Last week the Holocaust Museum opened two exhibits that brought to life the painful memories shared by first and second-generation families of the Holocaust. The two collections, "Inheritance: Stories of Memory and Discovery" and "Blood Memory: a view from the second generation" are the works of women, both New England-based, yet they come from a very distinct place with wildly different approaches to the subject.
"Inheritance: Stories of Memory and Discovery," which is hung in the museum's central gallery, is a collection of montages by photographer Leslie Starobin. Starobin spent several years collecting stories from Jewish Holocaust survivors and their children. In addition to her conversations, she was given access to many of these families' keepsakes and items salvaged from the war. She has compiled this research into brilliant photographic montages that are in a word: stunning.
There are several series within this collection, broken down by family. Within each series, multiple framed pieces tell their stories. In "From Berlin to Shanghai," Starobin has compiled childhood photos, emigration documents and tattered memorabilia to depict the tumultuous lives of the Tischler family and their escape from Germany to China. As the tale unfolds through these powerful images, it is implied that the patriarch of the family had a penchant for books. In the piece entitled "Reading The Good Earth," a weary German copy of the famous Pearl S. Buck novel is splayed open, dominating the frame. The inside cover, however, has been supplanted by an old photograph of the Tichler child, as a toddler, holding the hand of a young Chinese friend. Being familiar with the book certainly adds to the impact of the piece, but is not necessary to experience its overall beauty. The clarity of the photo set against the family's relics is a wonderful juxtaposition.
Starobin finds many other eye-catching comparisons and contrasts in each of the series. In the piece "1.9.1944," an etching of Holocaust survivor "Andre" seems to spontaneously materialize out of the well known striped uniform of the concentration camps. His face looks hopeful; his eyes are smiling.
The second exhibit that opened in tandem with Starobin's work is "Blood Memory: a view from the second generation," by mixed-media artist Lisa Rosowsky. Rosowsky is a second-generation Holocaust survivor, and this collection depicts her own story as a member of a group of people who did not live through the atrocities of the war, but find it is inherently a part of their existence. This exhibit, which has taken over the Mincberg Gallery, captures the horrors of the Holocaust from a slight distance. The artwork is described as Rosowsky's interpretation on what it feels like to "inherit a legacy of silence and absence," and that silence rings very loudly in this collection.
Much of these pieces are created out of fabric. In the piece "The Mourner," Rosowsky has silk-screened a silk shawl, of sorts, into a thing of beauty. The images of mourning women, dressed in layers of black, are splayed across the bottom of the fabric. They appear to walk, and with each painful step their losses can be felt.
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In "Angel of Auschwitz," a large-scale plaster angel hangs from the ceiling, dominating the gallery. Her face is serene, comforting. However, her angelic wings are made of barbed wire. Despite how overwhelmingly white the figure is, there is a blackness to her.
Another piece, "The Raitzyns," tells the story of a family, torn apart by Auschwitz, in a hand-made quilt. Rosowsky has silk-screened the images of 11 family members into the quilt along with an embedded collection of antique gloves. The color of the each glove pokes through the thin, sheer fabric. The white gloves are those that survived and the black gloves are a representation of those that did not. The piece is extraordinary enough to make you catch your breath.
While the two exhibits are quite different in style, together they create a powerful force. The collections tell many stories, and while they may sound similar to ones we have heard before, the unique manner in which the two artists have chosen to communicate these tales is completely new and awe striking.
The Holocaust Museum's presentation of "Inheritance: Stories of Memory and Discovery" and "Blood Memory: a view from the second generation" is on display now through March 24. The museum is open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Noon to 5 p.m. and the first Thursday of each month, 5 to 8 p.m. Admission is always free. For more information visit hmh.org.