Ruth Schreiber opens Holocaust art exhibition
It is an intimate exhibition that arose from her communication with Rainer Zeh.
As a retired police officer with a passion for local history, Zeh began researching the Jewish presence in Sassanfahrt and discovered Schreiber’s 2010 book Letters from my grandparents after meeting her cousin Mindy Ebrahimoff and Mindy’s mother Jenny Orenstein (née Merel) online for the first time. This communication led Schreiber to visit the city her family was once rooted in and this current artistic homage to their Jewish heritage.
“We didn’t know anything about her,” said Schreiber, referring to her grandparents Samuel and Minna Merel.
Their faces now appear on the first page of the publication under a Hebrew inscription calling for divine vengeance on the heads of those who have shed their blood.
The letters to Lotte, Esther and Nathan, their three children, who were sent to Great Britain when that was still feasible, cover everything we know about their fate, from Drancy to Auschwitz, where Samuel died, and the Camp de Rivesaltes, where Minna died. Rivesaltes was used by the French government to transport Jews to the east. Her last words to her children were in Yiddish; They are “Stay a yid” [Stay Jewish]. Schreiber’s father refused to enter Germany while he was alive.
“This,” she said, “was a way to get to know my grandparents a little.”
Schreiber, who has mastered many artistic skills and is an experienced guide at the Israel Museum, has a rich depth of her artistic work that goes far beyond the biographical.
In Kasher, Kasher, Kasher, which was shown at the Jewish Museum Frankfurt last year and is now in the permanent collection, Schreiber investigated the Jewish need for women to immerse themselves in a mikveh in order to achieve a status of ritual purity.
This and other work brings you to a very interesting point. Her art has been described in scientific publications as a representative of feminist Jewish art of our time. In a letter in 2011, David Sperber argued that Schreiber is today at the meeting point between feminist art of rejection and Jewish women’s art, noting her courage in removing some very significant scales from our eyes, as in her work Mitzvah nightthat brings to the fore the normally subdued aspect of Friday night – that of the sexual union between a Jewish couple.
“Some curators want provocative work,” Schreiber told me. “Most of my work is not provocative.”
WRITING FOR this newspaper in 2007, the late Meir Ronen praised her skills as a ceramist, able to create fantastic objects that fool the human eye.
She herself points out that her various technical abilities give her an insight into the objects exhibited in the museum, as she usually knows how they were made.
While researching her work, I happened upon a detailed sketch she had made of crucifixions based on the Yehohanan ossuary in the collection of the Israel Museum. Found in 1968, it is one of the very few forensic evidence that the Romans actually used this method of execution.
“Chagall also painted crucifixions,” she told me.
Two of his works, White crucifixion (1938) and The yellow crucifixion (1943), are seen today as a reaction to the persecution and ultimately the annihilation of European Jewry during the Holocaust.
She also pointed out that the original works show physical remains of a Jewish person, but museum-goers see a replica.
This focus on the body and eye changes when we look at the mutilated Jewish body during the Holocaust – the hair of Jewish women shorn by the Nazis for use as blankets, the sexual humiliation of Jewish women often the Grace was at the mercy of not only the Germans, but also the gentile men, who literally had life and death over them in occupied Europe (by offering food or not delivering it). It is likely that Jewish men were not above such things either.
The eye theme is even more powerful. The Holocaust was a very complicated and hidden genocide. No explanation was offered to the Jews who were shot, gassed and burned. History books are important because they give us mental maps of what happened. When it comes to imagery, we usually limit ourselves to a few iconic ones. The gates of Auschwitz, German soldiers pointing a gun at a child in the Warsaw ghetto, IAF jets flying over Auschwitz as a promise, never again. The result is that we often think we know but don’t look. Our gaze was fixed on us. When the Germans were forced to watch newsreels about the findings of British and American soldiers in the camps, they were so frightened that they often laughed; others vomited.
On the occasion of a visit to the Sassanfahrt in 2017 to attend the stumbling block ceremony in honor of her grandparents, clerk Anette Schaeffer met, who showed her not only this city, but also the remains of the mikveh and the school in the nearby Hirschhaid.
“At some point,” she said, “Annette turned to me and said: ‘My father was in the SS. I don’t agree.’ It was terrible.”
Schaeffer is co-curator of this exhibition and Schreiber values her personal courage and her willingness to distance herself from her father’s actions, but this exchange accompanies her to this day.
In this exhibition, Schreiber does not follow the example of the Allies in re-educating the Germans. Many of them, she tells me, seem to have made serious attempts at teshuva (repentance). Instead, alongside her drawings, she conjures up Hebrew letters woven into the original text of the letters. This almost magical use of Hebrew fills them with a deeper fatherly need to offer at least some protection to distant children in a distant land. It reminded me of the discoveries made by archaeologist Yoram Haimi in Sobibor, the personal items that the Jewish victims wore on their bodies. In prints, mixed media and drawings, Schreiber conjures up London as a safe Jewish haven, the faces of the dead and Auschwitz.
When she started working on these prints in 2012, she invited her father to see them and he wanted copies. This surprised her.
“I said, ‘Dad, you don’t want a picture of Auschwitz in your living room,'” she informed me. “He said, ‘Yes, I do; This is my life story. ‘”
This is not the first time Schreiber has created magical objects. She cast a female bronze figure under the title “An Oscar for my daughter, the surrogate mother” and in her installation “Against the Evil Eye” a hand grabs a blue eyeball in a glass box that would fit nicely in a cabinet of curiosities. Like Hephaestus, who made objects of beauty to chain the Greek gods when they did wrong, the objects she makes seek to validate injustices in their own collected and clear way.
Since she began her interest in the arts in the heyday of British art historian (and Soviet spy) Anthony Blunt, I allowed myself to wonder what she thought of his idea of cultivating an eye for the arts, an almost intuitive glimpse into the one Work of beauty.
“He always said that there are those who see it for themselves,” she mused, “who will see it when you point it out to them, and those who will never see it.”
“I think it’s true,” she smiled.
“Parts of the memory – share memories. Pictures of a Jewish Family History ”will be shown from November 7th (Sunday) to January 2nd (Sunday) at Schloss Sassanfahrt, Schlossplatz 1, D-96114 Hirschaid. Opening times: Sunday, 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Admission: € 2 per card. The exhibition goes to the District Office Bamberg, Ludwigstrasse 25, D-96052 Bamberg, Germany. It will be shown there from January 7th (Friday) 2022 to February 28th (Monday). Open on weekdays, admission is free. Website of the artist: http://www.ruthschreiber.com/shoa