Collecting to Remember

The Texas Story Project.

Gregg Philipson's uncle Jerry Degenstein was killed fighting the Nazi army during World War II. "My grandparents had lost their only son," he recalls. "It impacted their life so negatively." The family urged the young Philipson to keep his uncle's memory alive, and in response, he became a prolific collector and generous lender of material culture, specializing in objects with Jewish cultural significance.

"Collecting, if you do it at a very high level, it's a very demanding lifestyle," says Philipson. While ultimately rewarding, the intense effort of locating, purchasing, and preserving artifacts that denigrate Jews and Jewish culture, Philipson notes, can be emotionally taxing. "There are nights when I sit in my office at one or two in the morning, crying."

But Philipson does not rest after bringing an object into his collection. He believes the purpose of collecting is to "learn, and understand what hate, bigotry, and apathy can do to individuals and to the world in general." And so he shares his artifacts — and the memory and meaning they carry — through loans to public exhibitions around the United States.

A number of artifacts from The Gregg and Michelle Philipson Collection and Archive grace the Bullock Museum's exhibition, On the Texas Homefront, a companion to State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda. Objects range from the whimsical — Sheet music for the anti-Nazi song, Der Fuehrer's Face, which was made famous by entertainer Spike Jones — to the deadly serious — The Dallas Morning News front page from 1933 featuring a German blockade of Jews attempting to flee an increasingly repressive Germany.

Philipson sees his mission clearly: "I do have a duty as a human being, and as a decent man, to do this," he proclaims. With his family's sense of duty driving him forward, he persists in his effort and offers, "If we can succeed at that, then my life has meaning."

Editor's note: This story was produced by the Bullock Museum for the Texas Story Project. It compliments the exhibition State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda, on view September 17, 2016 to January 8, 2017.

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