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PolishWeddingChairs1939

Red wedding chairs in a forest in Poland, circa 1939.

UPDATED AT THE END…

If a tree grows through a red chair in the forest, is it real?

This photo made the rounds on Facebook recently and I’m inexorably haunted by it.

The accompanying text read:

These chairs were laid out for a wedding in 1939 in Poland. The wedding was abandoned, and so were the chairs due to the German invasion. They were found again after the war with the trees growing through them. Every year they are repainted.

My initial response was OMG (fitting for Facebook, I know). I can’t stop looking at this picture. The lush green grass sprouting at the base of the spindly tree trunks. The vivid red paint on the chairs that reveals some of the wood grain beneath. This image is bold. It feels stylized. Could it be that it was Photoshopped?

I’m trying to figure out how all the trees rose so perfectly through the space in the chair-backs without breaking any of the chairs in the process. Maybe that’s the part that’s stylized; the folks who come and paint them every year (meanwhile, who are they?) fixed the broken ones and manipulated them to create this perfect alignment.

In a reverse-image search on Google the only results I got were from Pinterest. Strange. And I came up empty at Snopes, the hoax-busting website. Does anyone reading this know the origin of this photo and/or the accompanying story behind it? I’m mostly looking for verification and if it is indeed real, I’d like to know more details. It’s lovely and eerie and I can’t take my eyes off it.

Baffled, intrigued, and impatiently waiting for answers. Got any?

UPDATED at 4pm on July 15, 2015

So that was fast. Not sure where the Holocaust tale came from, but this is actually a picture of an art exhibition. From 2001! It’s called “The Four Seasons of Vivaldi” and it was created by a French artist named Patrick Demazeau. The photo was taken in a forest in the province of Namur, Belgium. Here’s the link.

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Credit: USC Institute for Creative Technologies

It won’t be long before people besides Joel Haley Osment start saying, “I see dead people.”

You know how one of the main laments of Holocaust studies for future (and current) generations is that the survivor population is dying out? How books and movies aren’t the same as face-to-face encounters with in-the-flesh survivors? Well, the University of Southern California is trying to do something about it.

According to a recent CNET article, “As the aging Holocaust survivor population dwindles, USC scientists scurry to create life-size 3D holograms that can answer viewer questions through Siri-like voice-recognition technology.”

The hologram initiative is a collaboration between the USC Shoah Foundation and design firm Conscience Display. According to CNET, they are developing “installations that let students and others converse with the hyper-photorealistic life-size digital versions of the survivors. Viewers ask questions, and the holograms respond, thanks to Siri-style natural-language technology, also developed at USC, that allows observers to ask questions that trigger relevant, spoken answers.”

Quick aside: I knew USC was home to Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation, but I didn’t know it was responsible for Apple’s Siri technology. Nice. Great way to use what you’ve got and keep things in-house, USC!

The initiative is called New Dimensions in Testimony and USC says it will “display testimony in a way that will continue the dialogue between Holocaust survivors and learners far into the future.”

If you can get past the creepy aspect, (can’t help but see this played out in a Scooby-Doo episode), it sounds like a potentially viable solution to stem the despair of those who feel the memory of the Holocaust will die with its survivors. With the amount of Holocaust literature, art and film already in existence, plus those in the works (like mine) or that will be made in the future, I highly doubt that, but still, it will definitely have a less dire effect when there are no survivors on the ground.

This is the part I like best (aside from the cool hologram element, of course): “New Dimensions in Testimony will yield insights into the experiences of survivors through a new set of interview questions, some that survivors are asked on a regular basis, plus many of which have not been asked before.” (italics mine)

Hopefully they can get this project done quickly while the remaining survivors are still lucid enough to answer these new questions with some degree of clarity. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see. But I must say, I trust these guys at USC. They seem to know what they’re doing.

I’m more interested in the “holy-hologram-wow” factor, but for those of you interested in the techie stuff, the aforementioned CNET article goes into greater detail and includes relevant links.

What do you think about Holocaust holograms? Creepy? Brilliant? Not sure? Do you foresee potential problems or glitches? Do you think kids will be freaked out by this or intrigued? Please, do tell.

Lost Childhood - by Rachel Konnely

Lost Childhood – Photo: Rachel Kornelly

I came upon this student Holocaust exhibition in a rather somber fashion, after reading an obituary for Kathy Carlisle, the high school teacher who had assigned it. The project, The Holocaust: Illuminated Memory, showcases the collective work of photography students at St. Francis High School, Spring Semester 2012. In Ms. Carlisle’s own words,

“This conceptual photography assignment required students to utilize historical research about the Holocaust to create symbolic photographic imagery.  An exploration of artists employing symbolism, metaphor, and allegory in historical and contemporary art established the foundation of the project. Students began their work by expanding their knowledge of the Holocaust from 1933 to 1945 through personal and collaborative research and class assignments.

The students’ creative challenges began as they refined their research to focus on a single personal narrative from a survivor or someone who had perished in the Holocaust. They were asked to personally assess and symbolize the essence of that single person’s story through photographic imagery. Students were limited to a palette of sepia or black and white photography, using only tonal value to describe the depth and breadth of their concept. The final step of the project required students to write an artist’s statement about their work, elucidating their creative process and its connection to their research.”

What I like about this assignment is that it required the students to get in real close and seek out one person or one moment and create art around that. To see the trees instead of the forest. St. Francis is an all-girls Catholic school, so I’m assuming none of the young women have a personal connection to the Holocaust, although it’s quite possible I am mistaken. Some of the students were able to go beyond the cliché, not an easy task in our over-saturated Holocaust memorializing world. I did not write that last sentence as a criticism of the vast amount of Holocaust art and literature that exists, only that it’s quite a feat to capture something that goes beyond “Never Forget.”

Some of the students’ work worth mentioning include:

Lost in the Snow - Photo: Hibba Munir

Trapped in the Snow – Photo: Hibba Munir


Trapped in the Snow
– by Hibba Munir
I linked my images to the personal history of Hanna Mueller. Hannah Mueller was reading about the harrowing treatment of Jews during the Spanish Inquisition and she told her grandmother, “We’re fortunate that we live in the 20th century in Czechoslovakia and such a thing can’t happen to us.” It was only six years later on March 15, 1939, when the Germans occupied Prague. On a cold and snowy day, when Mueller was only a mile from her home, the Germans entered the city on tanks and trucks, with their guns pointed toward the rooftops. The picture I chose symbolizes how calm the cold and snowy day seemed, until the Germans entered the city. In my second image, the fence symbolizes how the Jews were trapped and how they were just waiting to reach the other side, which contained trees, a symbol of freedom. Mueller’s story really moved me because it made me think of how innocent the Jews were, and how bad luck just came upon when they least expected it. I learned how much suffering the Jews went through both emotionally and physically. I learned how unjust the Germans actions were. By reading Mueller’s story and other stories, I was able to grasp a better perspective of what occurred at the concentration camps.

The Valued Potato - Photo: Nhi Le

The Valued Potato – Photo: Nhi Le


The Valued Potato
by Nhi Le

In this image, I wanted to emphasize the importance of a potato to a person living during the Holocaust. I was surprised that someone compared a potato to a diamond. I didn’t think anyone would compare a small worthless potato to a valuable diamond. When I read about this, I thought of how much I eat every day and how I have taken so much for granted. In the photograph, I compared a bowl of food that I eat everyday to one potato that can last a person a whole day or even a week.

 

The Wall in the Way - Photo: Maxi Wilson

The Wall in the Way – Photo: Maxi Wilson


The Wall in the Way
– by Maxi Wilson

I chose to portray the life of David Rubinowicz. He loved nature and enjoyed looking out a window that faced a road and a large field. He said that he remembered when his favorite field was blocked by marching soldiers. I was inspired to portray having things that you loved forcefully taken away. I learned that the Holocaust involved a lot of sneaking, hiding, and running away than I had originally thought. I know that many families were separated during the Holocaust, but I feel like losing something inanimate, like a field, is just as heartbreaking. If you lose the joyful things in life, along with the love from your family, what do you really have? I felt that having a gate in front of the field would portray the dividing aspect of the Holocaust. In other words, it shows that victims of the Holocaust were unable to have what they desired.

 

AshesHolocaustSweden

The mausoleum at the Majdanek concentration camp outside Lublin, Poland. Photo: CC BY-ND Kasia/Flickr

You know the definition of chutzpah wherein a man kills his parents and then begs for leniency on account of being an orphan? Well, here’s something that closely adheres to that definition: a Swedish artist used the remains of people murdered at Majdanek concentration camp in Poland for his painting, currently on display at a gallery in Lund, Sweden.

The artist, Carl Michael von Hausswolff, defends his use of the ashes, per his artist statement at the gallery: ‘The ash has followed me, always been there …  as if the ash contains energies or memories or souls of people … people tortured, tormented and murdered by other people in one of the 19th century’s most ruthless wars.’”

Uh, yeah, and that’s why you should not have used their ashes in your art. Those ashes are sacred. And they don’t belong to you. According to The Blaze: “[von Hausswolff] apparently collected the ashes 20 years ago, however there is not much information regarding how he acquired them. The Telegraph claims that he ‘took the ashes during a 1989 visit to Majdanek.’ A translation from a description on the gallery’s web site seems to indicate that the artist nabbed the ashes directly from cremation ovens during his visit.”

What an ash-hole.

2nd and 3rd generation Holocaust survivors display their honorary tattoos.  Photo: Uriel Sinai for The New York Times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rolling Stones reference aside, many children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors are getting replica tattoos of their relatives’ prisoner identification numbers, permanently etching history — a very personal one at that — onto their arms.

New York Times reporter Jodi Rudoren writes in today’s paper how the kin of Auschwitz survivors “are memorializing the darkest days of history on their own bodies.”

Rudoren writes, “Only those deemed fit for work were tattooed, so despite the degradation, the numbers were in some cases worn with pride, particularly lower ones, which indicated having survived several brutal winters in the camp.”

I never knew that. My mother-in-law’s mother was deemed fit to work and did so at a slave labor camp in Freiberg, Germany. She also had a number, but it was never tattooed on her body. I’m not sure why but when I inquired my mother-in-law told me she believes it was because it was the very end of the war and the Nazis were just trying to process the prisoners as quickly as possible. Tattooing, apparently, slowed them down.

I learned a few other things in Rudoren’s article: Auschwitz was the only camp to employ this method of identification. Also, they started out branding chests but eventually moved to the left forearm.

“After the war, some Auschwitz survivors rushed to remove the tattoos through surgery or hid them under long sleeves,” writes Rudoren. “But over the decades, others played their numbers in the lottery or used them as passwords.”

Some Jews find the act of tattooing a relative’s number on one’s forearm offensive and disrespectful.

Rudoren writes, “The 10 tattooed descendants interviewed for this article echoed one another’s motivations: they wanted to be intimately, eternally bonded to their survivor-relative. And they wanted to live the mantra ‘Never forget’ with something that would constantly provoke questions and conversation.”

In July 2011 I wrote about a grandson who has his grandfather’s number inked on his bicep, a gesture I am just now realizing shows strength rather than subservience. In the accompanying photo he is flexing his tattooed bicep, proving his point.

Thanks to my friend Liv Nilsson Stutz for bringing this article to my attention.

As if we needed another reason to heart Mr. Jolie.

IndieWire reports the still-hot actor/producer (Moneyball, The Tree of Life) is going to produce and possibly star in the movie adaptation of Edwin Black‘s, IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation.

Claude Brodesseur-Akner reports in Vulture, New York Magazine’s culture portal,

“While the Holocaust obviously predates the personal computer, it did not precede the information age, and Black’s book answers one of the Holocaust’s most obvious questions: How did the Nazis identify and round up so many Jews with such precision and speed?”

Of course there are other companies complicit in helping the Nazis implement their master plan that are still around today: Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen,  Ford (see Ford and the Führer). Other household names including Krupp, Kellogg and Bayer also profited from forced labor of Holocaust victims.

I remember learning about some of these companies’ involvement when I was younger and swearing I would never purchase or use any of their products. Well, to date I’ve never owned a Ford, Mercedes or VW but I’ve certainly ridden in all three. And I’ve taken Bayer aspirin on more than one occasion and although not a coffee drinker, my husband (the son of two Holocaust survivors) uses a Krupps coffee grinder to get his beans just right. Oh, and Kellogg’s? Please. Like Seinfeld, I could eat cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I’m getting off track here. The purpose of this post is that I’m excited for this movie to be made. And in a weird way I’m glad Brad Pitt is the force behind it, if only for the fact that he’ll be able to attract the right people and backers to get it done.

It’s interesting because you’d think this is a movie Steven Spielberg, with his Shoah Foundation and Oscar-winning Schindler’s List, would make. But I’m glad that it’s being made by a gentile — a smart, sexy, talented gentile, at that. I like when nonmembers of the tribe take up our cause.

Barak Levi Olins of Zu Bakery, courtesy of The Bakery Diaries

Bread. It conjures up all sorts of things. Crusty, hot and fresh. Slang for money. A 70s rock band. But for baker Barak Levi Olins, it brings up something else altogether. The Holocaust.

Owner of Zu Bakery in South Freeport, Maine, Olins approaches breadmaking like an artist, as he should. After all, bread is his life’s work, and bread is the staff (and stuff) of life. Five years ago he had an art installation that was borne of an epiphany he had. Art history professor Rebecca Duclos discusses it here:

“Firing across associative junctions that link bread to the body, utensils to weapons, and his own baking oven to the crematoria of the Holocaust, Olins’ work is at once visceral, poetic and neuralgic,” she writes.

“His installation at Whitney Art Works consists of three separate pieces in diverse media. Together a video, sculpted tools, and Olins’ homage to a baking oven express aspects of the physical and mental space in which the artist-baker himself labors every day. Olins’ own bread oven has come to represent an inevitable and inextricable connection between himself and the Holocaust, an extraordinary link that at first took him by surprise:

“The realization came from when I was building my bread oven and realizing that if I ever had to repair that thing I would have to climb inside of it. And then I had this incredible reaction, almost like a sense of suffocation or something. I didn’t realize right away why I had that reaction. I’m not inherently claustrophobic. Then I started to put it together.”

Duclos continues: “Olins acknowledges the ‘poetically dangerous’ territory that his work circumscribes. His determination to make conscious and make tangible the unthinkable leap between bodies burning and bread baking is disturbing precisely because it is so raw, so purely possible. Barak Levi Olins lives with this possibility every day he bakes.”

My friend Amy Halloran, an urban homesteader in upstate New York, met Olins at The Kneading Conference in Maine a couple of weeks ago. She sent me a link to his bio and told me, “Barak has such a lovely presence, I liked him right away. And he mills Maine grains for his bread, so I loved that. Then I read is bio and I thought, ‘This guy is a charm! The bread bomb!'”

Olins doesn’t mention on his site whether or not he has a direct link to the Holocaust but as a Jew, it’s a visceral connection to make, that of working the ovens to cremate fellow Jews and other prisoners in Auschwitz and then here in the States 70 years later baking bread for fellow Jews and people in the community. It’s uncomfortable to think about and write about but I’m pleased Olins was compelled to put it out there. Only wishing he would bring the installation here to New York. I, for one, would make a point to see it.

USHMM curator Kyra Schuster, right.
Photo credit: Bruce R. Bennett/The Palm Beach Post

Every few  weeks Kyra Schuster flies down to Palm Beach County in Florida to meet with Holocaust survivors. Yeah, so what, you may ask. Well, here’s what:

Ms. Schuster is a curator for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) and makes these trips as often as she can to retrieve the precious artifacts and remnants that many survivors have carried with them all these years: diaries and suitcases and photos and postcards. All tangible reminders and in some instances testimony to their experiences.

Reminds me a bit of “The Things They Carried,” Tim O’Brien‘s book about what soldiers carried with them in Vietnam. [I’m aware it’s a bit anachronistic to refer to an earlier war using a literary catchphrase from a later war, but please give me some slack, or at least some poetic license.]

“Kyra Schuster is a treasure hunter who measures her victories in tattered scraps of paper and suitcases that outlived their owners,” is how Lona O’Connor described her in last Sunday’s Palm Beach Post.

Ms. Schuster says she loves her job and from my vantage point, what’s not to love? Sure, the subject of the Holocaust is inherently a downer but I kind of have a bit of job envy here. What an endlessly fascinating project to be working on. Well, not endlessly, obviously, and that’s kind of the point.

Per stats mentioned in the article, the median age of survivors in Palm Beach County (which has the second largest community of survivors in the country, estimated to be between 12,000 and 18,000) is 85. That means Ms. Schuster has to cull these artifacts as fast as she can, before they are lost to history by death and default.

A lot of people work best under pressure; deadlines impose a ticking clock and death is the ultimate deadline. Schuster seems to handle it with grace.

Her retrieval and acquisition of these items is not really about the objects themselves, but about the people who donate them. She hears their stories and weaves them into the exhibition for historical context.

The USHMM receives more than 800 calls a year from people with artifacts from Jews living during the Nazi era and the post-war displaced persons camps. My mother-in-law Hana Berger Moran, who was born in German concentration camp, was one of those callers. A baby born in a camp seems unfathomable, but it happened and Hana is living proof. A few years ago she donated her newborn clothes to the museum. They were made by women in her mother’s camp who managed to scrounge up scraps of cloth to make her a shirt and hat. They even found a bit of colored thread to stitch both a pink and a blue flower,  not sure if the baby would be a girl or a boy.

Stumbled upon this comic strip called Edge City, “a groundbreaking comic strip that follows a hip Jewish-American family.” It just ended a three-week stint of a Holocaust-themed storyline. Not an easy thing to do, for sure, and as can be expected, some worked better than others. I’ve selected four to share. If you’re interested in the story behind the story, check out this Q&A with the cartoonist, Terry LaBan.


David Draiman, lead singer of Disturbed

Rich Cohen is going to have to add this guy to his list of Tough Jews.

No, he’s not a 1930s Jewish gangster, he’s 21st century rock star David Draiman, the gravel-voiced lead singer of popular heavy-metal band Disturbed. And he comes by his musical talent honestly:

The person that they say I get my voice from was my great-grandfather who was the head cantor of the Gerrer Hasidische bes medresh in Jerusalem. I basically spent 17 years studying the Talmud and the Tanach, and Judaism in general, and was probably about, I would say, two or three years away from smicha, from being ordained.”

A piece in The Jerusalem Post last year describes him as, “one of the few high-profile hard rock singers who are defiantly Jewish – imagine a young Ozzy Osbourne as the spokesman for the Jewish Defense League.”

When asked how he deals with the inevitable skinhead fans of Disturbed, he replies,

I’m incredibly defiant against neo-Nazis and skinheads…I’ve always been very proud of my heritage and where I come from, and I’ve defended it to the extent of being bloodied on many occasions. In fact, most of the fights I’ve [had] in my life – and there have been many – have been because I was defending my family or my faith. And I don’t apologize for it.”

All I can say is this guy is one bad-ass Jew. Glad he’s on my side.

Let me leave you with this little gem from his podcast with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum:

I think I do enough good as an individual in terms of setting tens of thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of people free and making them feel stronger than they did when they came in the building, on a relatively nightly basis. So, there you go. That’s God’s work.”