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Justinian Jampol ’00

Posted On - May 22, 2015

Justinian Jampol ’00, has a passion for history. He made his first trip to Berlin in 1994, and began collecting important artifacts and archives from the Cold War period after seeing evidence of damage done by vandalism and time. As a student at UCLA, he would sometimes fly to Berlin on a moment’s notice in hopes of tracking down new pieces from the Eastern bloc, believing that such objects serve to remind and educate about the dangers of totalitarianism. He joined a political group whose mission was to save remnants of the Berlin Wall from destruction.

In the summer of his junior year at UCLA, Jampol landed an internship with the Woodrow Wilson Center at the Smithsonian, where he worked with Walter Reich, former director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Jampol merged his knowledge of museums with his interest in the Cold War to create the Wende Museum, located in Los Angeles.

Wende is a colloquial German term for reunification, and speaks to Jampol’s desire to reunite pieces of Eastern bloc history that have been shut out or ignored in the aftermath of the Cold War. As a graduate student at Oxford University, he recalls the search for materials relating to Eastern European Cold War culture that “could not be found in the traditional state-run archives, which often ignore critical objects and documents relating to daily life.”

Jampol describes the formation of the Wende Museum as beginning with overwhelming urgency. Alvin Nachtweh, a political activist who had been trying to entice museums in Europe to tackle the difficult time period, saw in Jampol the means to achieve his goal. Nachtweh sent Jampol a large collection of artifacts from the Eastern Bloc; Jampol had to make a quick decision about what to do with the 40-foot containers of history winging its way toward him.

“The embryonic museum was just a collection with no home, infrastructure, or supporters,” says Jampol. He turned to his friend and UCLA professor Peter Baldwin, who helped the museum secure a major grant as well as financial and in-kind support from The Getty Trust, the Goethe Institute, and most recently, the Federal Republic of Germany. Thanks to his quick thinking and his professor’s support, Jampol was able to find a building and hire some staff.

“The museum is very much a UCLA enterprise,” explains Jampol. Its first curator, Kelly Ann Kolar ’00 currently is working on a graduate degree at UCLA. Its collections specialist, Yelena Kravtsova ’06, became involved with the museum through UCLA’s Honors 199 program as an intern. Jampol says that the museum intends to continue pooling its resources with UCLA as well as with other Southern California institutes.

Among more than 100,000 artifacts and archival materials at the Wende, Jampol singled out the “Pink Lenin.” To Jampol, this standard bust of Lenin, which was vandalized with western-made neon green and pink spray paint during the protests of 1989, “stands out as a striking example of the way that objects can be used and abused as a reflection of a society fundamentally changed.” (Lenin was painted to look like a clown.)

Jampol also highlighted the Brigadebücher, which he describes as “a series of handmade political scrapbooks created by social groups and workers’ organizations, which fuse the personal and the political in a way that is very revealing of the complex negotiation between the political regime and social behavior.”

These objects would normally remain outside the scope of museums, deemed “too political” for official archives. Pieces such as these emphasize the Wende Museum’s goal of using political iconography and material culture to investigate nuances of culture and behavior in communist Eastern Europe.

Besides serving as president of the Wende, Jampol is completing his doctorate at Oxford University. He is preparing to deliver a presentation in early May, sponsored by BMW, at the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C. His upcoming book, Iconographia Socialistica: Posters from Post-War Soviet Union is the museum’s first publication. Jampol is working on launching the museum’s membership program with a special event scheduled for late September. Additionally, the museum has established the new Historical Witness Project, which gather knowledge about the memorable experiences of everyday citizens of the former Warsaw Pact states through oral and written testimonies.

Go see the “Pink Lenin” at the Wende Museum at 5741 Buckingham Parkway, Suite E, Culver City, CA. 90230, or check out the Wende Museum.