved in the museum and an expanded catalogue of two exhibitions but also a work on social-, mentality-, gender- and local history exploring the life of the Hungarian Jewry from Dualism onwards through the inhabitants, families and communities of Szombathely. Uniquely, photographs were used as the primary source material for both the volume and the exhibition that preceded it.

Krisztina Kelbert has worked for the Savaria Museum in Szombathely since she finished college. She took her school leaving exams and acquired her first degree in Szombathely: she graduated in Hungarian and history with an archaeological technician specialisation from Dániel Berzsenyi Teacher Training College in 2003. She first worked at the museum’s Department of Archaeology, where she remained right until 2008. She acquired her MA in history at the University of Pécs in the same year, and in 2009 she transferred to the museum’s Ethnography and History Archive. Since October 2013 she has been the director of the institution’s renewed Department of History. She began her PhD studies at Loránd Eötvös University in Budapest, where she will soon complete her dissertation titled The Forms of Women’s Activities, Possible Roles for Women, and the Socio-historical Background of Women’s Associations in Szombathely, a Microregion in Western Transdanubia, from 1870 to 1947.

The exhibition titled Eye to Eye and its album of over 600 pages present the story of women during the Holocaust, introducing a fresh perspective since the history of women’s suffering was previously either not documented with the appropriate detail, or it was treated in the same way as the suffering endured by men. Giving a voice to women, the volume and the exhibition highlight, among others, the survival strategies used by women in the concentration camps.

The photographic material not only helps us remember the victims as they would have wanted – photographed in their finest clothes – but also assumes especial significance since until now pictures and photographs were not ascribed the same importance among the sources of historical studies as written documents.

In 2017, Krisztina Kelbert organised a temporary exhibition Lightsense/Personal in the Savaria Museum’s ceremonial hall, which was a visual representation of the history of the town.