Edith Gerson-Kiwi Estate

Author: Dr. Regina Randhofer

Edith Gerson-Kiwi and her husband Kurt Gerson, at the opening of the “Weinstein Musical Instrument Exhibition,” Beth Bialik, Tel Aviv, December 1987. Published by courtesy of Yoram Gerson.

1. About Edith Gerson-Kiwi

The German-Jewish musicologist Edith Gerson-Kiwi (Berlin 1908 – Jerusalem 1992) is considered one of the pioneering figures of Israeli musicology. Her merits lie especially in the institutionalization and thematic orientation of this discipline, she also contributed greatly to internationalizing musicology from the new state of Israel.

Edith Gerson-Kiwi was born into the German-Jewish educated bourgeoisie in Berlin and enjoyed a classical-humanist education. Early on, her musical talents were nurtured through piano and composition studies at the Sternʼsche Konservatorium. Organ and harpsichord studies with Günther Ramin (Leipzig) and Wanda Landowska (Paris) later completed her practical music education.

At the universities of Freiburg, Heidelberg and Leipzig, Edith Gerson-Kiwi read musicology, minoring in philosophy and literary history (1927–1933). Under the tutelage of Willibald Gurlitt, Theodor Kroyer, and Heinrich Besseler, her studies focussed on Early Music History. Her doctoral thesis was on a Renaissance topic: the history of the Italian canzonetta in the 16th century.

The increasing anti-Semitic pressure in Germany led Edith Gerson-Kiwi to Bologna in 1933, where she studied paleography and library science. In 1935, she decided to immigrate to Palestine. With the changes in her living environment, her academic interests also underwent reorientation. Her encounter with Robert Lachmann (1892–1939), an orientalist and representative of comparative musicology in Berlin, was of decisive importance. Lachmann, who had also immigrated to Palestine in 1935 and had been tasked with the establishment of a phonogram archive for Oriental music in Jerusalem, introduced the music historian to the musical cultures of the Middle East and North Africa.

After Lachmann’s death, Edith Gerson-Kiwi continued her teacher’s legacy. She paid special attention to the documentation, research and popularization of the song materials of the Oriental Jews, which, due to oral traditions, were in danger of being lost in the modern melting pot of Israel. In addition, other musical cultures of the Near East attracted her interest, such as Arabic, Druze, and Oriental Christian practices. She produced around 10,000 sound recordings during her lifetime, documenting the polyphonic soundscape of the forming state of Israel.

Edith Gerson-Kiwi’s life and work must be seen against the backdrop of the processes of rooting herself in the new territory and acquiring a new cultural belonging, a transformation that was expected in particular from German Jews in light of their forced immigration. This habitual change was fundamentally influenced by the mediation between the two cultural spaces of Europe and Palestine/Israel, the old and the new homelands. Of epistemic importance for the musicologist Gerson-Kiwi was the idea of a “pan-Asian” cultural community, through which both cultural areas were seemingly connected and in which Europe acted asthe receiving part, nourished by the wellsprings of the Orient. Among these cultural reservoirs, the Oriental Jews took precedence, as they were accredited with preserving the oldest layers of tradition.

Edith Gerson-Kiwi’s turn to Middle Eastern music with its oral traditions brought her international recognition. Her construct of an oriental-Jewish-dominated pan-Asian cultural community was met with great response both in the Zionist-influenced society of young Israel and in post-war Germany, which was striving for new understanding with the Jews. This is evidenced by numerous invitations to guest events, radio broadcasts, film recordings, publications or executive memberships, with which Gerson-Kiwi represented her country on the international stage, acting as an ambassador of Israel with German-European roots. Her commitment was also recognized in Israel: in 1969 she was appointed professor at Tel Aviv University, and in 1970 she was awarded the Joel Engel Prize of the city of Tel Aviv.

2. About the Collection

The European Center for Jewish Music in Hanover houses an extensive part (about 32 shelf meters of paper documents) of the estate of Edith Gerson-Kiwi. Other parts are located at the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, at the Jewish Music Research Centre in Jerusalem (tape recordings), at the Felicja Blumental Music Center in Tel Aviv (collection of musical instruments and other documents) and at Tel Aviv University (teaching documents).

Ways of the collection from Israel to Hannover

The partial estate in Hannover was acquired by Andor Izsák for the European Center for Jewish Music after the death of Edith Gerson-Kiwi. The private research library of Edith Gerson-Kiwi, which is also part of the partial estate, is almost completely accessible via the library catalog of the Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien.


Dimensions of the collection

The collection at the European Center for Jewish Music was created by Edith Gerson-Kiwi; at least this is true for a large part of the collection, which was organized by her according to specific criteria. The documents span a period of nearly seventy years (1910s to 1980s) and cover key historical spaces: Weimar Republic, Nazi Germany, Palestine of the British League of Nations Mandate, State of Israel, and postwar Germany. Thanks to Edith Gerson-Kiwi’s extensive travel and correspondence, additional insights into numerous other countries and cultures are provided. Her travels, correspondence, and collecting are also responsible for the multilingualism of the documents – German, English, Hebrew, and other European and non-European languages – as well as the numerous contemporary people attested to in the estate. The correspondence alone (approximately 6,000 letters) in German, English, Hebrew, French, and Italian lists over 1,000 correspondents.

List of corresponding partners


  • Relevance of the collection

 Papers from her youth and student days, documents on research and teaching, publications, events, and projects, as well as correspondence and newspaper reports not only attest to Gerson-Kiwi's scholarship and the development of her ideas, but also provide insight into the political, social, and cultural environment in which she worked. Even more, the documents are a unique testimony to how the German academic tradition of teaching and research as well as the construction and dissemination of knowledge was inscribed in the academic culture of Israel with the immigration of German Jews to Palestine. In this way, the estate exemplifies the “Europeanness” of the Jewries of Central Europe, who, due to their transnational history, were able to detach knowledge from their territorial, religious, and cultural ties and convey it to new local contexts.

  • Preliminary inventory overview

 – State of development: July 2017 (I.–IV.: Susanne Borchers; V.: Samuel Mund) –

  • compositions from the childhood/adolescence period

  • notebooks (with inserts)

  • school and study papers

  • diaries, notebooks, vocabulary books

  • transcription notebooks

  • individual copies of sheet music

  • self-written curricula vitae and bibliographies

  • handwritten notebooks on her library collection

  • folders with excerpts (numbered: E 01 – E 46, stock incomplete; further unnumbered folders with excerpts)

  • folders with preparatory work for publications, lectures, etc. (numbered consecutively: A 01 – 174, stock incomplete; additional unnumbered folders with preparatory work)

  • folders on projects and congress participation

  • folders on university teaching

  • typed versions of own papers

  • collection of own publications

  • collection of own publications in offprints

  • own publication with slide series on musical instruments

  • collection of own newspaper articles

  • small collection of posters for own events

  • record publications with own phonograms

  • individual audio tapes (including self-voiced radio lecture, music samples for lectures, recorded conversation with her father)

  • index cards with bibliographic data and notes

  • works of other scholars (typewritten, offprints)

II. Correspondence

  • letters from Fritz Dietrich (1927–1935) with three compositions by Fritz Dietrich and photographs

  • 9 folders of correspondence (1968–1990) with nearly 4,000 letters and documents

  • approx. 2,000 letters from books and individual folders (e.g. correspondence on the founding of the Israel Section of the International Heinrich Schütz Society)

III. (Life) documents

  • poetry album (1917–1923)

  • report portfolio (school reports, transcript of high school diploma, reports of Stern’sches Konservatorium elementary classes, reports of Jewish community in Berlin)

  • renewed doctoral diploma of the University of Heidelberg 1983

  • calendars

  • photos, negatives, photo albums

IV. Collections

  • 3 folders “Critics on myself”

  • collections of illustrations

  • collections of newspaper articles

  • book deposits (heterogeneous collection of newspaper articles, offprints, printed matter, correspondence, notes)

  • single documents (e.g. “Minutes of Meetings” of the Jerusalem Musical Society, 1925–1932)

  • individual objects

V. Books, records, tapes

  • approx. 1,800 books (private research library)

  • records (about 30) and tapes (22, radio recordings and field research recordings)

    – supplementary to the indexing status July 2017, Susanne Borchers (January 2022 [Samuel Mund]) –


3. Research Projects

The following projects have emerged from the collection to date:

"Cataloging the Estate of Edith Gerson-Kiwi."

  • funding: Rothschild Foundation, London

  • project participants: European Center for Jewish Music at the Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media

  • project duration: March 1, 2019 – March 31, 2022

  • project management: Christoph Hölzel M.A.

"From Berlin to Jerusalem and back – The German-Jewish musicologist Edith Gerson-Kiwi (1908-1992) in her letters.”

  • funding: Lower Saxony Ministry for Science and Culture

  • project participants: European Center for Jewish Music at the Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media; Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jewish Music Research Center

  • project duration: May 1, 2019 – April 31, 2022

  • project management: Dr. Regina Randhofer


1_An early letter from Jerusalem_Randhofer

2_Gerson-Kiwi to Eva Newman_Original letter

3_Gerson-Kiwi to Eva Newman_Transcription

4. Selected interior views

The collection allows, among other things, provides insights into

  • the development of a Jewish cultural and academic landscape in Palestine/Israel

  • the settlement processes of Jewish immigrants from Europe

  • the post-war period in Europe, especially Germany

  • German-Israeli relations after 1945

  • the life and work of individuals.

The development of a Jewish cultural and academic landscape in Palestine/Israel

Jerusalem Musical Society, minute book (British Mandate period)

Zionism in Palestine/Israel

Archives of Jewish and Oriental Music – origins and development

Differentiation of musical life

Palestine Conservatoire

Radio talks

Institutional history

Musicology in Israel – development with significant participation of German-Jewish scholars

Israel Musicological Society

Orbis Musicae, journal published by the Musicology Department of Tel Aviv University – founding history and early years

Sinai Expedition 1968

The settlement processes of Jewish immigrants from Europe

Life and work of individuals German-Jewish exile in Palestine/Israel

German Jews in Palestine/Israel and the “Arab Question”

Beethoven and the Orient

East and West

The post-war period in Europe, especially Germany

International Institute for Comparative Music Studies and Documentation Berlin

“Ethnomusicology” and its semantics in the field of international research

Musicology in post-war Germany

German-Israeli relations after 1945

International Schütz Society, Israel Section – founding history

Mühlheimer Singkreis in Israel

Migration of knowledge from Israel to the German-speaking countries

Relations with the Bärenreiter Publishing House

The life and work of individuals

Burkhard, Paul

Eggebrecht, Hans Heinrich

Lachmann, Robert

Schiffer, Brigitte

Vötterle, Karl

Werner, Eric

a. o. m.


Last modified: 2022-06-15

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