ADDIO, MAESTRO. In MEMORIAM: ENNIO MORRICONE

Tribute to Ennio Morricone

Windy Morning

On July 6th, 2020 morning, I woke up at 5.21 am, almost three hours before my usual awakening. There was no reason for that, I thought at the moment. We still have a white nights at this time in Finland, so the sun was up for an hour or so. The air was completely clear, but without that special morning serenity. I heard noisy and persistent rustling of branches all around our house, non-stop rustling. The wind was mighty, the weather was stormy. Strange morning, I thought, not quite July-like. I felt like the wind was as if saying something. Not trying to say, but saying in articulated way. I could not sleep back at all.  

Some music was still whirling in my head from the previous night when my husband and I were listening to our usual pre-bed concert. Yesterday, we opted for the record of a great concert given back in 2006 by two outstanding Italian musicians, trumpet player Paolo Fresu and pianist Danilo Rea at Auditorium di Santa Cecilia in Rome. Fresu and Rea were improvising playing some of our favourite music by great Ennio Morricone, a very special person for us both.

We started to speak about Maestro Ennio, how is he doing, hopefully now everything is fine, after our all’ fears for him and his wife because of severe epidemic of Covid-19 in Italy recently, how much we are waiting for his book sent to us by his family, what a great music that great man have created, and so on. Our evening of July  5th 2020 was ending with our thoughts on Ennio Morricone.  

In a couple of hours after my unusual awakening next morning, my Inbox did show the terrible news: Maestro Morricone passed away this morning, at the dawn in Rome ( 5.42 am), at hospital there. The same time when I awoke that morning, under noisy rustlings of the trees in our garden. 

Just four months ago, in mid-February 2020, we were seeing Maestro’s son Marco, the one of his four children, and his wife Monica in Rome where we all were participating  together at the  Il Volo di Pegaso Italian National Arts, Literature and Music Award ceremony in which the Maestro Morricone’s Armonica Onlus Academy was taking a prominent part, and our The Rogatchi Foundation is traditionally participating as well. When Marco Morricone was invited to the stage to speak before awarding some of the laureates, we were stunned by his goodness, his modesty and his sensitivity. We should not be stunned, actually: Marco is so much the son of his great father in that great modesty, that rare and organic attitude towards people, that fineness of sublime soul. 

Sea of Light 

I saw Maestro Morricone in person for the first time  in the end of August of 2009 in Rimini, during the important Meeting di Rimini high-end cultural and humanitarian festival. Maestro was giving a special concert in an unusual concert-conversation format. I was invited as a special guest, as well as another dear friend, the great public figure, late Harry Wu. We all were staying at the same historical Rimini Grand Hotel, famous largely thanks to Fellini who had a special bond to the place, who immortalised it in his films and  who actually died there. 

Both Maestro Morricone and his wife were gracious, elegant, organically polite and friendly disposed toward people they were meeting at Rimini Festival, but not only. To talk with them, to be near them was like one was entering the sea of light. Very calm, serene sea which is organically generous with you – and you, and you, everyone – in sharing its light, in wrapping it around you absolutely effortlessly. 

Luckily, I have met many special people in my life. And many very special ones among them. But I never met anyone quite like Ennio Morricone. That man had such extraordinary substance which he consciously and very graciously  kept very much inside himself that his presence was a quiet but very deep celebration and a gift. Never in my life did I have that sensation when a brief friendly encounter lasts over many years and is present in one’s life in a sustaining and tangible way as if it had happened just yesterday. 

I remember the Maestro’s face, his smile, his attentive eyes, very sharp eyes but without any edge in his outlook, his wise and elegant words very vividly during all twelve years that have passed since our personal meeting. I cannot explain it, but it is with me on a daily basis. I treat it as a very special personal gift in my life. I always will.

Inna Rogatchi with Michael Rogatchi (C). Rome Blues. Homage to Ennio Morricone. Amarcord Forever original series. 2012

As a culture figure, Ennio Morricone was a gift to mankind: his enormous productivity and fortunately long life ensured his music to over 500 films, many of them mile-stones of cinematography, and much more great music by that brilliant composer. I do not know any other cultural figure whose impact was so mighty, unexpected, wide and universal. Not only Morricone’s music is great, but to very large extent, it did made the films for which he was composing, unforgettable and distinct ones, from all eight classical Westerns by Sergio Leone to Once Upon the Time in America, Sicilian Clan, Cinema Paradiso, and so many others. 

Morricone’s scores for all those exceptional films always was much more than a score, even the best one. It was a vision laid not in words, not in pictures, but in music, in melodies. Because of philosophical depth and the beauty of Morricone’s music, this vision has been perceived universally, by millions. Because of its pure harmony and depth, that vision has enriched our individual perception of the world and it has enriched our own lives. Morricone’s music is an unique phenomenon in the history of culture, and palpably so in modern cultural history. This music is more than words. It is deeper than words. And it stays longer than images on the screen although they all are engraved in our memory very much because and thanks to that so unique, so special and so original music.

Ennio Morricone was a gift to mankind. 

Not only was his productivity simply phenomenal, but his artistic responsibility was exemplary one.  Maestro Morricone started to conduct his own music quite late, in the mid-1980s when he was 56 year old. His concerts were always a great success. During those concerts, the sea of light that he did emanate was transformed into the ocean of it. The waves of goodness were embarrassing Morricone’s huge audiences at every concert he ever gave, and those were many in major places and different corners of the world. He was very generous towards the people in anything he did. It was his principle of life conduct. Amazingly, he gave fantastic concerts conducting brilliantly as recently, as just two years ago, in 2018, being 89. 

True Renaissance Man

In the best of Italian modes, Maestro Morricone was a true Renaissance man. Additionally to his inherited and developed musical supreme talent, he had a brilliant mind and great intellect. After learning about Morricone in more detail, I realised why his music is so unique and so universal. It is because it was also a product of his might intellect and outcome of his deep spirituality. 

Maestro Morricone was an exceedingly modest person, he never bragged on his brilliance and depth. But  it all is in his book, Ennio Morricone: In His Own Words, which is a sheer intellectual pleasure to read. It is the one of the best books ever.

Inna Rogatchi with Michael Rogatchi (C). Don Quixote’s Echo. Homage to Ettore Scola and Ennio Morricone. Amarcord Forever. Original art series. 2012. 

When I was reading the parts of it, I was having an impression that Leonardo had returned to our midst, this time as a composer. “Music is mysterious, – wrote Maestro in his incredibly engaging book, – it does not offer many answers”. Indeed, Ennio Morricone’s music did originate much more lasting questions for millions of people than all those great films itself. And questions are the salt and beauty of a life landscape, the more, the better. 

As a person, Maestro Morricone was simply amazing in his modesty, his friendliness, his kind attitude towards the people. I wish we would have much more people like him, but the reality is that he was a rare sapphire of a man.

His deep faith was never shaken and for those who knew him and the family, it was evident that this kind of faith was a very firm ground for his outstanding and far reaching humanity. 

His and his family’s generosity and philanthropy maybe not that well-known widely – precisely because of supreme modesty of Morricones – but there was, is and will be steady stream of it in many directions of life, including their help to children, families in need, musical education, science, medicine, you name it.

When we at our The Rogatchi Foundation have started the Culture for Humanity global initiative facilitating cultural support to people world-wide at the smashing time of Covid-19 pandemic, it was Maestro Morricone and his wonderful family who did respond the first ones to join and to lead the effort. We were touched and grateful to those wonderful people who always share their talent and their heart with this simplicity and understatement, in the way the real giants do. 

As we all know, because of a number of reasons, some of great masters of arts can be quite complicated characters. Ennio Morricone, additionally to all his extraordinary professional qualities, was simply a wonderful man. True humanitarian whose humanism was an organic part of his nature. He is a giant in all and every sense. 

It would take time for me to write about Maestro Ennio in the past term.  Such light like his never dims. 

 Addio, Maestro, e senza fondo grazie, bottomless thank you. 

Chi Maia By Ennio Morricone 

July 6th, 2020.

Inna Rogatchi’s The Route Inaugurational Event at the European Parliament

Exhibition at the European Parliament – May 2012  Inaugurational  Exhibition of the Inna Rogatchi’s The Route Special Collection and Project – the European Parliament, May 2012.  

More about the event – at The Rogatchi Foundation site News Archive: www.rogatchifoundation.org

One Melody, Two Violins, Many Lives.

Family Reflections on Yom HaShoah

The essay is an excerpt from Inna Rogatchi’s forthcoming book on her personal search into the dramatic saga of her Mahler- Rose-Bujanover family.

I grew up with those photos. The photos from distant beautiful fairy-like life: Tuileries Garden, Paris, elegantly dressed woman, her children surrounded by birds and flowers in a totally other dimension of life. Are those my uncle and aunt? And the elegant madame is my great-aunt? How interesting, I thought. It would be nice to speak with them, I thought. Which language should we use? My French is not so good, my German is inoperable although I do understand quite a lot of it because of Yiddish, but I do not think they have ever used it. Well, English will do then. We should be fine, I thought. 

Simcha Bujanover and Eleanor Rose family and their son Alex in Berlin in the 1920s and in Paris in the 1930s. (C) Inna Rogatchi archive.

I was late to speak with my great-aunt. I did locate her a few years after her passing in London in the early 1990s. Our family used to think that she was staying  in France after my great-uncle, quite famous doctor Simcha Bujanover’s death there in Aix-en-Provence the late 1970s. I was surprised to find out that today doctors in Europe are still using my grandfather’s brother Simcha’s book on gynaecology and paediatric studies published in 1921 in Berlin.

I like to look at the only photo of Simcha we had, the one on which he is most probably in Zurich where he studied, with my other great-uncle Chaim Bujanover, before the start of the Great War. Back to Ukraine, in 1918 Chaim was decapitated by Ukrainian Petljura animalistic gang on his way home after the date with his fiancee. 

Chaim and Simcha ( sitting ) Bujanover brothers in Zurich, before the Great War. (C) Inna Rogatchi Archive.

By the time I established that Simcha’s wife Eleanor Rose-Bujanover had relocated to London, I could only gather parts of facts and memories about her and her family. And what an illustrious family it was. Performing violinist, Eleanor was a niece of Arnold Rose, famous violinist, the concertmaster of Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra for over fifty years and the co-founder and leader of the great Rose Quartet, eternal gem of the world music heritage. Arnold was married to Justine Mahler, the sister of great Gustav.

The other co-founder of the Rose Quartet was Arnold’s brother Eduard, the one of the great cellists of his time. They were four great Rose brothers, coming to the top of the Western music from Jassy in Romania, all born Rosenblums. Jassy was quite a place to be born for an art-affiliated Jews. The place is known traditionally as the Cultural Capital of Romania, with a huge and thriving Jewish community there in the past, the community which needed as many as 127 synagogues in the second part of the 19th century. Jassi is known in the Jewish cultural history as the place of  both the first ever Yiddish newspaper and first ever professional Yiddish theatre appeared. Notably, brilliant Naftali Hertz Imber happened to write the text of Hatikvah while being just there in the course of his never-stopped journeys. The Rosenblum-turn-Rose family was moved to Vienna some seven years before that important fact of Jewish history.  The main reason for the move is understood to be a strong musical talent demonstrated by all four Rose brothers. In Vienna they mastered their talent to shining brilliance.

Eleanor Rose in the 1920s in Berlin. Rose Family Archive.

In a significant inter-mingling of Rose and Mahler families, two of the Rose brothers, Arnold and Eduard married two of Gustav Mahler’s sisters, Justine and Emma. While Eduard and Emma were staying in Weimar, Arnold and Justine were  living and working in Vienna where Arnold was perceived as the most famous of great Viennese musicians, ‘The God of the Violin’, as Oscar Kokoshka called him.  

The artist created this work as his gift to Arnold Rose in 1942. Kokoschka’s inscription on the art work reads: “To the god of the violin, in your winter of exile”. Courtesy: The Gustav Mahler-Alfred Rose Collection , Music Library, University of Western Ontario, Canada – The Mahler Foundation.Arnold’s aristocratic admirers collected money secretly to acquire a stunning gift for his 50th birthday, Viotti Stradivarius. What a celebration it was there and then in Vienna in 1910, to laud the great Maestro. It was the year of Gustav Mahler’s death, too. Mahler’s death masque was staying with Justine and Arnold for 32 years, all the years of Justine’s life and four more, until Arnold gave it to Mahler’s daughter Anna in London in 1942.

Oscar Kokoschka (C). Still-Life. Watercolour. 1942.

After receiving that extraordinary Viotti Stradivarius,  Arnold handed his previous great instrument, Guadagnini violin built in 1757 that he bought in the Netherlands in 1924 to his daughter Alma to perform on it. 

My great-aunt Eleanor, the daughter of Arnold and Edward’s brother Alexander, was quite close to Arnold and Justine’s family and their daughter Alma, her first cousin. Alma probably is the most well-known member of the Rose-Mahler-Bujanover family today, due to a couple of films, plays and books about her, all rather subjective and biased, as it happened, sadly. She was a notable violinist before the Second World War, and died tragically in Auschwitz. She was 38 at the time. 

Her mom, Mahler’s caring sister, died six years before her daughter, in her own house, in Vienna. Justine died of heart attack that has stricken her immediately after the Anschluss, when her great husband was unceremoniously kicked out of his job, and they were about to be kicked off their superb house. Justine’s heart could not take it, but at least she did not witness what her husband tragically had to endure.  

Arnold and Alma were whisked from Vienna by two British highly placed gentlemen who were admirers of their music and who were simply noble people. But when in London, elderly Arnold and his daughter were practically left on their own in the extremely daring time from 1938 onward. Alma, trying to earn some money to sustain her elderly father and herself was going back and forth from London to the Netherlands to play anywhere possible as long as it was possible. One time in a banality of evil applied to daily life in early 1940s Europe, her trip to Amsterdam had happened to be one way. There was no way back. 

She was living in hiding, in three different places over two years between 1940 and 1942, with the noble help of Dutch people. Marye Staercke who  with her husband Paul was helping Alma with her second lodging, said in her interview to Richard Newman in a noisy cafe in Amsterdam back in 1983 simply and plainly: ”Our duty was to help anyone who did need the help”.   

I am a big proponent of documentary materials and in particular footage and recorded oral history. No transcript would relay personal recollections in the way a person does it by him- or herself. So listening to the only publicly accessible live interview of the person who hid Alma Rose for 16 months between August 1941 until December 1942 brings the sense of the events alive to me. 

As it had happened with many creative women during the Second World War with the Final Solution-in-progress, many of them got panicking and were trying to hide, to run, to disappear feverishly, being extremely nervous, quite understandably. In several tragic cases I know personally, it fired back. Alma’s case happened to be the one of them. She contacted the people in the Dutch Resistance and asked them to smuggle her to safety. In such operations, it was accustomed that somebody from Resistance would accompany the person on the run. In Alma’s case, it was a young Dutch man. After a very daring journey via France, with constant passing from one underground contact to another,  and never being sure of anything and anyone, both of them have finally boarded a train from Dijon to Switzerland. The safety was literally around the corner.

Alma and her travelling companion who all his remaining life was refusing to come with his real name publicly, were arrested on that train just before it would start to move, in December 1942. It is assumed that they were  denounced by the French agents of the Gestapo who infiltrated the French Resistance. As we know, it was quite wide and pretty efficient infiltration.  

The last photo of Alma Rose taken by Paul Staercke in Amsterdam in December 1942 just shortly before Alma’s attempt to run to safety. Photo courtesy: Staercke family archive. The copy of the photo is shown in the Richard Newman’s Alma Rose. Vienna to Auschwitz book, 2000. Newman received the photo on his request from Marye and Paul Staercke in the 1980s.

After several weeks of harsh interrogations in the Gestapo prison in Dijon, in a known proceeding, Alma was transported first to Drancy, and was registered there as entering in January 1943 under the number 18547.  Before the Nazis were taken over the operation there (it was run for them by the French until the summer of 1943), terrified friends from the Netherlands tried every possible way to delay her further transportation from Dancy to the East, meaning Auschwitz. I saw the documents in which it is said that the French top musicians have informed famous and known as being in excellent terms with the Nazis pianist Alfred Corrot about Alma’s desperate situation hoping that ‘he would take it close to his heart’. There is no evidence that he did.

As it is believed by her family and historians who were looking into  some episodes of that tragic saga, Alma’s destiny was sealed with Eichmann’s decision to take Drancy under the German control and operate it completely.  Eichmann chose his compatriot Alois Brunner to be his envoy there and his personal deputy at the Drancy in June 1943. The Nazis were repeatedly dissatisfied with how inefficiently French were doing the job, and insisted that the quota for the transports to the East should be fixed even if it meant to fill the transports with non-Jewish French whoever would be suitable for it: communists, Resistance members, Maki. 

Brunner acted in his and Eichmann’s ‘small clerk’s way’: in his new capacity, he arrived at Drancy in mid-June 1943, set up a small table in an unremarkable room there, and methodically personally interrogated all prisoners at the Drancy during four days, non-stop. With this round done, Brunner disappeared for some while. 

In three weeks sharp, Brunner sent Eichmann a report on completion of a new Judentransport with 1000 Jews, asking for Eichmann’s written approval of the order. Four weeks sharp from the day of his appointment to the position of Dancy Nazi supervisor, Brunner sent off Convoy Number 57 to Auschwitz with one thousand Jewish people in it. Alma was among them. The family believed that being Viennese, Brunner must have known who Alma Rose was.

Of that one thousand people on the convoy 57, thirty men and twenty two women survived. And that unremarkable Brunner, the butcher of Viennese and Salonica’s entire Jewry, plus an exterminator of the Drancy, lived until at least 2001 being well in Syria and Egypt, dealing arms and being military adviser to nice rulers of those countries in various periods of time. Why Brunner was allowed to live at least to 89 and to die of a natural cause is the one of the biggest mysteries, to me. 

Transported to Auschwitz, Alma was soon made the leader of the female orchestra there. She died under still unclear circumstances in April 1944. 

After her death, her bow with a black ribbon on it was on display on the wall of the female orchestra barrack in Auschwitz. During the days of mourning Alma, Mengele entered the barrack, went towards the wall, and stayed there looking at Alma’s bow for a long time. The players of the female orchestra who happened to be inside at the time, were astounded. 

* * *

In a few weeks after that weird episode, Elie Wiesel’s family, arrested and transported on Shavuot 1944, was brought to Auschwitz. It has been a month since Alma’s death. Elie did tell later on that he was surprised to see that the one of the top-officers whom he later identified as Mengele, was walking around the platform sorting the people unloaded from the trains – to the left and to the right, to be spared for the time being, and to be eliminated immediately, – by a bow. A violin bow!  – emphasised Elie being ever surprised on that odd scene . 

Elie was an aspiring violinist himself, he came to the death camp carrying his own violin, that’s why that bow in Mengele’s hands grabbed his attention and was imprinted in his memory for good. Elie’s violin was soon crushed physically and with a laugh by one of the Polish or Ukrainian capos when Elie being prompted by his father went to the Nazi who was responsible for an orchestra and asked to be taken in there. Ellie did not like to join that orchestra, he was not in a mood to play, to put it mildly. But his father who did care for him, especially after they were left alone after Ellie’s mother and young sister were murdered on the arrival, following Mengele’s gesture by that bow , was trying to save his young son. He knew that people taken to the orchestra were fed better, so it was a higher chance for his beloved son to survive. 

Elisha Wiesel begged his son to try to get himself to the orchestra. But the local capo did not believe that the youth could be an able violinist, and then, what a pleasure it was for him to crush a violin by his dirty boot. So, Elie had no chance to join the one of the Auschwitz male orchestras, but he did remember that bow in Mengele’s hand instead of his usual whip. 

Inna Rogatchi (C). Reading Elie Wiesel. Watercolour, Indian ink on authored original archival print on cotton paper. 40 x 40 cm. 2018-2019. Ghetto Waltz series.

It was an Alma’s bow. I am positive on that, due to the chronology of the events, Ellie’s first-hand detail, and the  Mengele and many Nazis’ perverted attitude towards the music. For some reason, not many people know till today that the favourite by Eichmann himself his own nickname among the  close circle of his lackeys was ‘Maestro’. That ‘Maestro’ loved to play a violin, or pretend to do so, and at some stage did have somebody’s Stradivarius to torment it. 

They did many behavioural details similar, those evils in human disguise. Long before Mengele and many others on that platform in Auschwitz were having a pleasure  tending a whip in their gloved hands, Hitler was known to walk with a whip on Berlin streets, to the terrified surprise of many there yet in early 1930s, according to the first-hand memories of the Bonhoeffer family members. 

I am sure that Mengele has decided the destiny of Elie Wiesel’s family, his mother and sister, as so many others, by pointing them towards the death with Alma Rose’s bow. I was tracing the Rose family’s violins for years, and was able to do it. Except that bow. That bow. 

* * * 

Alma did not take her Guadagnini on the run with her. She left it with a trusted friend in Amsterdam. The instrument came to that man with a hand-written notice from Alma: “Not to be lost”. Alma friends from her dramatic years in the Netherlands observed later on that she was attached to that violin incredibly.  She also wrote a will. As it happened, she did it a bit over 3 weeks before her arrest. It is a two-phrase will, literally, appointing two of her close friends, in succession, ‘to organise her funeral and to dispose of her belongings’.  The biggest treasure of which was her and her father’s Guadagnini. 

Inna Rogatchi (C). Alma Rose Guadagnini 1757 violin. Milan. Presentation material. (C).

That violin was brought to poor 82-year Arnold Rose, a great violinist of Vienna, to his London lodging, in the Autumn of 1945, with no words articulated. No words were needed. About the same time, he had also received from another person Alma’s wrist watch and her mother Justine Mahler’s precious pearls necklace. The decent woman who was with Alma at Drancy and whom Alma trusted her family belongings shortly before being sent on the Judentransport convoy 57, returned the Alma’s possessions to her friends in Amsterdam.

Arnold died soon after receiving back his own Guadagnini on which his daughter would not play anymore. 

I traced the life of that beautiful instrument built by a great Italian master in Milan in 1757. It is a story of its own. The Alma Rose Guadagnini violin, as it is known officially now, after being with Arnold’s pupil and great violinist, the concertmaster of Metropolitan, Felix Eyle from 1947 to the end of his life in 1988, nowadays is  a property of a well-known musician who prefers not to be named. The Arnold’s great Viotti Stradivarious built in 1709 nowadays belongs to the collection of the original rare instruments of the National Bank of Austria. Special committee there decides on their instruments’ loans to leading musicians. 

As it happened, Alma Rose should not have run in the first place, the same, as Nathalie Kraemer who made the same mistake at the same time in 1943 in France. The family who hid Alma exclaimed in despair soon after the end of the war: “Nobody ever came here to check on her! She would be safe if she would stay with us!” It is heart-wrenching to know it. And it was like that for Eleanor, Alma’s first cousin and completely devastated Arnold, her father who lost his wife, his beloved daughter, his work, his music, his house, his life. 

He also lost his brother Eduard who co-founded the Rose Quartet with him back in 1882. In Weimar, Eduard suffered the same destiny as his brother in Vienna: being the first cellist in the Weimar State Orchestra, he was kicked off his work at the first opportunity. He lived alone in their house after the death of his wife Emma in 1933, the other sister of Gustav Mahler, and was thrown out of it unceremoniously by the Nazis, placed in the infamous Ghetto House in  Weimar, and eventually taken to Theresienstadt in 1942. During his last years, over 80-year old Eduard was summoned to Weimar Gestapo many times for long humiliating interrogations. Somebody there have had a special pleasure to torture an elderly musical legend. Eduard Rose was murdered in Therezin in 1943. He was 83 years old.

Eduard Rose, eminent cellist murdered in Tereziensdadt in 1943 in the age of 83. Courtesy: The Mahler Foundation.

The Rose Quartet was playing with phenomenal success for fifty five years. There never would be anything like that in the history of music.

I will not be speaking with my uncle Alexander either. In the photos, Alex looks exactly like my other uncle Leonid, the brother of my father Isaac. Alex became the doctor, like his father Simcha, my grandfather’s brother. He was a good, promising doctor and a brave young man. He ran from occupied Paris to Switzerland successfully, I found the traces of him illegally crossing the border, in several archives. As soon as the war was over, Alex went to one of the DCPs, Displaced Persons Camps, to treat thousands of people gathered after the Nazi camps there. He contracted the typhus from some of his patients and died in 1948. He was 28 years old. His mom, Eleanor Rose never came to terms with Alex’s death. She was positive that her beloved son could have been saved. “It was after the Shoah, after!” – she used to exclaim in defiance, according to the people who were talking with her years after the war, already in the 1980s. 

Eleanor Rose in her flat in London in the 1980s. Courtesy: Rose family archive.

* * * *

All these years after the war and piled with terrible news of fallen members of once brilliant musical dynasty, Eleanor was looking for one record. The record. She knew that father and daughter Rose, her uncle and cousin, recorded the elegant J.-S. Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor back in 1928. As it happened, it is the only known record of Alma Rose. She played on her Guadagnini for the record, and her father Arnold played on his Viotti Stradivarius. There are few records of Arnold surviving, and some of the Rose Quartet, but this record of Arnold and Alma of 1928 is the only one known.

Arnold and Alma Rose in 1927 , a year before making that only known record of them playing together and only known record of Alma Rose. Courtesy: The Gustav Mahler-Alfred Rose Archive.

Eleanor tried every way and person she knew to find the record, with no much luck. It truly was – and still is – an extremely rare record to find. Eleanore Rose died of heart-failure in her ripe age in 1992. On the day of her funeral, the post arrived at her flat in London. In a small envelope, there was the record she was desperately looking for so many years. Austrian geologist  turned music historian and archivist and living in Germany, Wolfgang Wendel did find the record and sent it to Eleanor. It just did not make it in time.

Inna Rogatchi (C). Arnold & Alma Rose original record. Fine Art Photography Collage. 2012. Presentation material (C).

Mr Wendel kindly sent the record  to me too. Initially, I could not listen to it. It was too painful. For years, I’ve trained myself to listen to the unique record, bit by bit. 

What is also amazing is that my husband Michael, independently, did paint that very piece of Bach’s music which happened to be his favourite music by the great composer. 

Michael Rogatchi (C). J.-S. Bach. Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor. Oil on canvas. 120 x 100 cm. 2007. Private collection.

So now, that one melody and two violins, and so many human lives around it are living in its own world keeping on the memory of the part of my family alive – and remembered. 

On the eve of Yom HaShoah this year, we have made it a focus of our Special Art Bulletin of The Rogatchi Foundation Culture for Humanity Global Initiative. It can be read, watched and listened to here. 

My husband and I are very honoured to be able to maintain a memory of the brilliant musicians who did enrich the world’s culture in an important way and who were destroyed so cruelly in such matter-of-fact fashion of that diabolical Nazism machinery. 

I am honoured to remember them, but I feel so desperately sorry for them. As for everyone of our six, and most likely more millions, our Shoah toll, with more than a third of our murdered people still remaining nameless. So indefinitely sorry. 

Inna Rogatchi (C). Cloud View II. Fragment V. Crayons a encre, crayons Luminance on authored original archival print on watercolour 350 mg paper. 42 x 59 cm. 2019-2020. Ghetto Waltz and The Songs of Our Souls series.

No speeches would ever amend the damage and crimes committed. But a melody played by two people, a father and a daughter, superb musicians from a great family in the history of a world culture, played by two of them 92 years ago, almost a century back, is alive. Despite anything. This is a miracle which is the secret of Jewish survival. And this is unbeatable by any evil. 

I guess I was able to speak with my exterminated relatives, after all. It is an indescribable feeling. It is only up to music to relate it. 

The essay is an excerpt from Inna Rogatchi’s forthcoming book on her personal search into the dramatic saga of her Mahler- Rose-Bujanover  family. 

April 2020. 

SOLO OF THE TORMENTED SOULS: MAESTRO LOTORO AND HIS WAY OF REMEMBRANCE

Maestro Lotoro is an incredibly busy man. He conducts, he plays, he records.  He teaches, he researches, he writes. He prepares music scores for publications, he supervises huge editions of unique and historically important musical collections. He travels non-stop meeting people and searching for unique scores. He works with architects on an ambitious mega-project, he plans with top managers most prestigious concerts. He works with soloists, decrypting the old scores that were not performed for decades. He arranges music that had been composed in the most daring circumstances. He collects both originals and specially made replicas of rare scores. He revives the music of tormented souls for us to hear it today, to be preserved, to become a part of the material culture of our memory.

Maestro Francesco Lotoro. (C) ILCM, with kind permission.

He works on this  self-imposed mission for 30 years by now.

Francesco Lotoro is quite a special man. The 55-year old  Italian piano virtuoso who was studying with the leading musicians at home, in Germany and in Hungary, he is a brilliant pianist who commands the instrument completely – and more. When you are attending his concerts, or listening to his records, your only wish is that it would never end. He lives music, he breathes music, he thinks music. Even among great musicians and virtuosos, such complete dissolve into the dimension of a sound and melody, pause and harmony is a rare phenomenon.

Being such a talented and professional musician, maestro Lotoro, not surprisingly, is  also a power-house of a conductor: mighty, strong, and very delicate at the same time. This combination is also a special quality.

But most importantly and specially, Francesco Lotoro immersed himself into a special kind of music. He calls it the music of captivity. He researches, finds, collects and revives the music of the Holocaust. This Italian music personality is solely devoted to the solos of our tormented souls.

Song of Our Souls

We know from the pillars of Judaism that singing is praised the most as it is understood  as the highest form of self-expression of a Jewish soul. No word can express what melody can. And when there are no words, there is still a melody.

Francesco Lotoro in concert. (C) ILMC, with kind permission.

When I was trying to find the appropriate music for our short art film, video-essay that featured husband’s and mine artwork reflecting the Shoah, I started from nigguns because I thought initially that the theme would be supported the best without words.

I tried many nigguns, but something was missing there. The real life of a real soul was missing. Of a soul of a little boy who was dumbed of horror he saw in front of his eyes, so he retreated to drawing that he could not stop ever, as it is in the case of Samuel Bak. Or the soul of a teenage girl who was shocked so deeply that she started to write poems and does it till this day, as Halina Birenbaum does. Or a soul of a teacher who could not save the orphans who he was protecting with all his immense love and care, as Henryk Goldszmit whom we know as Dr Korczak did.

So I went to hear the songs of the ghettos, the one after another, Vilna Ghetto, Warsaw Ghetto, Sosnow Ghetto, Lublin Ghetto, you name it. The traditional Yiddish songs that were modified in the ghettos during the WWII, with changing the words from their innocent originals to the ones that were more responding to the devastating circumstances of the time.

To say that these songs are heartbreaking, it is to say nothing. Remarkably, there is no or very little affectation in them. The understating power of these songs is knocking one down. I do not know a better and more telling memorial to the Shoah that those songs sung in a gentle way from soon-to-be-nowhere.

It is also a testimony, living and loving one. After I added the ghetto songs to our short For the Name and the Place film, I have got enormous amount of feedbacks pointing out specifically on the music in our tribute to the victims of the Holocaust.   Soon, a special radio program was created and run on the Finnish radio being prompted by the idea and that very music. What can be more gratifying than to know that the stumbling words of suffering that had been sung by the broken hearts in hundreds of ghettos eight decades ago are still heard – and understood –  by  people today?

Inna Rogatchi (C). Night Melody. Loyfers series. 2018.

And then, I always remember how Elie Wiesel being such an introvert, loved to sing – everything, prayers, our liturgy parts, nigguns, Yiddish folk, Hebrew songs. To sing was so important for him, it was a joy, and it was the bond living. Elie sang readily and with that great smile of his, and you knew that his soul was dancing.

Maestro Lotoro’s Memorial-in-Sound

Probably, the factor that has prompted in then young Francesco Lotoro his overwhelming interest towards the music in the camps, ghettos, and prisons was his physical presence in both Germany and Hungary, especially Hungary, where his humanist interest towards the Shoah, and how people were taking it, had been awaken in the late 1980s – early 1990s. Young Italian musician went to the camps – and his soul found the bond with souls of millions whose lives were ended there, or who survived the Hell on Earth, but still was bearing the scars inside forever.

Francesco’s interest has been transformed into the mission. To the degree that he would go to the precise place in the camp where one of his heroes has composed his music, and would sit there trying to contemplate what a musician must be feeling in circumstances like that. The place was particular. The composer in question was looking desperately for a quiet place in the camp, as possible, in order to concentrate. The quietest place was the corner in the room where the corpses were ‘sorted out’. Chilling is not an adequate enough word to describe it. This is the classic situation into which one bumps repeatedly in re-addressing the Holocaust: when words are dysfunctional. But not music.

Maestro Lotoro examines the original score in Terezin. (C) ILMC, with kind permission.

There was also serious music in the camps, both composed anew and re-arranged. There were composers and musicians who kept their sanity thanks to their ability to create or re-create something. Maestro Lotoro exams the multitude of aspects in that process of survival: efforts to get to the other world where sun is not decorated with a barbed wire; desire to get refuge in memories of home and family, both without adjective ‘lost’; intention to boost fading energy and ability to live; to narrate suffering in melody, to keep a musical diary of events and emotions in captivity.

Can you imagine a volume of all this musical legacy of the Holocaust? Maestro Lotoro can, and I do not know if anyone else among the living musicians and musicologists can compare with him in the breadth of his outreach and depth of his analyses of this giant and so multicultural material, and his massive knowledge of that. To collect, to research, to analyse, to perform, to record, and describe all this material, several years ago Francesco Lotoro has started a special project, Encyclopaedia of KZ Music in 24 priceless volumes on CDs with booklets telling on the unique music born in tragic circumstances. This collection of largely unpublished previously music is regarded as the most comprehensive panorama of the music composed in captivity.  The KZ Music CD Encyclopaedia starts from 1933, the date of the opening of Dachau and Börgermoor camps and ends in 1945. It is a trove of the musical legacy of the WWII and the Holocaust. The quality of the performances recorded by Lotoro and his colleagues is superb.

Francesco Lotoro working with the orchestra. (C) ILMC, with kind permission.

Admirably, Francesco Lotoro fully recognises the wide spectrum of phenomena that has come across the music he researches, presents and records so lovingly. He understands and pays attention to the musicians’ backgrounds, their countries and the cultures that they were representing, additionally to their Jewish identity. He is interested in the circumstances of their personal lives. He keeps in touch with their descendants. By all this, prominent Italian musicians and composers build the living legacy, and this is the most noble mission, in my understanding.

I do remember, and will remember for good, how Czech man in his 60s was trying not to cry while thanking Francesco Lotoro for reviving the musical legacy of his father who did perish in the Nazi camp. He tried hard, but it was not easy.  He said with all his heart pounding out: “Thank you so much. You did so that now my father, a heroic man who fought ( against the Nazis) bravely, would be remembered. Until now, it was not the case. It was not the case for more than 60 years. And now you have changed it”. And he hugged Francesco with outpouring gratitude. These moments are not less important than concerts. To me, they are even more important.

These valuable and rare episodes, and the philosophical visioning of the musician on what he does and why, can be seen in The Maestro documentary. The film had its world premiere in January 2019, and had been shown with great success in both Italy and France. It is a generous insight into the world of a brilliant musician and a very good and special man on the unique mission.

Poster for Maestro film (C) ILCM, with kind permission.

The Lotoro’s concerts are not even good. They are great.  The ones at the most important in Rome musical venue, at the Accademia della  Musica Santa Cecilia, with mighty but so emotionally tuned choir; at the Palace of the President of Italy Sergio Mattarella who does dedicate a lot of cordial and genuine attention to the memorialisation and ongoing honest analysing of the Italy’s role in the WWII and the country’s attitude and treatment of its Jewish citizens; Notes of Hope concert in Jerusalem in the beginning of 2019; numerous recitals and concerts at various symposiums and conferences in Italy and abroad. There is no surprise that RAI has exclusive rights for Maestro Lotoro’s concerts, they are also a matter of pride of Italian culture today.

With great anticipation, we are waiting for two forthcoming big musical events of memory conceived by Francesco Lotoro, with work in progress for its realisation: a special concert at Auschwitz in January 2020, in co-operation with the City of Dachau and City of Oswiecim administrations; and Memorial Concert on the International Holocaust Day at the Rome National Opera. The concert in Auschwitz is promised to be a milestone. So much compassion is put into that and everything that Francesco Lotoro and his team are doing that it opens many doors and many hearts among those who are supporting his great mission back home in Italy, but also beyond Italian borders. The conductor is known for his very productive cooperation with the US National Holocaust Memorial in Washington, Yad Vashem, Auschwitz Foundation and many other leading institutions. This cooperation is that rare case when all of these institutions while providing Italian maestros with their invaluable data also receive unique material from him, to enrich their collections. The input of Francesco Lotoro into the archive of our knowledge on the Holocaust, and into the history of music in general is unprecedented.

Citadel and 100 Voyages

From 2014 onward, the Italian Maestro who had converted into Judaism in mid-2000s  ( and whose great-grandfather from his paternal side, the man with the same name Francesco Lotoro was Jewish), set up an organisation, The Foundation and the Institute of the Literature of Music in Captivity, ILCM Foundation. The central project of the Foundation is unique cultural under-take: construction of the Citadel of Music in Captivity in Barletta, Italy, at the very attractive place on the Adriatic coast. The future educational and cultural complex will include a museum, two performance halls, theatre, two state-of-art libraries, Multi-media Music Library and International Library of the XX century, and Campus of Music Sciences. With multi-sourced financing from European Union and Italy, the group of able architects led by Nicolangelo Dibitonto  is working on the project for over two years. The project would fulfil Francesco Lotoro’s dream on the way of implementing all his knowledge and enormous archive accumulated during his tireless work of the last 30 years, in the best way and in the special place.

Just to think about: could all those hungry, frozen, beaten, humiliated, dehumanised to the bone people most of whom were murdered imagine that decades after their awful end, a pianist from Italy would take care on their memory to the degree that he would devout his life entirely to building a memorial to them and concentrating on the music of their tormented souls? Only for such noble intentions, Francesco Lotoro deserves a lot of Jewish gratitude. But it is not only intention. It is thirty years of thorough work, demanding journeys, meticulous decryption of miraculously saved scores. Maestro Lotoro does it all completely selflessly, in a rare example of extreme modesty.

Inna Rogatchi (C). Last Page. Fine art photography collage. Black Milk and Dark Stars series. 2012.

There is no question about humility among all of us who are dealing with the Holocaust in a consistent way. You would not do it without increasing humility on your own part. The humility which only accelerates with every further step of your own journey into the Country of the Six Million. But in the case of maestro Lotoro, you meet the person who is admirably selfless, in a rarely solid way of it.

Developing the idea of his colleague from the US National Holocaust Museum, Francesco Lotoro has also embarked on the latest of his ongoing projects, 100 Voyages. He is travelling throughout Europe to collect original music and documents related to the musicians perished in the Shoah from all the places of the Nazi plaque, from Germany to Belarus, and from France to Lithuania. He goes to the small cities and the capitals, he meets the people who are in possession of unique pieces of musical memory. He re-constructs the song and melody of the Shoah in all its nuances and over-tunes. 

By now, maestro conducted over 35 of his 100 planned journeys. He is expecting to complete the project in two years, with the last journey going on a special train from the heart of the lost, annihilated Shtetl world in Poland to the Citadel of Music in Captivity in his home town of Barletta, on the far southern almost end of Europe. I hope that he will also write the book on all those one hundreds of voyages in which he is looking for the memory in sound . Francesco Lotoro has told me that this idea is very  engaging for him.

I am thinking: what is the trigger that makes a person to recognise and to start to fulfil a mission which is extremely demanding mentally and emotionally, and which really is the hard labour of memory? What is the core of the process of people like Maestro Lotoro in such painful restoration of memory? Maybe, I never would find a complete answer for the question. But I know the one thing: such enduring inter-connection is only possible in the case of ongoing dialogue of the souls, the ones which are gone with the ones which are present.

Every soul has a purpose in this life, and it also has the corresponding time for the purpose to be fulfilled. When six millions of the souls had been eradicated in the Shoah in unprecedented history prolonged acts of barbarity, their energy did not disappear. It is impossible, and this was perhaps, the main miscalculation of Hitler and those educated barbarians around him.  

Fortunately for our own decency, there are some rare people among us who are infused with sensitivity  to perceive the sparks of those tormented souls, with ability to feel them, with devotion to sing their songs and to play their melodies. As long, as the melodies of our murdered ones are heard, it is not only them who are not obliterated. It is us who are saved by grace of memory.

Francesco Lotoro with Tom Broadman, the musician Holocaust survivor from the UK. (C) ILMC, with kind permission.

Francesco Lotoro is building the sanctuary of humanism with every melody he discovers and brings back to us. He does it for thirty years with love and devotion. And his best award for that titanic work are the smiles that appears on the faces of the Holocaust survivors and members of their families on maestro Lotoro’s concerts, recitals, and meetings with them. Those smiles are incredible. And there was not a single meeting of Francesco with hundreds of those people, as far as I can tell, in which despite inevitable tears on every face, there appeared an incredible, just incredible smile. The best concert of all.

Paris Vaut Bien Une Mess: the Sense of History

It is not easy to see how yours, mankind’s history disappears in flames in no time. You are lost in complete helplessness and you are paralysed in disbelief. Many of us did not experience anything like that ever: when an essential part of humanity’s historical heritage is gone in front of your eyes. It is a tragedy. Some people have come with parallels to the feeling of utter helplessness that overwhelmed everyone who had his TV on, on the 9/11th. But then we knew that a despicable crime unfolds in front of our wet eyes. Here we do not know about it yet. And we do want to know the real reason for the disaster in the heart of Paris in the early evening of the first day of the Catholic and Christian Holy week.

The legendary phrase of Henri IV Navarra attributed to the leader of Huguenots when he decided to convert into Catholicism  back in 1593, “Paris vaut bien une mess’’, Paris worth a mess, was not always an euphemism for reasoning a compromise. It had its literal meaning, too. And that literal meaning had to do with Notre Dame, first of all. In the wider context, it means our attachment to that very place. The place as it is known, understood and as it is in the blood of anyone who loves Paris, who knows history, cannot live without culture and who appreciates art.  Not to mention what it means for Parisians and French people, and for the history of that special country.

Why so many millions from all corners of the earth tight so powerfully in their hearts to Paris? And it goes on for centuries. Because it is a unique place, brilliant in its shining beauty, manifesting a very special dimension of freedom, the elegance of freedom.  Paris epitomises our dreams not without a reason: a romantic part of people, always individual, is freed there in its own special way.  After all, there are not so many places on this planet among our cities where beauty enhances a human being and opens up a special inner part of us. Venice epitomises harmony, and Paris epitomises elegance. That’s why our hearts are tight to it. And that’s why Paris is worth a mess, indeed, as Henri Navarra did see it literally five centuries ago.

At the time, Notre Dame was firmly in its place at Il de la Cite in the heart of Paris for a good three centuries from the time it had been completed, after two centuries of the construction of that mighty fortress of history. No doubt, the history of Notre Dame is not a pastoral one. No doubt, one could feel the centuries of fierce battles, awful crimes, and uncompromising conflicts being accumulated inside that bastion of Catholicism. But at the same time, Notre Dame in its gorgeous beauty, that incredible amount of human work, that iconic shape of its towers and its spier, meant the history alive in front of our eyes. It was the one of the utmost symbols of Paris and France, and of human history.

The Notre Dame bells, ten of them, all with human names; the Notre Dame splendid organ, the biggest, best and the most important in the world; the Notre Dame incredible rose windows, the essence of art and an embodiment of the very process of what a human being can create and produce. The treasures inside, priceless paintings and sculptors. It all is the essential part of the world’s cultural heritage.

The history of France, Europe and the world accumulated in Notre Dame through its eight and a half centuries. As my artist husband said gleaned to the TV screen on the night of horror: “So, d’Artagnan was passing on and forth there daily, with Notre Dame in its place. And now I would move around without it. It is unreal”. He also said: “Can you imagine for all those people in Paris for whom Notre Dame was always there, what does it mean that it is gone, in such a horrific way?..” I tried, but I could not. And all those millions people on the Parisian streets on that fatal Monday evening, April 15th, 2019, were also in a complete and utter disbelief. Because in its way to protect us, our consciousness refuses to take such things in a real time-regime. It needs time to absorb the loss and new reality, Paris- without -Notre-Dame.

* * * *

Inna Rogatchi (C). Notre Dame de Paris. Memories III. 2019.

How many from up to 14 millions visitors who were coming during all those years to Notre Dame annually knew that those great vivid and masterly sculptures on the top of the cathedral, all around it,  all 28 of them are depicting the Kings of Judah, from Saul and David to Zedekiah? That the sculptures are not the figures of the French kings as the ignorant criminals who went crazy of their fountaining arrogance during the French Revolution were supposing  and thus knocking off the heads of the sculptures in question.  

And how many people know the reason for creating in the mid-13th century the most elaborated sculptures of 28 Jewish Kings and placing them on the most honourable position of the most important cathedral in France meant to crown it for centuries to come? The reason was to manifest the gratitude to the Jewish financiers of Notre Dame to whom the French kings and those responsible for accomplishment of the cathedral decided to turn for help after so many years ( 182 in total) of constructing and completing Notre Dame. So, Notre Dame had been built to a very large extent on the Jewish money, and in eternal – as they thought and hoped for – and manifesting gratitude for that, 28 Jewish Kings had been crowned the most important cathedral in France, the place where Napoleon was crowned almost six centuries later. 

Yet two centuries after that, the Jewish man whose mother was murdered in Auschwitz, Aaron Lustinger, Cardinal of Paris for almost 25 years ( 1981-2004), close friend of St Pope John Paul II who did promote him to Cardinal, was buried in the Notre Dame Crypt. His epitaph which he did write for himself starts like that: “ I was born Jewish. I have received the name of my paternal grandfather, Aaron”. It continues: “… I have remained Jewish”. It is not an every day text that one can read in a Catholic Crypt.

Cardinal Lustinger was a complex figure. But his devotion to Jewishness and to the state of Israel was never in doubt. He was also the person who, a year after another, would come to the Paris Synagogue to say kaddish for his mother murdered in Auschwitz.

* * * *

So many people so naturally took the tragedy of burning Notre Dame as their own. Especially those for whom culture is an oxygen, and those who are educated adequately. Following the coverage in the world and social media, one can see that additionally to mourning France, very many Italians, British, and Russians do understand what has happened and what scale this tragedy is. The better general education in a given country, the richer the culture, the more people from there understand what has been lost, and that this loss is a tragedy of a world culture and heritage. Poland and Lithuania are shocked unanimously, as well; and yes, there is a strong element of faith in it, but not only. There are some people in other places  as well who are feeling shock and dismay.

So many of our friends and colleagues from the cultural world are devastated – musicians, artists, writers, actors, directors, cinematographers, scientists, culturologists. The world of art is mourning.  The world of culture is in grief. We do know what we have lost. We also know that even would-be restored parts – and it is a very big part of the cathedral – won’t be any close to the historical value of the lost cultural world treasure, to its authenticity. And, importantly, to the energy and presence accumulated there during the centuries. It matters. Authenticity matters always, would it be authenticity of XX or XII century, Warhol or Louis David whose giant canvases are inside Notre Dame, and could be affected.

Having seeing tears of great Jewish director Misha Katz who did break in at the awful moment of the Notre Dame spier’s fell, having read wise and heartfelt words of the President of Israel Reuven Rivlin who did not lose a moment for expressing his solidarity with France, I also came across of some weird reactions, some hopelessly ignorant, some pretentiously hypocritical one. It might be that this kind of reaction, and this kind of people, do not deserve attention. But I think that it would be wrong to let them thrive in their ignorance, their coldness, and their hypocrisy. “Catholic church was so bad towards Jews, so what do we care about their Notre Dame?” – they are saying.  Well, one can start and cannot finish to count the places in which that or another church was bad towards Jews, such is the history of our people. But Notre Dame is not about this, it was very much also about honouring all 28 Kings of Judah in a most prolific display of it in the very heart of Europe for eight hundred and fifty years. Sometimes, it is useful to get back to school, independent of one’s age.

The other kind of these weird reactions is articulated by some journalists who are flaring out that ‘so many people are dying all around, but perhaps it is easier to feel for a subject, a cathedral in this case, than for human lives’. Come on. When a journalist cannot recognise a symbol of heritage, a house full of mementos of human history, he is in a wrong profession. And he is not licensed to preach the rest of us on ‘easiness to feel’.

There is a third type of a strange fronda, in the hope to be visible by being demonstratively different, perhaps, – when some people are so enthusiastically claiming: “ I am anti-Royalist, so why should I care about who has been crowned there?” This is pathetic, to live in such ignorance, to have such a bland life. And then, there are some people who are frantically arrogant about the Notre Dame tragedy addressing us to ‘the place where the Inquisition had a seat’ and reminding us on a truly horrific episode of burning 40 carts full of copies of Talmud and Torah scrolls ‘in that very place’.

The Disputation of Paris had a place in 1240, and the shameful for Catholic church and Christianity in their zealotry against Jews episode had been started by a Jewish convert into Christianity Nicolas Donin who had did quite a job of translating and interpreting  Talmud in his twisted way and writing an inflamed denunciation of Judaism to the Pope. Donin was a small man who has caused enormous and long-lasting damage, being motivated against Rabbis personally because he believed that they ‘mistreated’ him in his dealings with Karaites. Jews and Judaism in that extremely difficult disputation were represented brilliantly and extremely courageously by four most excellent Rabbis of France, Rabbi Yehiel of Paris, Rabbi Samuel ben Solomon of Chateau-Thierry, Rabbi Judah of Melun , and Rabbi Moses of Cousy, the eternal heroes of our people.  King Louis IX who was presiding over the Disputation was so deeply impressed by our Rabbis that he said his famous phrase that ‘only very skilled and trained clerics should dispute with Jews’ ( but laymen should plunge a sword into those who speak ill of Christ’). The Disputation of Paris had been used by the Catholic church in general to spread consciously and manufactured on purpose slander against Jewish people widely among the Christians, spreading insistently frightening, mean and distorted pictures that would last many centuries and cause multitude of deaths, massive injustice, and blossoming vile hatred.

All existing in Paris copies of Talmud and entire wealth of our Judaic theological manuscripts  had been burned in Paris not immediately at the Disputation, but two years later, not in 1240, but in 1242,  and not at the Notre Dame, but at Place de Greve, quite  dark place of the French capital known as the place of executions. Now the place is known as Place of Hotel de Ville, Esplanade of Liberation, the very place of the seat of the City Council of Paris.

To be cold and harsh and indifferent towards the others’ tragedy is definitely and certainly not in the Jewish character. I am glad that there are only very few voices like those appeared in the aftermath of the disastrous Notre Dame fire. In my understanding, a person is feeling more and deeply Jewish when he or she does have capacity for compassion which is not limited by any kind of zealotry. This is written in Talmud and many other our sources of wisdom and kindness. This is prerequisite of our existence. 

And who did pledge the first 100 million euro , and now more, for the Notre Dame reconstruction the morning after the devastating fire? A Jewish man, leading French businessman and philanthropist Francois Pinault. Hours later, the richest man of France, Mess Arnault has joined Francois Pinault, and a privately sourced pledge to restore the symbol of Paris has risen to 300 million euro in a day.

Throughout all history of that complex, beautiful, the one and only Notre Dame de Paris, the place which despite being in the centre of persecutions and fights, had been also the place of a great music, highest art and inspiration for myriads of the artists, including Marc Chagall and many of his friends and colleagues, was also a magnet for millions of people world-wide who were learning of how to appreciate the beauty, how to learn the history in all its complexity, and how to find humanity amidst the darkness. By holding to this humanity, not an abstract one, but always very concrete, we are living more decently and more richly. It is so strange that this kind of thing is needed to be reminded of, doubly so at the moment of sorrow.

Inna Rogatchi (C). Notre Dame de Paris. Memories II. 2019.

It is very painful to look and to see on the blackened hole at the centre of one of the most beautiful places of Paris, Il de la Cite. It is still surreal to think that the one of your favourite sites of that great city, from wherever you would be looking on it, day or night, sunrise or sundown, is not there anymore in its splendor and with a grace of its 850 years. We could be very disappointed with what has happened with Paris during the last decade and how it is losing its unique character dramatically, because we all who do love Paris are judging it on with a high demand of a person in love. I feel tremendous loss caused by that very strange and so massive fire that destroyed the pride of France in an hour. But at the same time, I feel that I do love Paris as I never did.

WARM SNOWFALL: A SPECIAL NIGHT IN VILNA

It was a beautiful, canonic ‘white Christmas’ evening behind the window, but totally misplaced in time, as it  was the end of March in Vilnius. The capital of Lithuania is known for its mild climate, and normal spring was there just yesterday and will be again tomorrow. But not in the evening when we and our guests were mesmerised by non-stopping snowfall behind the windows of the elegant mansion built in the early 1910s.

The tunes of beautiful music performed by talented pianist Maria Mirovska took us far in our thoughts. The soft light of stylish chandeliers  warmed up the atmosphere. The hosts, the Ambassador of Finland in Lithuania Christer Michelsson, classy gentleman and the man of the world literally who worked from Madagascar to Azerbaijan, Moscow and Beijing including, his architect wife Ebba and us were waiting for the guests of the special reception they were so kind to organise.

We all were to celebrate one of our Foundation’s laureates, recipient of the Humanist of the Year 2018 Award from Lithuania, prominent film director Saulius Berzinis. Saulius is filming the various aspects of the remembrance of the Holocaust in Lithuania for thirty years by now. Too much material to handle, one can think. He himself said in his acceptance speech at the event that  ‘to be frank, this work will never be completed. The material to handle is giant”.

It was hard to imagine that the one of the invited guests , the dear friend, would not come. That he would not come anywhere any longer. That was incomprehensible.

We are quite frequent comers to Vilnius which we call between us in an old Yiddish way, Vilna, continuing the treat from our both’ families. Vilna is Vilna, and it always will be Vilna for us. It is a part of the soul, sitting there effortlessly but firmly, with all its charm, wit, tragedy, poetry and real, deep, organic culture.

Practically every time when we were there, we would call Tolja, and we will meet. We would sit in his favourite Neringa restaurant, or some stylish caffe, we would walk along the embankment. Of course, we would come to his concerts – and we would be so glad for unmistaken success of our friend, always over-crowded halls, always seas of flowers for him, always that palpable love from general well-breed and seriously cultured Lithuanian public  towards small man with disarming smile who was transformed when he was conducting orchestra into powerful strong figure as if made of steel, towards essentially Jewish composer Anatolius Senderovas who was admired by entire country that does not have the 96% of its Jewry any longer.

Anatolijus Senderovas and Michael Rogatchi at the opening of the Vilnius Public Jewish Library and premiere of the composer’s From the Fragments of the Forgotten Book suite. December 2011. Vilnius. (C) The Rogatchi Foundation.

I was corresponding with Tolja just a few weeks before we would be coming to Vilna this time. He was telling me that he is in the USA, with his daughter, and that he feels weak and almost does not leave the house. We were worried, but hopeful. One always does against all odds, doubly so when a friend is in question. The friend who is not that elderly, too. Tolja was fighting cancer for four years by now, bravely and quietly. After successful operation, I’ve got an email from him signed by Yours, Nathan. Receiving his life back, he has decided to take a Jewish name and to use it publicly. We’ve got the message.

He did reply very politely and dutifully to the organisers telling that he would not be able to participate at the event we were celebrating in Vilnius now. He did care about people, always. We felt sorry that we would not be seeing our friend this time. We felt concerned that our friend does not feel well, that he is weak. His presence was with us all the time during this visit to Vilna, even if we would not speak about it even between ourselves. Since the moment we found ourselves on the Vilna streets, I was thinking of Tolja Senderov non-stop, as if somebody inside myself was bringing him to my mind all the time. I did mention it to my husband at some point – to find out that it was the same for him.

We came for our morning coffee to one of the places in the Vilna Old Town, and when we sat down I said to Michael: “Remember, we were here with Tolja the last time?” –  Of course, I do”, – Michael replied, being in thoughts. We were driving in a taxi later and passed the Lithuanian  Philharmonic Hall where we witnessed a triumph of our friend a few years ago. We were walking on the same streets on which we were walking with him laughing and talking, and his presence was so palpable, so tangible. And yet, we could not think about anything bad.

Late in the night, I saw his photograph on the Facebook feed. I was frozen in disbelief. We realised that the only trip our friend would be able to do now would be in the form of ‘a special cargo’ in the flight from New Jersey back to the Jewish cemetery in Vilna which we visited just yesterday. It was impossible to think about anything else.

And the nervous, tragic, beautiful melodies from many of Senderovas’ works started to whirl in my head – David’s Song, Sulamith Songs, music from Ghetto film, Fragments from the Forgotten Book – making that non-stopping humming nigun of farewell. I was thinking of Michael’s painting that he created specially for Senderov’s 70th anniversary just a few years back, where all those melodies were present on the canvas which has a double-title, Symphony of Rain. The Life of the Jewish Music. That Rain is the Rain of Jewish tears, of course, but still being interwoven into our melodies, they are sparking as pearls. The essence of the Jewish perception of the world in general, and in its melodic version of the music which always is a nigun of our souls. Tolja loved the painting. ” It says everything!..” – he said to Michael so many times.

Michael Rogatchi (C). The Symphony of Rain. Life of Jewish Music. 90x 60 cm. 2015. Collection of the family of Anatolijus Senderovas. Lithuania-USA.

At our ceremony, I  was inclined to speak about the passing of the great Lithuanian Jewish composer in the end, but I knew that it would be hard to keep that order.  

As it turned out, many of our guests and speakers were in the same state of mind and mood. The one of the leading European politicians from Lithuania, MEP Petras Austrevicius, the member of the International Advisory Board of our Foundation, in his greeting remarks at the beginning of the ceremony have spoken about Anatolijus’ passing and the shock the news had caused for him. Shock was the general reaction in Lithuania and beyond, if to put it in one word.

I was leading the ceremony, and was glad to continue on the note, to speak about the memory of our friend, also a member of our International Advisory Board, the holder of Lithuanian National Prize Tolja-Nathan Senderov. I felt at home to remember our friend, very kind man, deep personality,  modern classic, the son of his people. The sudden snow-fall turned to be warm, indeed.

Many people present at the beautiful mansion which is the residence of the Ambassador of Finland in Lithuania had been present at another special event  there in Vilna a bit over seven years ago, in December 2011. That was an unique event, the opening of the Vilnius Jewish Public Library, the first time after the end of the Second World War. We did support the project to our best. My husband’s art work Yiddishe Sun ( Yiddish Son), the only one done in oil, on purpose, adores the library’s centre hall. My collection of fine art photography works  Power of Light depicting Judaica Symbolism from our Judaica art collection, is on permanent display on the walls of the Library, a very special culture institution with intense, various and always top-quality international programs or events, presentations and discussions.

In December 2011, at the event of its opening,  there was also a music premiere of Senderovas’ The Fragments From the Forgotten Book. We all present there were taken by its depth, nerve, sincerity and beauty. Our friend Tolja has told us that the name of that stunning piece of music is literal. Among the Vilna Ghetto artefacts, there was indeed a book of old Yiddish melodies which has been found and which he had. The book itself was in bad shape, but melodies there were speaking out. It was a real connection, a restored and uplifted connectivity of our souls, a memorable, singing legacy.

Every time we have heard The Fragments From The Forgotten Book – and we did it many times, in a grand concert, as well – our hearts were itching. I was always thinking that a person just cannot leave a better present to its people than this kind of beautiful, painful and soulful musical legacy.

The next day after the passing of Anatolijus Senderovas in the end of March 2019, many people who were present at the premiere of that unforgettable music in December 2011, including the Ambassador of the USA in Lithuania HE Anne Hall, were remembering its creator with love and warmth. The theme of the inter-connection of souls had been present at this special event tangibly.

Inna Rogatchi (C). Song of Our Souls I. Crayone a encre over archival print. 2017. The Rogatchi Art Collection. (C) Inna Rogatchi

Before handing the Special Diploma for the Outstanding Contribution Into the Collective Memory on Holocaust to our laureate, my husband Michael, the chairman of The Rogatchi Foundation, has told to the distinguished audience: “We all have noticed and were taken by a total surprise by this very strange weather today. I think I have an explanation for that. Our ( Jewish) Sages are saying that when a clean soul is departing This World, a very unusual natural phenomena occurs: powerful storms, mighty wind coming from nowhere, or sudden snowfall in the middle of spring, as we see it tonight. As the soul is raised to its level in the Next World, the unusual phenomenon continues. When the soul has reached its ultimate destination, the phenomenon seizes. What we are seeing behind the window? The sudden snowfall has stopped now. So I believe that a pure soul which our dear friend Tolja had possessed, has reached its destination, and did it in a very short time, indeed”.

On the demonstration screen, there was an image of my Song of Our Souls art work which is addressing those people who were among us and who are now living in a Higher Sphere. The new version of this work, Song of Our Souls II has become a Special Art Award to our laureate, film director Saulius Berzinis who has devoted his entire time during the last three decades to filming this inter-connection, to memorise the songs of those souls, to preserve the memory about them alive and make it available and existing, documented, breathing. To make a document breathing is a special talent. It takes the entire resource of one’s humanistic capacity. The effect of such effort is ever-lasting. And this is the point of it.

Film director Saulius Berzinis with his Special Art Award at the Humanist of the Year 2018 of The Rogatchi Foundation. Residence of the Embassy of Finland in Lithuania. Vilnius, March 26, 2019. (C) Inna Rogatchi.

The beautiful sounds of the Schubert’s Impromptu were filling the hall lit with warm light from elegant chandeliers. Maria Mirovska, a talented pianist, behind the grand-piano was fighting her tears and emotions which were quiet but palpable during all that very unusual evening. The snowfall has stopped. The music stayed on. As always is the case when hearts are involved.

VILNIUS

Way Out of the Maze of Longing: Leonard Cohen’s Recipe

There are two years now after Leonard Cohen passed away.  Our dear Leonard  whom we were so incredibly privileged to know and conversed with. It did feel dizzy at the time, and nothing have changed over the years in this feeling of amazement of being speaking and exchanging views with Leonard. Our beloved ‘L.Cohen’.

‘This kind of people are not leaving us’ – we used to repeat to ourselves in not that successful efforts of self-therapy over feeling orphaned. When living after such people like Wiesel and Cohen passed away, one starts to understand the meaning of the Torah sentences on our Patriarchs who ‘went to his people’ on a personal, emotional level.  

 His signed portraits are in my study and in our living room. How did he know that it would be a great gift to us? We never asked. A Cohen Blessing with his signature heart-shaped Magen David, written and drawn by him, is on the wall of my husband’s study, and he uses it daily. Michael was overwhelmed when he had got it from Leonard, and again, we did not ask. Leonard was so good and so finely personal with his signs of attention to those to whom he would like to do something pleasant and encouraging. His presents – and his presence – turned to be, to substantial extent, our camertones in life.

Leonard’s books are on the shelves, one of them with unbelievable dedication. The text is great and undeserved, but our real treasure there is Leonard’s hand-write.

And then, there  are records, all those CDs accumulated during the years and connected with the pre-histories of Leonard’s making them as we were so grateful to know.  I do remember certain years because they had been marked in my memory by particular Leonard’s concert or record, or both. Those are time-marks for me. I am not a feverish fan by  nature. It had happened in just this one case of Leonard Cohen.

Those personal punctures are marked by that unique voice, that revelation-like smile, that perfect jokes, and that warmth of a great man, the real Cohen, as my husband is always saying about Leonard, the man who was so generous towards people in small and big.

Leonard Cohen. Happy Moments. OPen Archive.

With the records, it still will be a problem for me, two years on. For the first year after Leonard’s passing, I just could not hear it at all. It was breaking my heart further on. Then, after the first yahrzeit, a year ago, I tried, slowly, and it was bearable. But not with all of it.

The problem with ability or otherwise to hear the voice which had been rolling in our house sometimes non-stop was that because of Leonard’s precious presence in our lives, both as a great man who would be so gracious as to write to you in the middle of the night with his uniquely subtle way of seeing and expressing the world around us, and perceiving what you do with that brotherhood of souls, and the artist whose voice was coming from all those records, is that when you are unable to hear that voice, a part of you is cut off.  You are affected by that specific numbness of a part of your soul.

You might think that it is up to you to regulate your emotional life and maturity of your soul. But sometimes you realise that you are mistaken in this supposition. And you only learn it in a painful way. On the way to the dead-end of what used to be an alley. In November weather and its darkness. This heavy month of November.

 When I have started slowly and measurably to listen to Leonard’s records again, there is the one which I just cannot compel myself to do. Actually, it got worse during the last two years since Leonard left.

We were very much personally taken by the drama around his last recorded album, You Want It Darker. I have written about it at the time. We have written to him, too. Even – and because of – understanding that it, most likely, was the last-metres’ distance for Leonard in This World, we tried to reassure him, we were praying for him, we were sending him all support we could think and master about, to keep him with us all as long, as it was possible, destined, and – more. Please, more.

Leonard and Adam Cohen at Leonard’s last public appearance. October 2016. Los-Angeles. (C) NPR.

It was our last letter to Leonard. He was living for 25 more days after his last public appearance in which he was so graciously brave. Leonard always was elegant and charming, and his organic wit was and still is unparalleled. But the brave and thoughtful at this talk with the press at the Canadian General Consulate in Los Angeles three weeks before his passing, visibly fragile but boundlessly spirited, he was southing his son Adam who was instrumental in making and finishing this last album of his father under difficult circumstances of the Leonard’s failing health, and all those present with that light humour coming from sharpest understanding of the state of things. Light as a lovely cloud. I never asked Leonard if he liked clouds – there were so many things to ask, and one is watchful to not overdo in precious dialogues -, but I am inclined to think that he did.    

And come forth from the cloud of unknowing

And kiss the cheek of the moon

The New Jerusalem glowing

Why tarry all night in the ruin  – he wrote it back in 1979, in The Window song.

And then, there was that You Want It Darker song , the title one for the last Leonard’s album, his big good-bye.  We know about all the elaboration regarding that testament of a great Jewish man, about the choir of the Synagogue, and that poetry which was an essential prayer. We were completely taken by that unbelievable courage of Leonard who came out with his most ultimate prayer on stage, metaphorically too. Cohen is Cohen, indeed, but to say “I am ready”  publicly – and to mean it – is beyond the capacities of 99.9% of us. And to smile after that with that gift-like smile. The travelling smile as it was:  it was coming from the cloud of unknowing and returning back to it.

I remember how I was gravely impressed by hearing that public farewell of Leonard. My close  friends who were the same impressed as I was on the depth and openness of crossing the line between the Worlds, were trying to console me concluding:”So, Leonard was ready, indeed”. I knew that, but the departure is not the thing to be consoled about, especially when the leaving one was that man. We were trying to express what we felt at the time, on that rainy day in November 2016.

Two years on, and one year since I slowly re-started to hear Leonard’s records, I just can not do it with his last one. Not with all songs there, nor with the first one which is the last one for me. It is beyond my capacities.

But how special are the ways of our sub-consciousness in getting out of the maze of longing. The next thing I found myself doing after realising that I won’t be able to hear Leonard’s last album ever was writing a letter to him. Not in words, but in images. It did come on its own, I didn’t plan it. I created some new work fighting that gloomy autumn reign, and upon seeing some of the work, I have sensed that it is about Leonard.There was one mighty tree that was as if speaking, it had so much to say, and its narrative and its accents were changing due to the weather, season, mood, and time. I have realised that this is my letter to Leonard.The letter which will be coming to him, up There, during all seasons. With the message or love and remembrance carried on ‘the high silver nerves’, as he had put it in his Window song almost forty years ago.

I glanced at the calendar – it was 6 Chesvan, the actual date of Leonard’s yahrzeit.

Instead of the unbearable farewell prayer-song of the man who was a blessing and a gift to us all, I came back to Cohen’s The Window – and it let me out of this maze of longing, slow but assuredly.  Being quite an expert on longing, Leonard seemed to know on how to get out of it:

And leave no word of discomfort

And leave no observer to mourn

But climb on your tears and be silent

Like a rose on its ladder of thorns

Then lay your rose on the fire

The fire give up to the sun

The sun give over to splendour

In the arms of the high holy one

For the holy one dreams of a letter

Dreams of a letter’s death

Oh bless thee continuous stutter

Of the word being made into flesh

Oh chosen love, Oh frozen love

Gentle this soul

And I thought: how generous in his rich and special spirit that uniquely fine man and great poet was that even not being physically present among us any longer, he is able to get us out of this maze of longing.  And how gentle, graceful and engaging is his soul, indeed.

Inna Rogatchi (C). Letter to Leonard. Homage to Leonard Cohen. Original art panel. 60 x 85 cm. 2018. The Rogatchi Art Collection.

OPEN-ENDED DRAMA: Benjamin Balint’s search into the Kafka’s legacy

Kafka’s Last Trial is a rare book. Benjamin Balint did prove himself as a fine observer of multi-dimensional dramas, shrewd thinker, and very able writer. There is much more in this not that large book of 275 pages: many fundamental questions raised there; several remarkable characters brought to public life from oblivion; painful dilemmas are examined. The narrative is kept in a high rhythm which, in accord with unfolding dramatic events, is keeping you gleaned to the volume. Balint’s book is the case when you feel tangibly sorry that it ends.

The events described there could be characterised as dramatic, painful, some of them outrageous and some other even as nasty. But the author, American from Seattle who lives and works in Israel, being a library fellow at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem never loses his temper. He shows an admirable constraint, his stand is mild and respectful towards all the parties although his own position despite being expressed subtly is quite clear to an attentive reader. This alone is a substantial achievement – especially, as his book has brought out and discusses quite complicated matters of a world-class importance. This book is a serious contribution into the matters of the world literary  – and thus, culture – legacy.   

The book is about the destiny of Franz Kafka’s archive. The battle over it at its last stage took over 10 years and had been resolved, finally, in the autumn of 2016. The chronicle of that very case alone would make an attractive report. It is not every day when the destiny of a cultural treasure of the highest importance is resolved in court-rooms, and  when it takes so many years and effort.

But Balint decided not to walk through an easy  but all too predictable path.  He saw in the process deeply and brought out a conglomerate of issues which are not discussed publicly daily, but which are quite essential ones. 

In his book on which Balint worked for four years, he examines the characters of the people involved, including Kafka and Marc Brod themselves, and those who were related to the drama, such as Esther Hoffee, the keeper of the Kafka’s archive since 1968, after the death of Brod, and her both daughters, late Ruth and Eve who believed that the archive belonged to them after the death of their mother in 2007. All the other people appearing in the book – German archivists and Israeli lawyers, professors and critics, each and everyone, are also presented masterly. 

Both seeing deep into the people and portraying them tangibly is a sign of a craft of a writer. Benjamin Balint assures his place in a top echelon of the present day literary critics and writers by his second book which combines elements of professional historical and literary research, glimpses of philosophical analysis, and vivid psychological portraits. The first and the last components are presented in the Balint’s work almost perfectly. The element of a philosophical quest could be done in a more articulated way, theoretically speaking, but then it would change the character of the Kafka’s Last Trial from a current read for everyone into a specialist literature, and this is not the purpose that Benjamin had in mind working on this uneasy project. Given the importance of having a top-class research and original psychological story of the unique culture and literature phenomenon for the public as wide, as possible, doubly so in an largely abbreviated stratum of an Instagram-world, I do understand the choice made by the author and his editors.   

To me, the strength of this book is the array of questions it originated: what one does with the legacy of such giants of literature like Kafka? How it became possible that his archive had been effectively sealed for 95 years, almost a century, after his death? Why was he punished with this imposed silence for so long? What about the legacy and archive of Max Brode, a special figure in the cultural and literary history of the XX century? Why was he punished with his archive being effectively sealed for 50 years, a half of a century after his death? What were the details of life of the people like Brod, German-speaking intelligenzia – and mighty intelligenzia – who had to run for their lives from Germany and Europe, and were living in such drastically limited capacities after it? How to preserve and to nourish – and being nourished – by the knowledge and talent of the kind of people like Brod and his contemporaries and friends were under the circumstances which are far from Europe? But why allow geography to decide on such essential matters as culture and civilisation? Would we learn from that devastating drama of Max Brod, the guardian of Franz Kafka’s archive, and the archive’s drama – or Kafka’s spirit in it, actually? Would I learn to be attentive, understanding, interested, appreciative – and thus to become mightier and richer culture-wise? With books like Balint’s study on people and circumstances around Kafka’s archive, I dare to hope that we will.  

The book is elegant in its structure and style. Balint shows writing maturity, class of thinking, observation and visioning, and craft in expression of its all.  As soon as I started to read Kafka’s Last Trial, I was wondering if the rights for the film had been bought already: the book’s composition is a very good film’s outline, indeed. We are traveling in time from one chapter to another,  from Vienna and Berlin in early 1920s to Israel today, as well as back to 1940s, 1950s and 1970s; from London in 2009 to  Prague in early 1900s, from Zurich in 2016 to Germany just after the end of WWII . This change of scenery throughout the book not only helps to keep its pace and grabs reader’s interest, but it is also fully cinematographic, in the style of a top of  the French classic film noir.

Benjamin Balint had told me that indeed, he did visualise a lot of the narrative of his book. Is it his way of work? Is it the result of many years of hard work concentrated on the project? Could be both, I guess.  But the result is top professional in both literature and cinematography reading of it, and it breathes master-craft. 

 In his studies of  Kafka and importantly post-Kafka multi-dimensional phenomena, the author is clearly fascinated with the meaning of ‘last’ – and applying the term to almost every chapter in his book, emphasising his focus: Last Son of Diaspora, The Last Train,  The Last Appeal. Among fifteen chapters of the book, nine has ‘last’ as the accent of its titles. It sets the disposition of the author – and his readers, and it also brings more focused interest and human warmth into the scientific process. People always are more keen to look into the things ultimate; and we are more compassionate when we know that we are reading, thinking and discussing something that had ended. 

 Admirably, the author does not force his reader to get the writer’s own view and answer. He definitely knows the measure in balancing the way for his reader to form his own opinion, his own conclusion. The distance between an author and his reader is a classy, but not an easily achievable quality of books. I do think that Benjamin Balint’s position towards both his subjects and his readers is essentially respectful and thus fully respectable, too. It provided you with a possibility to breath in your own travelling through the maze of facts, circumstances, suppositions, interpretations, and feelings. It entitles you to your own conclusions. And it can be done by a person who is quite confident in his own knowledge and who is not interested in imposing his opinion onto the others. 

The amount of work invested by Balint in this project,  and knowledge he possessed on it as the result of his 4-year old effort had been amalgamated into the confident, thrilling,  but not imposing narrative. In the end of the Kafka’s Last trial reading, we would like to know more, to understand some aspects better, to think about the topics which had been not elaborated in a full detail in the book, but which had been mentioned by it , and which started to loom now, after the utterly sad, and fully dramatic story of the written heritage of Franz Kafka had been ended 72 years after his death. What can be better than such an outcome of a book on history of culture? 

There is no surprise to me that the book causes significant international interest: after the American edition, there are British, German, Dutch, Hungarian, Russian and possibly more editions on the way in many countries where people would certainly appreciate the book’s quality and would be gripped by its narrative and its drama. 

I personally am awaiting the film based on Benjamin Balint’s book – I am positive that it could be the same gripping, as the book. And so many people world-wide would be taken by the story of the legacy of the man who unnerved the tragedy of the XXth century in words – before it all had happened.

Chapeau to France: Farewell to Charles Aznovour

All my life I am wondering: why on earth we are always belated in expressing our appreciation to outstanding people? Why it is almost always posthumous? Charles Krauthaummer tried to change this insensitive habit of our society by announcing publicly on his imminent passing a week before it had happened. But it did not change the existing way of handling saying goodbye. Nobody dared to talk about a person who was still living in the way we are used to pour our memories and appreciation to those who had left us. After the failed last Charles’s experiment – I knew him and understood what he was up to – I actually had been reversing my life-long conviction that we are usually doing it wrong saying our goodbye to the person who cannot hear it. I started to seeing it in a slightly different way. As it happened, in the case of Krauthammer recently, it is just impossible to say goodbye to a living person – it is merciless, said my husband, and I do agree with him.

But there are different ways to say goodbye as we know it. There is a senseless it its vanity way of massive and forced artificial mourning as it was the case with late Senator McCain; and it is exquisite in its sensitivity and tact farewell to Charles Aznavour on the first weekend of October 2018.

Following the family’s request, France refrained from a pompous ceremony, but every detail, every step and every sigh of the country’s farewell to Aznavour on October 5th, 2018 was exquisite. It was modest and elegant; it was attentive and tactful; it was dignified and loving. And it was unique in the France’s state recognition of the Armenian essence and belonging of its most cordial chansonnier.

Charles Aznavour. Open Archive.

The huge inner court of Les Invalides was almost empty. Two hundreds people inside, the Aznavour’s family, the French government and some dignitaries, the close friends and colleagues like Jean-Paul Belmondo, the representatives of the diplomatic corps did emphasised anti-pompous character of the ceremony called Hommage National a Charles Aznavour. Just one Aznavour’s reward was on display from so very many that he had earned for his long life of 94 years and his extra-ordinary career of 72 of them.

Some 500 members of public were allowed to the ceremony on the first-come basis. But anyone could follow it from a giant screens on the outside side of Les Invalides, and from a live broadcasts. What a normal, not abusive, respectful way of the most difficult from our ceremonies.

Just two speeches, of the Prime Minister of Armenia and President Macron. “ In France, poet does not die” – said Macron in the end of his speech. I forgot that this France that we used to love and admire, and to be nourished by its multi-sided culture, existed.

Throughout the ceremony I was thinking that every detail that we were seeing it was something that we did not see in France for quite a long time. That tact, that fine way of everything, that love expressed deeply and sincerely.

Charles Aznavour visiting Armenian Patriarchy in Jerusalem during his visit to Israel in 2017.

The measure of the recognition of the Armenian essence of Charles Aznavour in his country’s farewell to him was dignified in a full measure. His coffin draped in the French national tricolour made of rich textile, had been carried on to the farewell ceremony by the French National Guard accompanied by a melancholic melody of Dle Yaman played on duduk, Armenian national instrument close to clarinet. Just one instrument. But the melody itself was essentially indicative. Dle Yaman is the most important Armenian national song of mourning; it had been created after the Turkish genocide against Armenians in early XX century. From my Armenian friends, I know that Dle Yaman is regarded as both most beloved and most important national melody by the Armenian people. To play it to accompany the Charles Aznavour’s coffin into the still court of Les Invalides in Paris was exceptional.

But how exceptional beautiful, simply unforgettable, was another song performed at the ceremony by just three soloists of the French Republican Guard orchestra. That piano, violin and voice rendition of Armenian Waltz was just extraordinary expression of love. Sung in Armenian by the French soloist, the song reflected the feelings of all people, in France, Armenia and everywhere else who loved Aznavour for so many years. Not those, of course, who came there to pose smiling and laughing and showing themselves, as the Sarkozy-Bruni couple together with Hollande did. But there are always something like that , and actually it is good that the world saw and noticed it.

Armenian Waltz, a song authored by the well-known French-Armenian band Bratsch in mid-1990s, is the one of the best compositions of the musicians. But in none of many of their own renditions they did not come anywhere close to that extraordinary performance-by-heart that the three French musicians from the Republican Guard Orchestra did. They did it to Charles Aznavour directly, and it had been felt at any second of their saying goodbye from all of us.

The link to that most beautiful performance is here

As it happened, people in Armenia did not know much about that beautiful song before the ceremony. Now, all Armenia is singing and listening to that melody of love. Melody of ongoing love to the man who infused love, in so many of its ways and forms, during so many years into so many of us.

It was France of its best at the solemn, but so very enlightened farewell to the man who was the pride of the French culture and whom France did recognise in a full measure for who Aznavour was: devoted Armenian.

Charles Aznavour during his recent visit to Armenia. (C) Armenian News Agency.

Chapeau  to France for such understanding and such way of expressing it. Farewell to a great singer was in fact unique moment of Humanism. With a big H.

QUAND MEME, DESPITE EVERYTHING

An Exhibition with the Soul. 

Homage to Homage, Heart to Heart.

The Arrivals, Departures exhibition opened in early June at the Hecht Museum at the University of Haifa is a gem from several points of view: it is a fine presentation of not so widely known or exhibited often Jewish artists from the Ecole des Paris, the School of Paris; it is a meticulously researched historical observation of the tragic period that defined their lives; and it is soulful journey returning those eighteen tattooed souls back to us, their brethren, and to the wider public. To the world.

Arrivals Wall at the Arrivals, Departures Exhibition. (C) Weiss-Livnat Holocaust Studies program, University of Haifa.

It is also the homage to homage, so to say. It is a loving renewal and appreciation of the collection donated by Dr Oscar Ghez  to Haifa University and the state of Israel 40 years ago. So far, only seven of 137 art works from that great donation were permanently displayed at the Hecht Museum. The current exhibition which would be on display for five months, until November 2018, and hopefully, would become the travelling one, shows as many as 85 works, 55 of them from the Ghez collection which he meant to be the memorial to the artists, the victims of the Holocaust.

It certainly is the memorial, both to the artists perished in the Holocaust, and to the man who loved Israel, loved his Jewish people, and who did care so much and relentlessly on the works of those who were murdered by the Nazis and given up by the Nazi collaborators. I am very glad that Dr Ghez’s son, Dr Claude Ghez, who was present at the opening of the exhibition in Haifa, and who did so much for this exhibition to be materialised, saw the legacy of his father as a part of the living Israeli and Jewish culture today.

Poster for the Arrivals, Departures exhibition.

It is quite rare when you have a sensation from a new exhibition of getting home. Of being in harmony with everything around you, from a poster to the smallest exhibit. Overall, you have a feeling of seeing something that is as if it is a natural continuation of your own thoughts, ideas and associations. Arrivals, Departures is the exhibition with a soul. And this soulful, genuinely compassionate exhibition is not only thought of masterly, with a clear concept and a trove of research and knowledge behind it, but it is produced very finely, too.The exhibition is also the result of friendly and fruitful cooperation which is always a pleasure to witness in the professional art world. The main team who conceived and produced Arrivals, Departures, Dr Rachel Perry and her students from The Weiss-Livnat International MA Program in the Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa has worked for the exhibition in close co-operation with Ghetto House Fighters Museum and  Yad Vashem  which both has loaned the art works from their collections to the exhibition. Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, Poland and the Memorial de la Shoah in Paris had provided valuable documentation and records.

On personal level, among many people participated in this effort, the role of two people in particular had been crucial: Dr Claude Ghez  who has provided the ten great art works from his family’s collection at The Petit Palace  Modern Art Museum in Geneva, established by his father, to be seeing in Israel for the first time; and who had been extremely helpful and generous in many other ways, including possibility to print the exquisite catalogue of the exhibition; and Nadine Nieszawer, the well-known art dealer and expert on the Ecole des Paris, the daughter of the Holocaust survivor, who additionally to her brilliant skills and world-level knowledge of art and its perception, had put her heart into the project. Tangibly, all the efforts of all those people from so many institutions in different countries did bear that unmistaken mark of the presence of heart in the Arrivals, Departures exhibition. And perhaps, it is that instant feeling that greets a visitor of that rare show, the feeling of compassion that marks the exhibition in overall. But not only.

Dr Rachel Perry, Dr Claude Ghez and the group of students who worked on the exhibition project. (C) Rachel Perry.

Wedding  Art and History 

The Arrivals, Departures exhibition is the product of the two years studies of the MA program in the Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa. Art historian Dr Rachel Perry, the graduate of both Columbia and Harvard, with many years experience of work in Paris took her international students, nine of them in the first year and five in the second, on the remarkable journey. They were travelling together to Paris, to trace the track of the perished artists and to meet some of their relatives; three of them are living in Paris today. They embarked also onto personal journeys, as each student had been researching the life, destiny and work of a particular artist, according to their own choice. The students were differentiated in tasks, too: someone was proof-checking facts and details; somebody else did planning and design; another one was focusing on illustrations and images. And Dr Perry herself was also worked intensely researching for the exhibition at the US National Holocaust Museum in Washington, the French WWII Archives, and at the other historical institutions.

It is there in Paris when Dr Perry was wandering with her student on the alleys of their pilgrimages to their heroes, when the name of the exhibition was born. “We were going from one place to another, looking at the places of our artists’ studios, their homes, those streets at Montparnasse, and when we were leaving the studio of Alexandre Fasini, I raised my eyes and saw the street sign on the wall. It was rue du Depart.   Literally.  It cannot be, I thought”, – tells Rachel. – “But what’s more, when you are looking at the map of this district of Paris, you are seeing the Gare Montparnasse in the middle,  with rue de l’Arrivée and rue du Départ  very near from it, running in parallel, making two sides of one block, actually. And I thought: a railways station, and those two streets, it cannot be real”.  Upon hearing this from Rachel, I thought that it certainly was not a coincidence. It was definitely shown to her. From Above.

Voiceless Screams

The works at the exhibition are grouped according to the genres, from city landscapes, through the natural landscapes, the nudes, street lives, portraits. Says Rachel Perry: “Following the path, from the artists’ arrival to Paris, their life and work in France, via their works, you can see very clearly how the character of the works has changed reflecting the political and daily life changes from 1938 onward. How from exuberant, full of life and colour, vibrant pieces of art it has become more and more tense, gloomy, anxious. You can feel the fear, you are getting into the gray first and then dark palette, you are seeing the plots on canvases which were atypical for the Ecole des Paris, such as birds in a cage. And then you are facing the Departures wall, with all that documentation on their arrests, deportations, transports. The End”,  – explains the exhibition’s curator.

On an especially poignant note, the exhibition also shows some works created by the artists while they were in detention. To me, it is a very powerful screaming point of the exhibition; of the kind of the screams which are made without voice.

They are the works of two artists, Jacques Gotko and Abraham Berline, who did find themselves in the company of a few more artists at the Royallieu-Compiégne internment camp in the northern part of France, before being transported to Drancy, and from there either to Auschwitz or Majdanek. As the camp had been under the auspices of the International Red Cross, they did supply it with some amount of art materials, so the imprisoned people there could paint or make drawings, if they felt like that.

The exhibition in Haifa shows some of those works. They were saved miraculously and heroically by the surviving inmate, the artist himself Isis Kischka who donated these priceless works to Ghetto Fighters House Museum in Israel. The Museum graciously loaned the works in question for the current exhibition.

If I would be making the poster for this exhibition, I would certainly use for it the small watercolour by Jacques Gotko which, in fact, was the invitation to the exhibition in the camp organised by the imprisoned artists for their brothers in tragedy. The work is signed “Gotko, 1496”, with the numbers being the artist’s inmate number in the camp.  On the invitation, there are two glasses touching each other in a toast, and a sign above them: Quand méme [Despite Everything!..] A piece of barbed wire is arranged around the glasses. But – there is always but, for the artists of The Ecole des Paris in general, and for any of our Jewish artists, musicians, writers, poets who did find themselves in the direst of dire circumstances, in particular. The ‘but’ of this small art work is the colour of the liquid inside the glasses rounded by barbed wire. It is bright orange. As bright, as sun. I love my people.

Jacques Gotko. Quand Méme. Ink and watercolour on paper. 14 x 19 cm. 1942. (C) Ghetto House Fighters Museum.

There are more artworks painted in the camp at the exhibition. I feel compelled to mention all and every of them:  The Exit,  and Compiégne, both by Abraham Berline; Fence of the Camp at Compiégne, A View of the Compiégne Camp, Compiégne, and Quand Méme, all by Jacques Gotko. They all are light in colour and almost innocent in the plot, but not in the message. They are made this way as if their authors were trying to wash away the horror in which they themselves and so many others with the same destiny were living for the time which was left for them. Those works reminds me the tone of the memoirs and writings by Viktor Frankl, the one of the most profound Jewish voices of the Holocaust, and probably, the most gentle and contemplating one, without escaping the reality or forging it. But while Frankl was writing his analyses after the war, the works in question are made in camp, and thus are unique on-time experience, and also the statement.

The works from the camps in this exhibition, as the works of the children imprisoned in Terezienstadt, and the other works made on the spot during the Holocaust, are bearing the energy of the people who did them. We can still hear their voiceless scream even from those innocent-looking light blue water-colours. The lightness makes the scream yet more piercing.

Exit, by Berline. small
Abraham Berline. The Exit. Oil on canvas. 1942. 50 x 61 cm. 1942. (C) The Ghez collection.University of Haifa.

I was affected to read in the catalogue and to hear it from Rachel Perry, too, on ‘the largest, unusually large oil painting made in the camp’, and then seeing the work’s measurement – 60 x 51 cm. The Holocaust reality has its own measures, obviously.

Holocaust and Art

There is well-known phenomenon of the two schools of thinking on the Holocaust and art, its mutual compatibility. The members of one school cannot get themselves content with the idea that such ultimate horror could be reflected by artistic means, would it be cinema, poetry, or visual arts. Some of the representative of this school believed that since creating process usually means positive energy, with an aesthetic elements involved, anything created anew as a piece of art would be still artificial in comparison with the real horrors of the Holocaust, and thus would be invalid from the point of view of authentic experience. Elie Wiesel, for his part, absolutely rejected the thought that Holocaust can be reflected by a movie, and firmly denied all proposals to make a film on his Night, the ultimate narrative of the Shoah. In the case of Wiesel, such position is quite understandable.

And there is another school of thinking on the matter; the one that sees the means of creative deeds  as an opportunity to express, to convey, and to connect. To express at least some of the ocean of emotions and thoughts evoked by such bottomless tragedy; to convey a multitude of messages, from hope against hope to the last subtle goodbye; to connect between those who were taken from life brutally and abruptly, and those who survived; and also, importantly, to connect between the generations, and in this vital task Dr Rachel Perry sees her ultimate goal in this special project:

“ As it happened, the resolving understanding of what we have been doing for the two last years did come to me almost at the end of the work. Among all those 85 art works, so versatile ones, some of them simply gorgeous, some rare, some very rarely exhibited, it all came down, for me personally, to the tiny watercolour, the smallest work in the entire exhibited collection. It is the Max  Jacob’s watercolour of a bridge, charming, warm and elegant, and just 19 x 27 cm size. But for me, the message of the work has crystallised everything that we were doing during the years of building the project: we were building the bridge. Or even bridges: between the generations; between the people in different countries and with different history; between those for whom the Holocaust is the personal experience and part of life and those who are aware of it distantly; between knowledgeable and less knowledgeable people; between art connoisseurs and lovers of history, between experts and wide public. That bridge-building on so many levels has been the essence of our collective effort, to me.  And this is how I see the overall message of this project, and the main discovery of it”, – said the curator of Arrivals, Departures exhibition.

Bridge by Max Jacobs small
Max Jacob. Landscape with a Bridge. Watercolour and ink. 19 x 27 cm. (C) The Ghez collection. University of Haifa.

It was only natural that life brought forward a massive response to Holocaust; the response that has been expressed in different forms of art as well. It did not happen right away. Immediately after the war, there were many people who genuinely believed that nobody would be able to create poetry or music after all that horror in general.

But then Paul Celan did come with his unparalleled poetry, the best one on our tragedy; and much later John Williams has created immortal music theme for The Schindler List; and Adrien Brody did not pretend for a second while living the life of Wladyslaw Szpilman on the screen in the Pianist, the film which is a rare exception from the Holocaust filmography, it has to be said. Not surprisingly, as the actor says himself, the world which had been opened to him in that role, still haunting him ever since, 16 years after the film’s release.

In another touching inter-connection, it is solely thanks to Szpilman and his after-war memoir that we know the details of the last period of life of Roman Kramsztyk who did come to Warsaw in the summer 1939 to deal with the family matters after his mother’s death, and had been trapped there. He was a notable man there, in the Warsaw Ghetto, the famous, well-to-do artist from Paris. He was sitting days through in the ghetto’s cafes, as he used to do in Paris, and he drew the days long, too. He drew the ghetto’s inhabitants, and it is another heart-breaking document both of the time and of art, the very few drawings which survived. Kramsztyk was killed by the Nazis in another round-up of the ghetto, as he refused to depart from his paintings in his studio. I understand him completely. The studio was savaged and robbed, of course,– as was the case with the majority of the studios and works of the artists from this exhibition. That was done in a civilised France.

What Rachel Perry and her colleagues did assemble in the Arrivals, Departures exhibition is a rare mix of artists and their works which all are the very essence of the Shoah because they has become its victims, and at the same time, we are seeing many of their works created also  before the Second World War.  They did not stop to create during the Holocaust, too; they did it despite of it. Despite Everything. Quand méme.

Dr Perry emphasises that “the art has become a part and a tool of the Holocaust studies not before mid-1980s, which is quite recently, in historical terms. This is yet unexplored massive knowledge, very fruitful one, and as such, it provides great opportunities, and widens up new horizons for us” – says Dr Perry. I cannot agree more with my colleague.

Exh 7 Yael Photo
Arrivals, Departures exhibition stand with specially created personal files for each of the 18 exhibited artists. (C) University of Haifa.

Arrivals, Departures exhibition at the Hecht Museum, University of Haifa: until November 1st, 2018.

ELIE WIESEL: A Yahrzeit Cloud and Portrait of Love

 A Yahrzeit Cloud for Elie

I think, or rather feel, that at the time around a yahrzeit of our beloved ones, a certain special cloud is formed in the air around us. Our reflections and memories are dancing around and wrapping us in thoughts. And, hopefully, something else, of another kind of tissue that we cannot describe is present there. 

This is the time around the Elie Wiesel’s second yahrzeit, on Sivan 26th, and a gentle and special yahrzeit cloud is here.  

On the first yahrzeit, it was a lot of pain and bewilderment. When this kind of people are leaving This World, we all feel orphaned. This year, on the second yahrzeit, the cloud for Elie is of a lighter colour, and I can see more sun-rays transpiring from behind it. But still, a cloud is a cloud. 

And our only way to try to feel Elie next to us is to return to his books once again. So, there are two of us, my husband and I with our beloved friend Elie’s books in our hands, on our tables, in the garden, his  books are scattered around and covering our living pace these days.  

My husband is saying: “I have a strong sensation of hearing Elie’s voice while re-reading these pages. So palpable is his love, so tangible are his emotions. He would be a great Rabbi, Elie, if not the war”. Michael re-reads the Elie’s Hassidic stories which, in fact, is a narrative of love. 

I am re-reading Elie’s last novel, A Mad Desire to Dance, and I am as if hearing his voice, too. We can reconstruct his incredible smile without returning to some videos. It is as if they never left us. I actually think that it did not. If I would be able to claim an item to the World Heritage UNRegister, I would claim the Elie Wiesel’s Smile, among a very few things, along with Leonard Cohen’s smile. Those are my treasures. 

‘Why to start to write?’ 

There is no doubt in my mind that in the unspeakable horror of the Shoah, or Khurban, as Elie preferred to call the Holocaust – and as vast majority of the Yiddish -speaking Jewry did call it well into the 1950s, -Elie survived to tell us about it. I would never forget how, with that remarkable smile, he would say when people were amazed by the openness of his narrative: “But if not to tell the truth, why to start to write, in the first place?..” Elie was anything but naive, he knew that most of the writing people are writing for many other reasons than for conveying the truth. His question was, actually, a self-examination.  For him, there was no alternative: if he started to write  – to talk, basically, – and he did it after a decade of complete silence on the Holocaust and the WWII in general, – then it would be the truth telling. As simple, as that. As impossible, as that. As torturing, as that. 

But he sustained it all. And it is to a huge degree thanks to Elie’s stand, his inner strength, that the world has got its conscience, its compassion and its love, – after the wide, deep and multi-faced process of dehumanisation which did not stopped on May 8th, 1945, not at all. Leonard Cohen called it ‘the mutilation of ( the angel’s) wings’.   

I always wondered: how Elie had the strength to live after his ordeal which, as a matter of fact, he never overcame. And how could he? A man just unable to overcome  witnessing his mother’s murder in front of him, his young and helpless sister’s throw into the flames, literally, his father’s excruciating  dying being kept away  a few meters from him, but allowing and making him to witness his father’s agony on purpose ( and those were not Germans, but Poles and Ukrainians). This is to mention only his immediate family, without all the other personal horrors that piled over the head of just a 16-year old kid which Elie was after the war. The loss of his grandparents, his relatives, his friends; the crimes that he witnessed in the camps, the world of his people being devastated and destroyed. 

I am thinking on many of our friends and acquaintances whose life was marked by the Holocaust in so many different ways, always painfully, always unique, always the same. The businesswoman in Australia who never knew what family celebration means, because except her and her parents, there was no immediate family to celebrate. The writer in England who was a school girl was always escaping school special events because except her parents, she had no family members to join her there. The engineer in Austria who had nobody to invite to his and his wife daughter’s chuppah, because their both’ entire families were exterminated. The student in Israel who had serious difficulties to get married being an orphaned Holocaust survivor. The musician in London who does not know the concept of an aunt and an uncle, because her mother was the sole survivor of an entire family. The future star singer who is met on the railways station in Kaunas upon her return from the evacuation after the end of war by a Jewish man, the one of the very survivors there, who has made his mission to come to meet the surviving returning Jews because their all families were gone. The future writer who after returning from evacuation and visiting his town in Lithuania had never stepped foot to his native place during the next fifty years, because he could not bear the total annihilation of his family, all friends and acquaintances and those empty, haunting streets there. My grandmother who had no place to go to the grave of her beloved sister, aunt and uncle, all murdered by the Nazis and their Ukrainian collaborators. My husband’s grandmother who similarly had no place to come to the grave of her oldest daughter with her two children and her husband, all murdered by the similar war criminals in Ukraine. 

Elie Wiesel did talk for all of them. To all of us. Being himself torn to pieces by the tragedy of his family and his people that has never left him. How did he find the source and ability to live again? 

I have researched all his writings, his memoirs, and his life in detail. I have spoken with his close friends. I did not dare to ask him personally this particular question because I did not want to cause him any extra pain. It is my guess, of course, but I think, I know the answer.

The Sources of Life: The Rebbe, the Family and the Soviet Jewry

I don’t even start to imagine what the Shoah meant for the religious Jews . How do you explain the torturous death of innocent children? Later on, Elie Wiesel, faithful grandson of prominent Vizhnitz Rebbe, would come to the position formulated laconically: “There is no explanation to that”. I accept it. But in his young adulthood, shortly after the end of the WWII, he was still in spiritual turmoil. And it was torturing him. He could not get married – because he could not get married. Period. His life was on balance, in many senses of it.

The blessed breakthrough happened with his meeting with Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebber knew the pain caused by the WWII and the Holocaust personally, too. His father who did serve for 39 years as the Chief Rabbi of Jekaterinoslav-Dnepropetrovsk in Ukraine, had been arrested there by the NKVD shortly before the WWII and sent to exile to Kazakhstan where he died of hunger and sickness in 1944 being in utter poverty together with the Rebbe’s mother who did follow her husband to exile. The Rebbe’s younger brother DovBer was left alone in Ukraine, and was murdered in October 1941 along with all the other patients of the mental clinic in Igren suburb of the city by the bestial Ukrainian Nazi collaborators. 

Orphaned young writer Elie, when coming to live and work in New York, started to visit the Rebbe in the early 1960s, and he did it regularly. One should see the footage of those meetings. The Rebbe, who knew about Elie’s grandfather, did take a special interest in the young man. He looked at him and he talked to him as a close relative, with compassion, understanding, interest and love, without any distance at all. And Elie was very responsive to the Rebbe’s attitude: the way Wiesel talked to the Rebbe, and later on, about the Rebbe, can be seen in his eyes, and that smile of an introverted child who had been occasionally happy for a moment  – and grateful for that forever.

It was Rebbe Schneerson who did convince Elie, against all odds, to get married and to start the family at a quite solid age of 41. That was a milestone in Wiesel’s life. And so much it was about the special connection between the Rebbe and Wiesel, and their both’ ultimate ‘secret’ of the origin of the Wiesel’s family that the Rebbe did care to send a very special bouquet to Elie and Marion all the way to Jerusalem on their wedding day in 1969, and Elie was absolutely convinced that it was the most beautiful bouquet he saw in his entire life to the very end of it. 

Anyone who had a privilege to know Wiesel more or less well would tell that  his family of Marion and Elisha, their son, and later on, his two grandchildren, was the world in which he was re-born. As a sign of a special grace from Above, his only son looks very similar to Elie’s beloved father Shlomo.

Approximately at the same period of time, Elie has been transformed from an orphan haunted by the Holocaust, into the person on whom the other people were relying, who was active and needed, who was respected – and much, much loved. Loved sincerely and unconditionally. Loved by many. Those many were Soviet Jews, his brothers, those who would become known in history as Jews of Silence because of the term coined by Wiesel. 

The first time Wiesel went to Moscow in 1965. It was a love from a first glance, mutually. The 37-years old writer saw the people so very close to him, stoic, modest, aspiring in their hearts, avid readers and thinkers, people living under constant pressure. They understood each other momentarily; the Eastern and Central European Jewish mentality was the same, and many of the Soviet Jews were Yiddish speakers, as Elie was. One would never imagine that usually melancholic Elie would be laughing so happily and dancing so energetically, as he always did being among the Jewish people in Soviet Union. 

To end the siege of the Soviet Jewry has become Wiesel’s perpetual priority which he did tackle tirelessly and successfully. His impact on the eventual liberation of the Soviet Jewry shall not be underestimated.  His mission was active for 30 years, and his last visit to the Soviet Union was in 1989.

But it is also the sense of mission, the success of it, so many acts of saving, supporting, helping the others that has transformed Elie Wiesel into the Nobel Peace laureate, so deservingly; into the man of action, stand and authority. His life was back. 

Elie’s Super-mitzvah

It was a wonderful, meaningful, interesting life in which Elie was perceived as a member of their families by millions, all around the globe. Those he was caring for in the former Soviet Union, those he was teaching in the United States, those he met regularly during his annual visits to Israel, those who read his books, and saw his impact on international development. Elie was loved not only by Jewish people. He was deeply respected by so many others, and in this universalism he also did an invaluable service to the Jewish people. 

When one of us is becoming to be perceived and heard by so many others as the universal authority on humanity, this is the unique mitzvah which does have an important and long-lasting impact on the entire nation, on the entity. Our sages in Talmud teaches us about that, and if anyone of our contemporaries knew and understood Talmud and other original sources of the Jewish wisdom well, it was Wiesel.  

What was Elie’s key to so many minds and hearts all over the planet? What was the secret of his universal popularity – wrong word – love towards him? I think, the twofold of modesty and honesty is such a key.  He knew so much – and always had more and more questions. He wrote so well – and kept his writings sincere in more than 40 books, in every written word, actually. This is the most difficult thing for the writer, to be honest. He felt before his reader as before the Creator, bare of anything that colours, alters or hides the truth. “Otherwise, why to start to write?..” – he smiled with that disarming smile, and you knew that the Good does exist and is real in this world. 

Two years is not a time in our human measurement. Two yahrzeits is a different thing. The Cloud of Yahrzeit for Elie is becoming lighter and sunnier. It brings back his smile and even his voice, so tangible when re-reading his books and remembering the meetings with him. And we still learn from our beloved Elie. 

Several years ago, my husband was commissioned to paint a painting for the Vilnius Public Jewish Library, the first Jewish library opened in Lithuania after WWII. According to the idea of the Library’s leadership, that painting is the only oil painting in the entire Library, to enhance the art work in the way. That work’s name is Yiddishe Zun, Yiddish Son. And it is about Elie. 
On his second yahrzeit, we are preparing a special new dedication plaque to be placed in the place of a kind that Elie loved, a library with soul and spirit. The new plaque with dedication ‘In honor and in memory of Elie Wiesel, the beloved son of his people’ would be placed next to the Yiddish Son painting on July 2, 2018, a secular date of our dearest friend and mentor’s passing.

SHTETL, LOST AND FOUND: REFLECTIONS FROM SEDUVA

MEMORY ON JEWISH PEOPLE AND THEIR LIFE TO BE REVIVED IN LITHUANIA 

By Dr Inna Rogatchi ©

May 2018

People on the Field

The landscape in the Central and Northern Lithuania is practically endlessly serene. Especially on a hot sunny day of a premature summer. The idyll of our journey has been suddenly interrupted by a short siren while few black limos were outrunning us sharply. “The Prime-Minister”, – said somebody on the bus. Our diver had a special smile on his face rushing his white bus in the same direction, for the same event. He felt belonging. Then another siren and another mini-cortege, and yet another one. “Looks like the Speaker  ( of the Seimas, the Lithuanian parliament), – said another member of our group, – “ and the Foreign Minister, too” – mentioned someone else. 

Entering the town of Seduva, we saw an idyl which one can rarely see nowadays in the centre of Europe: a family of quite Chagallian goats was laying serenely just next to the road; a bunch of pretty happy lambs walking nearby, and gorgeous black cow sitting like a queen with such intelligence expression on her face that we were expecting her to open her mouth and to speak any minute. The streets were empty. Everybody was just outside the town, where on a very green field a few dozens of people have gathered. I bet that Seduva never saw such number of a black limos with state flags of 15 countries on them, including the USA, France, UK, Finland, France, Germany, Sweden and many others. 

We all have gathered at the inviting open field on a May day when the greenery on trees branches is still young but has progressed enough. The branches around us and in the skies were gentle and pretty. It was quite windy, and normally you would be able to withstand such wind for just a few minutes. But we did not care. Nobody of us did, not entire political leadership of the country and many senior politicians, nor all the Ambassadors, not the creme a la creme of the Lithuanian intellectual and cultural elite including the director of the state Museum of Tolerance Markas Zingeris, great film director Saulius Berzinis, philosopher Darius Kuolys, or quite many Lithuanian people, both elderly and young ones.There was no hierarchy on the day and the place. All those who came were standing together, shoulder to shoulder, almost literally. The security personnel was very tactful and almost unnoticeable. 

The foreign guests who did come specifically for the occasion did not care either: famous Finnish architect professor Rainer Mahlamäki, senior philanthropists from Australia, top- engineer from Switzerland, senior official from Brussels. We all, almost, wore a sun glasses which happened to be quite useful, and not because of sun or wind. It was the one of those rare occasions when you could note a tough security officer wiping his tearful eyes, despite all his efforts not to make it visible. 

Emanation of Love

We were all staying next to a rarely beautiful cemetery. When you live long enough, you start to realise the importance and the role of the cemeteries in a different, very personal way. Especially the Jewish ones – those ones from them that had not disappeared, or got demolished. Especially those in Europe. Especially those one which suffered, in many ways, during the WWI and aftermath of it; the aftermath that went on for decades, in certain respects. 

This Jewish cemetery in Seduva had been lovingly restored by the Seduva Jewish Memorial Fund just a few years ago. There are few such noble things in life to be done as to restore the place of the last rest of people of any faith. In our case, in the case of Jews, given the history of the XX century, it is a super-mitzvah, consciously carried on good deed of fighting not only natural oblivion, but resisting and overcoming the screaming crimes carried against helpless people so enthusiastically. And even if my friend, poet and writer Sergey Kanovich, son of prominent Jewish writer Grigory Kanovich, would stop his activities in Seduva after completing this task back in 2015, I would feel deeply indebted to him. On my own behalf. On behalf of my family. On behalf of Sergey and mine enlarged, brutally, mercilessly destroyed the family of our brethren. 

It was a very painful process, the restoration of the Jewish cemetery in Seduva. When completed after a three years of hard work, the memorial site of the people who were populated the area in a over 60% proportion, and where there is not a single Jewish person lives for 77 years by now, the cemetery in Seduva had been immediately recognised by receiving Special Mention of the EU Prize for Cultural Heritage a year ago, in May 2017. The experts would tell you that there are not too many, to put it mildly, sites of the Jewish heritage that had received international recognition in this century. The Seduva one is rather an exception, sadly. And it is a very important statement, too. Especially in the country like Lithuania, with that boundlessly terrible history of the Holocaust there.

No picture, not even impressive ones taken by a drone, would give you the impression of this place unless you visit it. Here we were, in the middle of green plains of the geographical centre of Lithuania, Jews, Lithuanians, Finns, Americans, Germans, Swedes, French, British; men and women, of all possible ages between 15 and 85; powerful leaders and simple pensioners, artists, architects, and writers, and military officers, film-makers and diplomats, philosophers and IT engineers, businessmen and public figures. We all visited that cemetery on our own, nobody organised it. Our feet moved us all there  as if on their own, but in fact, it was the other organ that carried us there. And everyone who went to the cemetery, was doing it on their own way : professor Mahlamäki was staying on his own trying to measure some other perspectives than a visual ones; the Speaker of the Seimas, Viktoras  Pranckietis who is from this very place, and for whom it was profoundly personal, was washing his hands entering the Jewish cemetery in full accordance with Jewish tradition, simply, without any pomp. 

I did not know what and whom I was watching more at the moment: the cemetery which has returned dignity to my people whose sons and daughters had been wiped off life there; or the people who were visiting it on that sunny day in May 2018 with palpable respect and empathy. I thought that I could stay on that piercing wind indefinitely, without being cold for a moment. And those who visited that big enough cemetery were not in a rush to leave it, quite in dis-accord with a protocol. It was not the day for protocols, anyway. 

The Sense of Place 

We all came to the cemetery after the just finished ceremony that had brought us all together on May 4th, 2018 in Seduva. It was a ground-breaking ceremony for the forthcoming museum and memorial complex of an unique concept, The Lost Shtetl. In parallel with the work of restoring the cemetery, the same group of people led by the same man, Sergey Kanovich, has come to the idea to build a museum in that serene, on the first glance, place and to make it a memorial for the people who were annihilated there – and everywhere in Lithuania. The idea is very simple, actually. When Sergey and I were discussing the things around The Lost Shtetl, I asked him what about the film in conjunction with the project is going to be. My friend replied quickly: “About the same what is the museum to be about: it is about a life destroyed”. 

And it is that vision that had defined the location for The Lost Shtetl – two hours drive from the Lithuanian capital, at the place which has no other special attractions; among the fields of the Lithuanian plain.There are those who did not get the thought behind this location: “Who needs a museum in a middle of nowhere? A museum must be in Vilnius”, – Sergey has heard from some foreign diplomats whose imagination quite clearly did not lead far. But Sergey, his team, the sponsors of the project, and its creators from Finland and the US all knew that the current location is a fundamental feature of the concept. That  concept can be described quite simply: everything in The Lost Shtetl project has to be authentic. The creators do not allow themselves a luxury of pretension. 

According to the incomplete data, there had been 283 shtetls like Seduva in Lithuania before the Second World War. And, as we all know, there are just 3000 Jews are in the country today, in a shocking contrast with 250 000, a quarter of a million people who were forming 10% of the Lithuanian population in 1941. Should this life which has been so  thriving and which is an integral part of Jewish heritage, and more generally, human tradition, be left abandoned? If we succumb to such lenience of mind and soul, what does it tell us, those who live today and who are descendants of the people who were living in these very places in such density and such intense life? The people like Sergey Kanovich who have got the idea of restoring the Shtetl lost, the people like the private sponsors of the project who have put not only their resources, but their very souls into the process of its creation, deserve a huge gratitude.  Clearly, there are many projects of virtual memory on the subject in our technologically advanced time. Those are good for studies and research. But for the memory to become living, it should be materialised. There is no way around it. This is how a human perception works. 

I would never forget the first impression that the one of the few similar projects of publishing the map of the Jewish Lithuania in a pre-WWII period has left on me and my husband: deep sorrow of the life, talent and human spirit erased. I still remember that feeling today although there are years passed since we were presented with the first publication of such a map. It felt like a scar on a soul that is not going anywhere. 

In contrast, I also remember the first impression when I heard about and saw the project of The Lost Shtetl Museum: a wave of a warm gratitude over the reassuring understanding that the destroyed life would be restored now ; that the Lost Shtetl to be found.

It is no coincidence that the description on the Yad Vashem entrance contains the words from Isaiah pointing On the Name and the Place. In the magnominity of the destroyed lives, so many of them at the places unknown, the very meaning, or rather the sense of the place has a prophetic importance. Additionally, a place is crucial because it still bears energy of events and human presence there sometimes even throughout centuries. Those are the places where your emotional memory associates itself with your people, and you are beginning to feel your roots.  

With as many as 283 places in Lithuania for the memorial to its exceptionally talented, versatile, in many senses special Jewry, Litvaks, defining the place for the memorial was a challenge for the project team, I can imagine. Among many other factors, you should also think about the attitude of the local authorities, and of the local population, too. The positive and open stand from their behalf does not necessarily go automatically in Lithuania, after the  unspeaking crimes committed so efficiently and following total neglect for decades after that. In the case of Seduva, the Sergey Kanovich team did meet the people whose heart is in the right place. They have become devoted partners in The Lost Shtetl endeavour.      

There was also a meaningful geographical factor in choosing Seduva for the Memorial. After the ground-breaking ceremony, Viktoras Prankievicius, the Speaker of the Lithuanian Parliament, Seimas, was speaking to Rainer Mahlamäki, the Finnish master architect who has designed the building. “Did you realise that this complex will be staying right in the centre of Lithuania, exactly, literally in the geographical centre of our country? It is so very important for us!”, – the Speaker said.  It is, indeed. The Lost Shtetl would extrapolate all those 283 disappeared shtetls all over Lithuania. Both intellectually and  spiritually, it would speak for all of them. That’s why we all have had such good use of our sun-glasses on the windy day in Seduva.  

How to Build Life Disappeared?

The Finnish maestro of architecture Rainer Mahlamäki also has quite a strong point of feeling the space – especially so with regard to museums, and further on, in particular,regarding the museums dealing with history. “ I believe , and I feel, that any museum of history would not succeed as a building out of the context of the space, – says professor Mahlamäki. – I have had that experience with POLIN ( the Museum of History of Polish Jews in Warsaw), and it is fundamental that the building is a part, continuation and reflection, all at the same time, of the place where it stays. Every time when I am coming to POLIN, and I do it regularly and quite often, the sensation of the fact that the museum stands in the very heart of the Warsaw Ghetto, makes me feel special. Now, with POLIN staying there, it is a dialogue of that utterly tragic – and heroic – place with the reflections that we are having at the place today”. 

Professor Mahlamäki is quite right. POLIN is visited by 2 million people from all over the world annually, and all those reflections indeed are connected to the place of where POLIN stays. 

Recently, in the debate ignited by the outrageous law in Poland which aims to censor the narrative of Holocaust, well-known Polish artist and intellectual Dr Patricia Dolowy have written: “All my life I am living in Muratow, and after the war, there was no life there, just huge, overwhelming, haunting emptiness. Until the moment when the POLIN building had been erected there. The life, the sense, the feelings, all of it that has been whipped away so cruelly and so finally, has returned to us”

I am thinking about this essence, the very sense of making the museum, of erecting the building also in Seduva, by the same architect who related his heart to his creations, in his customary under-stated manner.The design for The Lost Shtetl complex of building is stunning. It is as if it is coming from a dream. “How else to relate the main message for this project? – tells the architect, – the one on the life gone, disappeared, the life that had been so vibrant and full”. Mahlamäki is saying that after being invited to design The Lost Shtetl, he was facing a serious challenge.  “How do you create the building, a complex of buildings that would be telling, visually so too, on something that existed in a full measure, to be whipped from the face of the earth in no time and with such cruelty? It must be a dream, and there must be a light, I thought. Actually, the landscape of Seduva has defined a lot for me in  the project. That landscape with its plain serenity and greenery is quite similar to the Finnish landscape that I feel in detail. Light has been crucial for me as for the artist in all my buildings; but for a project like that, light has become an essential element of the design” – shares the author of The Lost Shtetl. 

What Rainer Mahlamäki has created as the result of his intense search for the right outcome for The Lost Shtetl  is a complex of buildings that reminds Fellini’s images in his immortal films: it is the reality which is born from a dream, and which embodies a dream. It is gentle and loving, and it is very harmonious. It is like one remembers one’s family from a distance of years: the further on, the more gentle these memories are. 

I saw all five Mahlamäki’s projects on memorial architectures, three of them on the Jewish history and Holocaust, one on the Siege of Leningrad and another one on the embodiment of evil, the Documentation Centre-Museum of the Nazional-Socialism in Munich. Every time, I was deeply impressed by the degree of tact which the master has put into his projects. In the case of the project for The Lost Shtetl, never boasting about it, Rainer Mahlamäki was scrupulously attentive to the detail of his building from the point of view of its closeness to the Jewish authenticity and tradition. I would not even know about it at this stage of the project unless I would read some professional description of the project: “ such and such details are resolved in this way in reminding of the traditional Jewish way of covering roofs of buildings in shtetls”. Not only the architect produces the shape of his buildings in respect and commemorating the tradition of the people that had been whipped away in the most cruel way; but he is not boasting about it. It tells you about the person’s character, his depth and his attitude to life. In the case of Rainer Mahlamäki, it truly is a rare phenomenon. 

Applied Memory: To Reject or To Embrace?

If somebody would tell me 10-15 years ago that  there would be the people who would not be moved by restoration of memory, I simply would not believe it. Such a thing was incomprehensible to me.  But with my deep involvement into the sector of the post-Holocaust studies and activities, I am observing sustainable reality of rejection of the new commemorations.  

There are two aspects in this pain-caused phenomenon, philosophical and practical ones. Philosophically, there are some people who do believe that there is no way back to the life destroyed. And because of that, there is no need in efforts to reconstruct it. It seems artificial to them. To me, such disposition although it contains certain logic in itself, does have a principal flaw. In my view, the more remembrance, the better. What else can we do for those whose lives had been taken so barbarically, except to remember them?.. I disagree with this intellectual claim as too intellectual, to me. Too distant from life.

And life should be when thinking about memory. Back in 2013, my husband Michael was invited to create the exhibition for the IV World Litvak Congress, in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the extermination of the Vilna Ghetto. His was the only personal exhibition for the event. The responsibility was huge. To the surprise of many, there was not a single gloom picture in that collection whose title was Jewish Melody. Michael, the grandson of Sofia Litowska, did explain his thought behind his creation that has been dedicated to his family: “When I was creating these works depicting a lullaby, loyfer, in an Yiddish family, Kletzmer musicians, gentle Jewish accordionist under two white doves, a Jewish girl playing her cello, maestro Jewish violinist who plays staying on a cloud, I was thinking on all of them alive, not dead. I was thinking of them in their finest moments. I was as if hearing their melodies. My point is that even if all of those people did not survive the Night, their melodies certainly are. Our Jewish melody is. Our memory is. It is singing, playing and smiling. I would like to remember those people, among whom there were also the members of my and wife’s families, alive. I would like us to remember their melody, not their torment. I would like their melody to live”. I was impressed to see the people’s perception of that commemorative series. They were overwhelmed. They were grateful. They were smiling. They called it “cosmos of memory”. They understood. 

Since then, my husband’s metaphor for living memory has been proved right many times, for different projects and aspects of what I call as applied memory. Working in this field intensively, I can see that acceptance of the concept of reviving memory is not that universal, as one would expect it,  on a purely humanistic ground.

There is also another aspect of the same rejection phenomenon which is disturbing. There is a strange tendency of rejection a priory of anything done in the memory of people annihilated during the Holocaust if that anything is happening in the non-Western European countries. Some of those rejecting people are hostile to anything positive what is happening in the countries in which the SS veterans are still marching with honours and where the streets are re-named after the glorious Nazi collaborators. I do understand their indignation over those outrageous activities in a full measure. 

I am personally engaged in the fight against those marches from the day that disgust had been started. I honestly am at loss of the civilised world’s position and its closed eyes towards it. I also am monitoring and fighting publicly all and every tendencies of the Holocaust diminishing and its revisionism anywhere where it is happening.

But what does it have to do with rejecting the good things that are happening in those countries? In my view, the appearance of new museums, new projects, new commemorations are the best and the most important things that could happen in the countries in which societies are leaving in prejustice and half-truth. The more just things will be implemented in those countries, the healthier their societies could become. To create such a project as The Lost Shtetl it is to seed one more seed of good. I just cannot see why and what for it should be rejected and criticised.  

There is also another side of this snobbish outright rejection of projects of applied memory. I call it a laziness of mind. Disputing the subject with one of the critics of the restoration of memory in Lithuania, I have asked this person on how many times he was in Lithuania during the past 30 years. I tried to understand how familiar my opponent was with the realities there. The answer has stunned me.  “What are you talking about? ” he said with clear low-key’ indignation. – We-are-not-travelling-there. Not to Lithuania, nor to Poland, and not to Ukraine. Our family did not set its foot on the ground of those places since  our relatives did manage to escape from there just before it all started, in July 1941”. It was a clear pride in his voice. 

Well, – I told back – members of our families somehow did not manage to escape. Not from Lithuania, nor from Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Hungary, or Austria, for this matter. And those who did not, had been murdered there or deported to be murdered. But with my husband and with our Foundation, we never thought not to go to the places where  our families once lived. Quite the contrary, we were very interested and very motivated to go there, especially to those of the places that had been awakening from their half-of-a century communist-implemented amnesia towards the Jewish people , to support that awakening, to participate in the acts of an applied memory to the best we could while fighting anti-Semitism, Holocaust revisionism, and glorifying the Nazi collaborators. It is only now, unfortunately, that we are unable to visit the graves of our family in 

Ukraine because we won’t be able to walk on Bandera avenues, or observe the non-stop marches of the neo-Nazis there. And it is only now when the anti-Semitism in Poland has become not only wide-spreaded-as-usual, but it has become the official policy of the country run by the lunatic ultra-nationalists from the PiS party that we have refused to come there until that government will stay in power there”.   

Of course, it is a matter of personal choice to where to visit and what to support. Still, it is hard for me to see how those people who are so active in the sport of rejecting can honour the memory of our past, so tragic one, so fragile one. Clearly, a person is free not to travel, not to know, not to recognise,  but in the case of applied memory, it means simply not to remember. Still-born memory does not distinguish the people whose lives had been abrupted in such a horrific way. Only living memory does; and the whole The Lost Shtetl project is just that: an effort to make our memory the living one. I do not know of a more noble purpose. 

Contrast of Attitudes: Lithuania vs Poland

While being in Seduva in May 2018 for The Lost Shtetl ground-breaking ceremony, I cannot help but to think of my Lithuanian neighbour, Poland. Could anyone imagine the entire leadership of Poland to be present at the ceremony like we attended in Seduva ? Could anyone project such unanimous support by the authorities, both the highest and the local ones provided in accord, with respect and decency, and remorse, as we all who did come to Seduva on the windy day of May 4th, 2018 witnessed there? 

I was not the only one who was thinking that way. A very senior European diplomat told of her impressions from the ceremony: “What a contrast between the two neighbouring countries, Lithuania and Poland, on this so vital for both matters of our common history. What a striking contrast!”  Another close friend who flew in just after attending official commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in Poland just could not held his concern, returning to the subject time and again: “ Practically all speeches at the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising commemoration , from the (Poland) president to the young activists, were inflamed with strong nationalistic sentiment. Nothing like that happened there for many years when I was visiting the country. It is very disturbing; very, very disturbing”

The world realises what the situation in Poland is today like, and does not have  much illusion about it. With the unprecedented official anti-Semitic policy in Poland, the attitude of the authorities in Lithuania to the public restoration of the Jewish memory and respect to the Jewish people is quite different. I am not rosy-glassed on the subject. We know that this very matter is continuously difficult in Lithuania and the rest two of the Baltic states. It is difficult because of the burden of horror which has not been disclosed as it should in none of those countries. 

 And actually, for better or worse, the authorities’ motivation behind it is of a secondary importance. It is the outcome what matters to us today, in memory of those hundreds of thousands of the Jewish people all over Lithuania, its tailors and its professors, its musicians and its cobblers, its poets and its rabbis, it’s house-wives and its engineers, and all those children who had no chance to become any of them; those whose dead bodies in August 1941 were ploughed into the ground of the fields around Seduva and many other places in Lithuania. The outcome that would make possible for us and our children and grandchildren, and thousands of students of Lithuania would  to come to remember them with love and affection to the white dream-like buildings of The Lost Shtetl, so their souls would have the place to be remembered, in the country where they were living for five hundred years before being exterminated there.     

After the ceremony in Seduva, the Lithuanian young people, all between their 20s and 30s, had made another point: “When the museum will be built up and opened, this memorial complex will become so important for all the Europe – because where else one would be able to see the life as it was once all over here and in Europe, too, with all its features, its style and flavour?.. Creating such museum is important not for us only which it certainly is; but it is important in the pan-European context, in the way of how we today are seeing the story of the continent” ,- 30-year old Lithuanian journalist has told me on behalf of the group of his colleagues of the same age. This is the perspective of the Lithuanian people themselves, and it counts – if only because of the fundamental fact that Europe today has been formed as the direct result of the boundless tragedy of the WWII and Holocaust. 

In a re-assuring way, great  architect Rainer Mahlamäki has said about his latest creation, the complex of The Lost Shtetl: “ I can assure you that this building will be staying in a perfect condition for one thousand years. I am making it this way”. I do not remember when I have heard the commitment to memory of the Jewish people made so elegantly and so whole-heartedly. The best of it, he meant it.   

May 2018

Seduva-Vilnius-Helsinki

Dr Inna Rogatchi is writer, scholar and fllm-maker. She is co-founder and President of the Rogatchi Foundation – www.rogatchifoundation.org . Post-Holocaust is in the focus of her professional and public attention, including series of her Outreach to Humanity special cultural and educational projects. She is the author of forthcoming film and book about the professor Mahlamäki’s works on memorial architecture.   

CASE PORTMAN AND CASE KONSTANZ

Essay by Dr Inna Rogatchi on the public over-reacting on the Case Portman and under-reacting on the Case Konstanz. 

Over-reacting and Under-reacting: Case Portman and Case Konstanz

By Inna Rogatchi ©.

It is all about us. How do we react to events, and what makes our indignation to flare out. What qualifies an incident of any kind as a public scandal – for us, both individually and collectively.

In my view, what could be called as Case Portman has underlined our own perception, our own criteria with which we are measuring life much more than it bears a valuable content in itself. It also, inevitably, evokes some questions about the criteria for the prize dubbed as ‘Jewish Nobel’.

In the Case Portman, a grossly overrated actress had been behaving coldly and calculatively, as  a small trade-union boss in Ireland a century ago, in order to make a stir, to serve her political objectives and aspirations of a public figure which – she dreams – she is. And the entire country loses its sleep over it.  And the Diaspora is still agitated days on.

The Case Portman did not reveal us absolutely nothing new about the person who was chosen to be awarded. Her policies are well-known, the same as her behaviour. There was an obvious misjudgement in the selecting process for the Genesis Prize 2018, and this is the most mattering thing in the whole brawl, in my opinion.

Genesis Prize has a structure which is difficult to operate by definition. When private money meets with governmental structures, one has to navigate so much that the risk of losing the direction is real and high. It is well-known side-effect of such alliances in an applied philanthropy.

But there is a golden, I would say even stern rule, in philanthropy: you are not going to politicise it. Once it is done, the sense of it is gone and the cause is lost. I am daring to say it out of more than 30 years of experience of international charitable activities, most of them being connected with culture.  In the case of Genesis Prize, one has an impression that it has been politicised, in the way of an emphatic appeasement. But why? And what for? 

Among the five winners of the Genesis Prize, so far, from 2014 onward, only maestro Itzhak Perlman was an impeccable choice. With stated by the Genesis Prize Foundation core-line of their criteria for the Prize winners, I am at loss not to find among them the people who were and are the best among the Jewish Nation, devoted, talented and humble – such as the late Leonard Cohen ( who was among us yet for two or even three first Genesis Prizes), or Elie Wiesel  – even so that he was among the members of the Founding Prizing Committee. For the figures like Wiesel who exemplified the best in our nation, it certainly should not be an obstacle. And there is always an opportunity for a Life Achievement Award, as it had been done in the awkward case in a scheme to escape a major embarrassment over re-directing the prize from Judge Ginsburg to Portman. 

I wonder: had the list of the Jewish Nobel laureates of our times got shortened to disappearance, all of the sudden? Many of those people are not only brilliant scientists leading the mankind to its heights, but are great educators whose influence is global. What about unparalleled, the best in the world, in every corresponding country, great Jewish doctors, or their medical teams? Many of them are saving lives round o’clock under most daring circumstances. They are the great samples of Jewish values and humanism – in real life, not in its false-to-the-bone Hollywood productions of a virtual exercise of nothing.

What about great Jewish musicians for whom the Award for Excellence could easily be organised only in this very category, musicians and composers?

Ms Portman has tried hard to send a poisonous message to the Jewish world: one cannot be, not supposed to be a good Jew and to love Israel wholeheartedly. One has to be pussy-hatted hater, be arrogant and ignorant, to be worthy of ‘the Jewish Nobel’ with a couple of million price-tag on it. Well, she has to be disappointed, for the change.

Look on Maestro Evgeny Kissin. Supremely talented, unboundedly devoted, always with his people, despite all the comforts of his deservingly star-status life, he did ask for the Israeli citizenship himself, and he regards as a reward itself. I know about it first-hand. The globe-trotting the one of the very best pianists on the planet, Kissin has decided that while he is travelling, he would like to do it as the citizen of Israel, and will represent his country anywhere he goes with his smashing, unbelievable concerts, each of them being the product of hardest labour possible.

When we were in Israel at the time of another series of vicious terrorist attacks, after reading my articles from Jerusalem, Kissin wrote me back: “Don’t get surprised, but I almost envy you. At this very moment, you are at the place, you are in the midst of our people”. I love my friend for that, and if I would be set to remember just one phrase said by this musical super-star of our times, it would be that one. And everything what is behind it.

There is Philip Glass, great composer; there is Gideon Kremer who did enormously much as for the modern music, as for the state of mind of people world-wide, the same as Glass did and does. There are great people who had restored the Holocaust violins and who are playing Hatikvah on them, in unparalleled manifestation of love to the Israel people and nation.

There is Mark Knopfler, as well as Simon and Garfunkel – whose all’ contributions into the Jewish and cultural legacy in general is indisputable and ever-lasting.

There is an American living over forty years in Israel, Yoram Raanan, talented, devoted, humble, loving son of our people, true artists in its best way. Yoram Raanan loves his people, our history, he understands it and brings it out to the world. Anish Kapoor, another strange winner of the Genesis, loves himself, and his art is cold, imposing, and have nothing to do whatsoever with Jewish values. Commercial success had never being the indication of artistic quality – every student of art history is aware with it. If van Gogh just happened to be Jewish and live today, he had no chance to qualify for the Genesis nomination, he was far less famous during his life-time than Mr Kapoor during his.   

And if talking about Hollywood, if it is so strangely addictive, there is Mayim Bialik, with her unwavering support of the state; there is Adrien Brody – at least, he was honest to the bottom of his heart to playing the Pianist for us and to leave it as a great part of the Jewish world’s legacy. There is also Harvey Keitel who additionally to be a really great actor is an exemplary son of the Jewish people and modestly, deeply devoted man to the Land and the Country. 

Great director Peter Bogdanovich is there.  Mighty Rade Mihaileinu, too. Steven Spielberg who quite possibly was born to make the Schindler’s List  – and set up the vital archive of the survivors’ testimonies for the posterity – had also contributed into the world’s perception of the Jewish legacy thousand times more than a mediocre actress with a giant ego who is known primarily for her arrogance and hostilities.

Ms Portman was just good in just one role of hers, in the Goya’s Ghosts – entirely due to the mastership of great Milos Forman who directed the film. Apart of it, all her works are standard Hollywood productions, including Black Swan despite of her Oscar for that role. We are witnessing wrong and very wrong Oscar decisions so very often. The glamour and glitz does not automatically mean substance. In this very case, it certainly does not. Good agent does not make a good actor. Good director does.   

There are Jewish historians of a global importance – such as 85-year old Saul Friedlander who did contribute into the understanding the history in a world-scale, and whose legacy will last for ever.

You might be surprised to hear that, but there are even  great Jewish philosophers  – and yes, imagine, Rabbis – who are the giants of spirit for generations, world-wide. Rabbi Lord Sacks is a great example of a multi-talented, wise, deep and harmonius Jewish person who did change lives of millions. Rabbi Yitzak Ginzburg is an unparalleled Rabbi who teaches not only code of behaviour and faith, but does it at the highest academic level brightening peaks of high science and bringing the light to millions, too. Rabbi Berel Wein has educated millions people world-wide on the Jewish values and Jewish way of life in a giant and brilliant contribution to the humanity in general.

Why not to look up to the heights of the human spirit, human qualities and human deeds while looking for a laureate of ‘the Jewish  Nobel”? Why it has to be a Hollywood-sprayed celebrity with no other qualities except that one?.. 

Thanks Heaven, for the nation which constitutes 0,12 % of the world’s population, a very special, talented and bright nation, indeed, there are so many worthy candidates for the Prize which embodies – going through the Genesis Prize own statement –  “excellence”, “international renown” , ‘inspiring others’. There are so many brilliant Jewish people worldwide who are “engaged and dedicated to the Jewish community and to the State of Israel”. “And” – and not “or” – as one can read in the truly weird statement, the main principle for the awarding the prize by the Genesis Foundation:    

 “The Genesis Prize honors individuals who have attained excellence and international renown in their chosen professional fields, and who inspire others through their engagement and dedication to the Jewish community and/or the State of Israel”.

I honestly cannot get it: why it should be /or regarding their dedication to the State of Israel in the main principle of selecting the candidates for ‘the Jewish Nobel”? This duplicity is disturbing, and such attitude is exactly what has paved the way to the loud international PR disaster over selecting such personality as Portman to be the winner for 2018 Prize.

But apart of any given scandal, or any given prize, how on earth is it possible that the organisation in which structures the top Israeli governmental officials and highest Israeli public figures are present, can allow itself to declare the policy which keeps the dedication to the State of Israel as optional for the prize which is dubbed as ‘Jewish Nobel’? Why to bother to have it in the first place, under such conditions?

With an exception of Maestro Perlman, the Genesis Prize, so far, had been a glitzy thing; more conduit to vanity and certainly ‘safe’ solution in the terms of political correctness than a stimulus to develop and carry on the blossoming legacy of our talented nation – as, I am sure, the initial intention of the Genesis founders and supporters had been. Something went wrong on some stage, and it would be healthy to have a closer look into that, I believe.

It is quite understandable that both officials and public in Israel and Jewish Diaspora had been reacting to the calculated rebuke by Ms Portman to the Genesis Prize powerfully. But I am still surprised that the reaction had been so wide-spread and that the degree of engagement of people on this issue went so high. So, an arrogant person who is not Sarah Bernard, and not even Meryl Streep although trying very hard to walk in Meryl’s shoes, had rebuked the ceremony while, characteristically for pussy-hatters, keeping the money. Why everybody had been so stirred up by such predictable behaviour? The reaction does tell not about Ms Portman, it does tell about us.

In 2015 when Ms Portman in her ever arrogant way of conduct decided to teach the entire Jewish people that we ‘have to stop to talk about Holocaust’, I have made a public comment on it in Jerusalem, during the special commemorative series of my The Lessons of Survival film on Simon Wiesenthal.  A well-known Israeli and international cinema personality Ruth Diskin who was conducting Q&A session with me, had brought the issue onward. My comment was very short one. I said that ‘despite Ms Portman graduated from Harvard and likes to brag about it, it seems to be the clear, if not clinical, case of ignorance. Perhaps, she has to study the subject before coming out with her comments on it, made in its irritating categorical tone of an ever playing diva. One does not play on Holocaust. It is tasteless, at very least. One does not preach on when it would be ‘enough’ for people in Israel to remember. It is pathetic”. The entire hall of the Jerusalem Cinemateque was united in huge applauses. That was a healthy reaction to unhealthy behaviour of Ms Portman and her weird preaching out.

And actually, in all her efforts, done with such vigour, and trying so hard, she is utterly pathetic. Why to put such attention to her snub, and anything she does?

In this connection, there had been another event unfolding at the very same time with the Genesis Prize PR flop. The event just incredible in its perversion and its blatant hurt the Jewish feelings, on purpose. But on this event, we have had only one small and matter-of- fact  JTA report  which had been dutifully re-printed by all Jewish media, without any further reaction, or action on that by the public.

It had happened in Germany, in the Theatre of Konstanz, a university city on the border with Switzerland, not any former DDR place. That theatre had a first evening of a compilation of Georg Tabori’s plays. Conveniently in the producers’ understanding, the first night had been set for April 20th, the fuhrer’s birthday.

It does not matter that the play had been performed in the way, with overwhelming violence, which made the first people to start to leave the hall of the over-packed theatre after the first 30 seconds, according to the German media, and since then, people were storming out of the hall non-stop. It does not matter that the Tabori’s plays had been transformed beyond recognition, with adding Trump and Theresa May to Hitler – this low-brow approach is in fashion currently. Who cares.

What mattered is that on the eve of the first night, the theatre made the announcement and the appeal to the public. They announced that during the performance, the audience would be divided into two groups: Jews and the Nazis. The audience, not actors. The Nazi group will be given the Nazi arm-bands, and “the Jews” among the audience would be given yellow stars to pin it on their clothes. And those in the audience who would be willing to be “the Nazis”, would be provided with free seats.

There is ongoing and accelerating industry of hijacking Holocaust and perverting it, there are escalating efforts of mocking the Shoah, as we all know. But this invention really has beat up many of the sort. To think this way, to be able to invent such approach – which is after mighty uproar all over Germany has been called to be ‘a marketing idea’ – one has to be real, serious pervert. A Nazi,  to put it simply.

And this is not somebody ‘one’. Konstanz is a substantial city housing a big university, those are educated people. There is a team working at the theatre. Well, we know that Eichmann loved to play on his violin, and did love to be called ‘maestro’ by his colleagues and friends, don’t we?

Some facts about the team behind the idea: director Serdar Somuncu, a Turk born in Istanbul, and coming to Europe in his twenties some 30 years ago, is known in Germany as ‘a hardcore comedian who likes to outrage the public by his radical insults”, according to the German media. Well, the public has to be liked to be insulted, to keep such director afloat, aren’t they? The main popularity that ‘comedian’ who likes to call himself   ‘a politician’ has earned by scenic reading of Mein Kampf. He started this entertainment back in mid-1990s and was touring Germany with the Hitler’s monologues for years, despite the Mein Kampf had been banned in Germany. But this is art, you know.

His other program had been another scenic reading of the infamous Goebbels stadium speech of 1943, this time in early 2000s. He went to such invention as to read Mein Kampf in front of the former inmates of Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen – who in his sober mind can ever allow such sacrilege? But this is – yes, a freedom of artistic expression, German style. And now again, the interior ministry of Germany is examining on whatever the provocation in Konstanz was an illegal act – as Nazi symbols are still banned in Germany for public display – or was it an act of artistic expression, seemingly specifically allocated in Germany for cheap and low monstrous freaks like Somuncu.

The director of the Konstanz theatre is the man who is known relatively well in the culture circles across Germany. Christopher Nix in his previous life was an active defence lawyer specialising on the cases falling under the criminal laws demanding capital punishment. Then he discovered that he liked to play clowns, to start with, and thus his theatrical career has started. His career of theatrical administrator had been remarked by non-top scandals and expulsions from one place to another. Now he found his soul-mate in the Hitler and Goebbels’ ‘scenic reader’, ‘a comedian’ who jokes publicly in pure Nazi style.     

The Case Konstantz has both crossed the line and did show the state of mind of people who are running the theatre and cultural projects in the educated, well-to-do place, 80 years after the applied Nazism has started to divide the citizens of that big country into those who were compulsed to wear the yellow stars and those who had got a free seats everywhere, regularly.

The case had been looked into now by the German federal ministry of interior, justly so.

But what about us? Why did we swallow this screaming case with such lenience? It had been virtually passed away without any normally would-be expected reaction, or action.

This is really worrisome, to me. The under-seeing, under-reacting to the episode which implies  inhuman perception of Holocaust and sick treatment of all Holocaust victims today, which openly and in typically German way brutally insults us all, the Jews, and does it with a sick pleasure and on purpose, – and over-seeing, over-reacting to yes, utter misbehaviour of a Hollywood arrogant woman who did nothing  in her life expect projecting her arrogant ignorance. This imbalance bothers me.

It is all about us. How we react, what we are interested about, what catches our attention, and what makes us to worry. It is about what insults us and what does not; what attracts and keeps our attention, and what fails it. It is about us, our values and priorities.

In a few days, the healthy majority of the Israeli public and Diaspora Jewry would forget about Ms Portman for good, however hard she would try to remind us about herself. But I would ever remember the idea of the modern German theatre people who, 80 years on after Holocaust, has decided to charm their public with a free seats for those who would volunteer to play  the Nazis, against those who would be mandatory made to wear the yellow star for the paid tickets in that sick, pervert, Nazi macabre in theatre of Konstantz on the Hitler’s 128th birthday.   

This is what matters. Dignity, decency and the real defence of the Jewish memory, and Jewish values, in the cases when it has been violated so cynically, not an arrogant self-promotion of another mediocre actress.

INNA ROGATCHI WON X IL VOLO DI PEGASO ITALIAN NATIONAL AWARD

INNA ROGATCHI WON THE PRESTIGIOUS PRIZE IN FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY THE SECOND TIME IN CONSEQUENCE

Inna Rogatchi won the X Il Volo di Pegaso National Italian Arts, Literature and Music Award in Fine Photography category. The Award is organised under the patronage of the Italian Ministry of Culture, and is conducted by the team of the Italian National Institute for Rare Diseases led by professor Domenica Taruscio, thus exemplifying important co-operation between arts and science in Italy, with emphasis on the therapeutic and psychological role of arts, and its importance for formatting a personality and its well-being.

Inna wins prestigious Italian Art Award for the second year in consequent which is highly unusual achievement. 48 finalists in the visual arts categories of the contest had been chosen by the very strong jury panel led by Professor Claudio Strinati, world-famous expert on the Renaissance and the leading authority on Caravaggio and Titian. The theme of the Jubileum X Il Volo di Pegaso contest of year 2017-2018 was A Dream.  Inna is the winner in the Fine Photography category with her work Talking to the High which is the artist’s homage to the Nobel laureate for literature S.Y. Agnon.

This work is also featured in the Inna Rogatchi’s short art films Horizon Beyond Horizon and Shining Souls (in making).

INAUGURAL OPENING OF THE INNA ROGATCHI’S HELSINKI EDITION OF THE SHINING SOULS EXHIBITION AT THE PARLIAMENT OF FINLAND

OUTREACH TO HUMANITY PROJECT IS PRESENTED AND EXHIBITED AT THE FINNISH PARLIAMENT

The Lessons of Survival. Conversations with Simon Wiesenthal, internationally acclaimed film by Inna Rogatchi had been exhibited and shown for two weeks in January – February 2018 in Helsinki, at the Library of the  Parliament of Finland as a part of the OUTREACH TO HUMANITY project presenting the Helsinki Edition of the Inna Rogatchi’s acclaimed Shining Souls. Champions of Humanity exhibition.

The Helsinki Edition. 2018 of the Inna Rogatchi’s Shining Souls. Champions of Humanity exhibition has marked the official commemoration of the International Holocaust Memorial Day 2018 in Finland.  

The exhibition and the project which has opened the week of the official commemorative Holocaust events  in Finland has become the first one of its sort organised within the walls of the Finnish Parliament ever.

The exhibition which includes the Inna Rogatchi’s art photography and collages,mini-essays, selected documentary photography and bio-sketches, as well as the Inna Rogatchi’s famed documentary on Simon Wiesenthal is the one of the projects from the Outreach to Humanity series which are developed by Inna and Michael Rogatchi and are carried on by The Rogatchi Foundation.

The Helsinki Edition. 2018 of the Shining Souls is enlarged and renewed version of the previous Brussels Edition. 2017 of the project that has been inaugurated at the European Parliament in January 2017 in commemoration of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2017 and in memory of Elie Wiesel.

The title work of the Helsinki Edition. 2018 The Light of the Way is dedicated to the outstanding Finnish architect Rainer Mahlamäki, the author of several major international projects of memorial architecture, including the POLIN Museum in Warsaw and The Lost Shtetl Memorial Complex in Lithuania.

The Religion and Freedom of Religion inter-party Parliament Group had been the organiser of the exhibition, and its Chair MP Sari Essayah who is also the Chair of the Finnish Christian -Democratic Party, former Member of the European Parliament and internationally renowned politician and Olympic medalist, is the exhibition’s Patron. 

At the Opening Event for the exhibition, MP and Patron Sari Essayah has greeted the event’ many participants, including the legendary Finnish politicians, diplomats, representatives of the Israeli and Austrian Embassies, senior journalists, academics, businessmen, leaders of the public organisations. Additionally to MP Sari Essayah, the greetings,  Opening remarks and public addressing were said by the representative of the Israeli Embassy Susanna Rajala on behalf of the Ambassador of Israel to Finland and Estonia HE Dov Steinberg-Segev, the chairman of the Jewish communities of Helsinki and Finland and representative of World Jewish Congress in Finland Yaron Nadbornik, Chairman of the Finland-Israel Friendship Parliamentarian Group MP Peter Östman, the Guest of Honour, professor of architecture Rainer Mahlamäki, and the author of the project and exhibition Inna Rogatchi.

The Opening Event had been engaging and warm, with a large auditory of attending guests, their vivid interest and truly special atmosphere. The exhibition of the project had been visited by many people who all were staying there for a long time, watching the film, and reflecting on what they had been seeing and reading. It was successful, meaningful and rare event, according to its organisers from the Parliament and Library of the Parliament of Finland.