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. 


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.


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.


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.

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.



Rainer Mahlamäki (C). Sketch for the Requiem project. 2017.

The First Finlandia Prize for Architecture

In the end of 2014, my husband Michael and I were positively surprised: the first ever Finlandia ( the Finnish National Award for achievements in culture) Prize for Architecture was awarded to Rainer Mahlamäki and his team for their project of the POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews in Warsaw, Poland.  I remember vividly how Michael and I immediately wrote to the superb Finnish intellectual Sixten Korkman who had decided on the Prize that year thanking him for such elegant decision. And I also remember the Sixten’s reply in which he was sharing with us his ‘joy to be able to decide and to award the really best Finnish architect of our time for his outstanding international project”.

Inna Rogatchi (C). The Heart of the Memory. POLIN Museum. The Warsaw Ghetto. Warsaw. Poland. 2016

Certainly, the very fact that the Finnish state has recognised the one of the country’s finest architects for his overwhelming memorial to a dignified memory to be staying on the Polish soil for ever, was a thoroughly positive and deeply meaningful act. I just have to mention that to chose the best architect among the Finnish colleagues of Rainer Mahlamäki is somewhat similar of trying to choose the best performing musician in Israel. The field is overcrowded with able professionals, and the culture of architecture has mighty tradition, superb craft , and is highly developed in the country.

Remarkably, the Finnish architect Mahlamäki’s is the author of several outstanding projects on the Jewish history, its drama and its tragedies, and the related narrative of the modern history. The geography of those project is impressive and meaningful: additionally to Poland, it is Lithuania, the United Kingdom, Germany and Russia.

During the last decade, from 2008 onward, Rainer Mahlamäki is looking into the depth of the Jewish history intensely. The outcome of his thoughts and artistic vision is an array of distinct, ‘speaking’ buildings and projects . Each of those projects is characterised by the elegance of its aesthetic, uniqueness of its forms, and its appealing beauty. But there is also something special which can be found it his history-related architecture: his vision of a master expresses certain philosophy, and it puts the business of modern architecture into the dimension of humanism. Unusual qualities in our times. And the phenomenon worthy of its close examination, to me.

How To Build In The Middle Of A Ghetto? The Victory Of The POLIN Museum

I know several people whose families are originally from Poland and who did suffer a tragic destruction because of the Holocaust. Those people swore to themselves never  to put a foot onto the Polish soil. They just could not touch it. It is, actually, quite well known phenomenon similar to the inability of many Jewish people , even in the third generation, to find themselves in Germany or to speak German.

You never know how the Holocaust and the war trauma in general affects individually. My mom, for the matter, who was a talented linguist speaking several languages, Polish and French including, had been affected as a child by the war and the Holocaust in the very spot where her talent laid. For her, the ultimate horror of the Holocaust and the war was exemplified in the German language. She was wounded by the sound of German speech till the rest of her life –  similarly to the people who were refusing to visit Poland and who were terrified by a thought of stepping their feet onto the soil where their families were annihilated. Until the appearance of the POLIN museum in the heart of the Warsaw Ghetto in 2013.

“ After experiencing POLIN, we can, we are able to  visit now the places where our families lived in Poland, for the first time in all these more than 70 years after the war, when our mother and her family were there for the last time,” – our American friend has told us.

POLIN as the museum, and yet more importantly, as the fact of the recognition of the Polish Jewry has unique meaning for thousands of people all over the world. When I was coming to the POLIN to participate in the important international conference on the Jewish Cultural Heritage in the summer 2016, I was thinking on that importance in the light of the phrase on Poland which Simon Wiesenthal with whom we were friendly for a long time, has told me once: “After the end of the war, the Americans  suggested to me that they would arrange for me to return home. “Home?”- I’ve asked them. “What home? Poland? It is a cemetery to me”. Simon and his wife Cyla has lost 89 members of their combined family in the Holocaust, and were left alone, just two of them.

POLIN Museum in Warsaw. Credit: Lahdelma &Mahlamäki Architects (C).

It was Wiesenthal’s colleague, our dear friend Marian Turski, the legendary Jewish Polish and European intellectual and humanist, the chairman of POLIN museum who has put his heart into the quasi-dramatic task of erecting the museum of the history of the people who were once prominent in the country and who were annihilated there with unprecedented enthusiasm, to the shocking degree of 90% of the population. Marian was among those very rare survived Jews and intellectuals who did not leave Poland after the war although at certain stage his bags were packed for Israel, too.

Many people have asked that superb writer and very fine man on why did he stay in Poland, and many times Turski was telling them on his bond to the Polish culture and people there. But then, in 2013, when the building of POLIN was well in progress on the ground in the  heart of the Warsaw ghetto, then 89-year-old maitre of letters and public diplomacy, born Moshe Turbowicz, has told so very simply as only an ultimate truth can be told: My father and my brother, they had no grave and no memorial. And now, after all my long life, it seems that they will have it’. I never saw my dear always self-composed friend Moshe  more emotional. I was crying with him.

* * * * 

I learned not to cry at the places where my people were annihilated. There are too many places like that in Europe, the shocking legacy of the Holocaust.

I had been in the places of many Jewish  ghettos in Poland countless number of times. I was researching and filming there, was walking and reflecting. I did not cry for once. In 2016, during visiting  POLIN and examining the museum thoroughly during several days of the international conference which I was addressing, I did not cry either.

But after my return from Warsaw, after that deep submerging into the milieu of the Jewish dramatic history in Poland, I did cry for a few days days non-stop. And the fact of the museum’s, the building’s location certainly had had to do with it. It was like a place of  the magnet which was laid in the centre of the Tragedy and which attracted thoughts, memories and emotions far beyond the actual place and time.

 Architect Rainer Mahlamäki and his team were facing the unique challenge, additionally to so many other major issues when they have started to work on the building which would become the one of the most praised museum buildings in the world. There were not less than 150 proposals for the project coming from all over the world, including all famous modern architects. The winner has become the Finnish project by Rainer Mahlamäki .

“ The work on the POLIN museum did open a new line in my professional career , – Rainer Mahlamäki have told me during the one of our conversations. – The theme dictated a principally different approach in creating an architectural project as such. The character of the crime which had been committed against the Jewish people and which had been of so overwhelming proportion in Poland and in Warsaw, in my understanding dictated a new kind of approach. The approach in which an allegory would become the main ‘tool’, the main way of expression”.

From left to right: President of Finland Sauli Niinstö, Rainer Mahlamäki ( in the centre), chief curator of POLIN Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimlett, and the director of POLIN Dariusz Stola during the Presidential Visit to POLIN. 2014. Credit: Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects (C).

Rainer Mahlamäki has also told me that although he had been quite well aware with the history of the WWII, when he started to work on such demanding and big task as POLIN, he realised that his knowledge on that part of the WWII “was close to zero”. So, he has read everything that he could on the theme, to start to work on the museum telling the one of the most rich and tragic history of the modern history.

I am sure that it is because of that knowledge, the willingness to have it and ‘to process’ it, so to say, within himself, the great Finnish architect came to the conclusion which is the principal for understanding of his work on history-connected projects, in particular  : “The main thing in creating the buildings and spaces which are embodiment of history, in my opinion, is a feeling of the space. And in this sense, my main objective as of an architect is to create the atmosphere” ,- says Mahlamäki.

He creates it by various means: by folding and unfolding walls in unusual way of building up curves; but opening constructions making up open ends literally; by giving to a light a special role in his buildings; even by inventing new materials for his projects, notably.

Creation of an atmosphere is an extremely challenging task, undoubtedly. An architect should be fully knowledgeable on the subject; he has to find a fine and precise balance for his expressive language. He has to be understanding, respectful, tactful when he deals with such theme in particular; and his work has to be elegant, appealing and modern. How to achieve all these criteria?

Mahlamäki found the answer in the philosophy of what he was doing : “ I was searching for  the key message which would become the main metaphor of the essence of the POLIN building and which would also work as its main narrative, helping to generate all the ideas, images, and metaphors there”, – tells Rainer.  – “And I knew that it would be modern creative language of abstract art in which that idea would be expressed”.

What was the idea? That key which in fact opens the huge space of the POLIN Museum in such appealing way that a visitor has an impression that it had been there always, that around you is very natural environment.

The idea was the Splitting of the Sea. When talking about it, Mahlamäki is smiling and in typical for him under-stated way is saying that it was, probably, quite obvious idea’. It well might be, I think, – but only if one is trying to understand the core of the Jewish history, and also the principle of making choices in Jewish tradition in the way the Finnish architect did.

I know that the people who are working at the POLIN Museum which had been awarded as the Best Museum in the world in 2016 and by many other spectacular awards all the time since its opening in 2013, are working there with a real pleasure, and the qualities of that outstanding building has a lot to do with their uplifted and highly motivated way of work.

The museum attracts millions of visitors  who all are given a special tour on the POLIN architecture, so people would understand, or feel, or both, the very important philosophical message of its architect: “Inside POLIN, the space is organised in the way that it is not only plays background to the narrative of the  perpetually dramatic history of the Polish Jewry and the unspeakable tragedy of the Holocaust; but it also enters the future for  our lives despite all the tragedy”, – tells Rainer Mahlamäki.

Rainer Mahlamäki. Photo: Tuomas Uusheimo. Credit: Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects (C).

Over the rubbles of the Brown House: Documentation Centre for the History of  National Socialism, Munich

Importantly, Rainer Mahlamäki’s journey into the depth of the Jewish history and related matters did not end with the completion of the POLIN Museum in Warsaw.  The next year after the start of his and his team’s work on the POLIN, the Finnish architect and his bureau had completed the project for the  Documentation Centre for the History of National-Socialism in Munich, for which they were awarded a prize in Germany.  

The peculiarity of that project was laying in the fact that the place for that building was also highly historical. The museum which was opened in 2015, was built on the place of the notorious Brown House in Munich, which was the head-quarter of the Nazis from 1931 until it had been bombed by the Allies in 1945, and where Hitler kept his office during all that time.

The Nazi fuhrer had a strong personal attachment to the place. He had personally participated in the drastic re-decoration of the Brown House in early 1930s, fulfilling his inclination to be ‘an artist’; there in his office he kept the  life-size portrait of the one of his rare contemporary heroes, Henry Ford. In one word, the Nazi-in-Chief did love the place.

In mid-2000s, the Bavarian government had made their mind, finally, on what they would like to do with that infamous Nazi spot in the middle of the city, and they called the international competition for quite comprehensive museum . The Finnish Lahdelma & Mahlamäki bureau took a part in the competition, as they did in many other architectural contests in Germany, very often with notable results.

Project for the Documentation Centre of the History of National Socialism in Munich. Credit; Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects (C)

In his approach to that very complicated task, Mahlamäki followed the similar outline in his thinking and philosophy which he did almost at the same time while working on his star POLIN project: while fully recognising all the horror of the place which had been the main headquarters of the Nazis all through the existence of that incarnation of evil on the Earth, the architect had created the decision for the building that would allow a visitor to breath there, not to be suffocated by horror. That building was multifunctional, airy, but not too light. The project did come out as a harsh structure which was reflecting the merciless machinery of the National-Socialism, a giant machinery which was prevailing over a life, which was meant to crush a human being.

There is no surprise that Mahlamäki’s project for the Munich museum had been awarded with the jury’s prize.

When I was telling about that his project to a hundred leaders of the veteran organisations in St Petersburg who had been gathered for the presentation of the finalists’ projects for the new Siege Museum in St Petersburg, they were deeply impressed by the fact. They got it immediately that the man who was so seriously and successfully worked on the project of the museum of the history of National Socialism in Germany, must know a thing or two about the Second World War. Their attitude towards the Finnish project for their city has changed notably on the spot.

“Compassion Has No Nationality”: Requiem, the Siege of Leningrad  Museum

I was very glad that I had an opportunity in September 2017 to be a part of the presentation of that extra-ordinary project in St Petersburg. When I saw that new project in the Lahdelma & Mahlamäki office in Helsinki in the summer of 2017, I was stunned.

I was stunned by Rainer and his team’s understanding of the way in which Russian people, and Jewish ones among them, do feel regarding the Siege of Leningrad. As I wrote in my articles on that project, my family had direct and special connection with the WWII and with the Siege of Leningrad in particular.

Two of my great-uncles were outstanding Soviet scientists whose contribution into the principal battle of the Allies against Nazi Germany had been unique and essentially important. Solomon Bujanover was the top military scientist who had invented, among the other things,  the precise bombing and its mechanisms. Solomon Elovitch was the member of super-secretive five-strong team of the leading Soviet scientists who were landed to Hiroshima within an hour after the nuclear explosion there in August 1945, to work in the epicentre of the explosion.

The brother of my beloved great-grandfather Meir, Falk Chigrinsky was outstanding Soviet physician, the one of the pioneers of pulmonology. Before and during the WWII, he was the head of the children’s department of the Leningrad Pulmonology Institute and the head of the children’s tuberculosis sanatorium.

Obviously, sick children has become the most vulnerable ‘subjects’ of the Siege of Leningrad. Having the opportunity to leave the city, Falk and his wife Maria opted to stay there with their little patients. They did save them all in an unique human exploit. Falk’s own heart stopped on the evening of May 9th, 1945, under the sounds of the Victory salute in Leningrad.   He was 60 years old.

I was thinking on my great-uncle seventy two years later while looking on the Mahlamäki’s Requiem project. There was no surprise that the Finnish Requiem was selected first to the short-list of nine participants among 40 submitted international projects, and then it was selected to the four finalists list of the winners by the jury.

Requiem. Project for the Siege of Leningrad Museum in St Petersburg.

Looking and thinking on the Finnish Requiem, I was astounded by the sensitivity and insight of its authors. I was thinking and later told about it publicly, in Russia at the presentation of the Finnish project to the leaders of the Russian veteran organisations: “The people who are not Russians, do not live that life,  and have not being exposed or become subjects of the Russian recent history, were able to feel and to express the very essence of the feeling which comes to Russian people with regard to the Siege of Leningrad, with astonishing authenticity”.

One can see in this project that special, typical Petersburg-like modesty, that crucial laconism of feeling, that contented unlimited tragedy which has been expressed with both dignity and intelligence. And beauty, too.

The form and colours of the opened spiral projects that special Petersburg dimension. The building’s reflection in the Neva river makes the project double-expressive.

How did he do it?” – I was thinking about Rainer Mahlamäki. But then I have realised that it seemed to be a wrong question. The right question was: “How did they, Rainer and his team, feel that way? How did he sensed those complex emotions, all inter-weaned and melted  into the one?”

I was thinking: “Had he dreamed that sorrow spiral which is opened, still, expressing beautifully that characteristic for the Mahlamäki’ the Open End-philosophy?

Where from, under the accompaniment of which music, and after seeing of which photographs, did he find that astounding balance between tragedy and hope? How on earth could he measure the emotional temperature that both Soviet and now Russian people evoked to by the word for Siege, blokada in Russian?”

Rainer Mahlamäki, savvy professional and a deep thinker is, at the same time , 101% modest man. He just smiles back to me. He smiles by his quiet, slightly pensive smile of the man who is submerged in many worlds.

Rainer Mahlamäki during his interview to the Russian media in St Petersburg. September 2017. (C) Inna Rogatchi. RPC Ltd.

In St Petersburg of today, people did accept the Finnish project for the new Museum of the Siege quite openly. During the public exhibition of all projects, on all its stages, the Finnish project was the winner of the public opinion and public vote, with 23 % lead from the second place in the competition.

There were some attempts of attacking the Mahlamäki’s project from certain parties channelised via some of the Russian media. Their only argument against the project was the  fact of its Finnish origin.

I was present at the Mahlamäki’s interview to the Russian TV. In general, the Finnish project has caused such interest in St Petersburg that the media were queueing to Rainer for interview, and he was the only one from the four finalists whom Russian journalists were interested to talk with.

In that first interview, the first question to Rainer by aggressive enough young Russian female journalist was: “How can you explain your participation in this competition? Don’t you think that it is a bit strange, to put it mildly,  for Finnish architect to participate in the competition for the Museum of the Siege given the side at which Finland was during the WWII? “ The young woman was obviously  proud of herself. Mahlamäki very calmly told to her: “But we were invited to participate in this competition by the St Petersburg authorities”. The journalist was shocked: “You were invited? I did not know that. Forgive me please”, – she said in a momentary change of her attitude.

As it turned out, the fact of inviting the Finnish architects to participate in the competition was largely unknown to the Russian public. In any case, the public, and notably, the veterans of the Siege, did perceive the Requiem cordially and with full understanding.

I do like it ( the Finnish project) – veterans were chatting in between themselves at the presentation of the four finalists in St Petersburg in September 2017. – It really is very good”. 

Despite winning the public vote, the Finnish project has got only prize instead of the victory in St Petersburg. It probably should be expected, given the weight of the political componenta for such project in Russia. In any case, I am very glad that very many people have read the Rainer’s interview to the popular Russian media in which he did said both simply and firmly: “Compassion has no nationality”.  Indeed.     

The Beauty of Memory: The UK National Holocaust Memorial, London

Practically at the same time while working on the Requiem project, Rainer Mahlamäki and his team of very able architects and thoughtful people were working on yet another project on the same theme of memory of the WWII and Holocaust. The Finnish project for the UK National Holocaust Memorial to be built in London had been selected to the short-list of 10 works from many participants of that important international project.

The short-list for the London Holocaust National memorial reads as an ultimate star-list of the modern architecture, and the Finnish project had clearly was the one of the best ones among those top ten.

Additionally to all trade-marks of classy modern architecture – natural disposal of the environment, modern lines, striking building – it so very clearly bears the main characteristic of Rainer Mahlamäki’s philosophy in architecture for the buildings which are dedicated to memory: light, hope and open endings, not traps, no claustrophobic organising of the space, not despair. Such vision, in my opinion, provides a possibility for visitors to ‘digest’ mentally all the horrors better and deeper , in a way of humanity, not being crushed by the way of oppression.

Project for the UK National Holocaust Memorial in London. Credit:Lahdelma & Mahlamäki (C).

There is very so often, the specialists in different areas of knowledge who are dealing with the Holocaust and the war conflicts are facing the question for themselves: how those people who has become the victims of Holocaust and survived it  were able to live afterwards?

The philosophy applied by Rainer Mahlamäki to his architectural creations on the theme of the Holocaust and the WWII provide at least a part of possible answer: it is natural for a human being to strive for light and hope, even if it is happening mentally, in imagination.

The Talmud teaches that the darkness of the dark is light, however small spark of it is present there. Otherwise, the world would not exist. Renowned Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh in his Lectures emphasises that according to the ancient Jewish Talmudic and Kabbalistic sources, “Light that comes out of darkness is greater than light that did not come ( this way)”.  Continuing the parable, the other prominent modern experts on Jewish thought, such as Rabbi Moshe M. Lieber, are pointing out that the Talmud itself did appear as a life-rope for Jewish people at the most daring moment in the history of the nation, “from the darkness of the Babylonian exile”. The one of the pillars of Judaism is the understanding that ‘a central theme in life is the transition from darkness to light’, as it stated in multiplied Jewish sources. The intention to see the light is the  desire which is the most natural for a human being. To express it in architecture requires much more than a professional skills. It reflects a certain quality of the architect’s personality.

Project for the UK National Holocaust Memorial in London. Credit: (C) Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects.

There were cases throughout the total nightmare of Holocaust when children survived by evoking in their memory a smell of chocolate back in their warm home. There is a film about that based on real facts, created by great Italian cinematographer and dear friend Roberto Olla, called Auschwitz and the Chocolate. The film had been awarded with Oscar, very deservingly. The film’s creative resolution is watercolour of a very gently palette. This approach is similar to the one of Mahlamäki’s in his vision on how to speak on the Holocaust by the means of architecture.

Rainer told me about it in the following way: “By any means, architecture is not a technical thing. As a writer is thinking on many levels while writing a novel, making an effort of stratification of his own memory, experience, knowledge and feelings with a purpose to lead his readers through that memory maze, the same does an architect who is creating spaces for memory, for a journey through memory for the people who would be visiting the spaces honouring memory, telling about history. So, an architect also creates a novel for his visitors. While I was working on all those projects, it was very so often when I thought: how I would live through those events?How I would survive myself? ”.

May be, this intentional, conscious effort of placing himself in the position and in the situation of the people who has become victims of the most terrible crime against humanity, makes the Mahlamäki’s architectural projects so authentic.

My mom was teaching me since I was a little child: before any of your reaction on anything, you shall place yourself in your mind at the place of the other people. It was the one of very few mandatory rules of my upbringing.

So I understand what Rainer is doing and what he is thinking about while he is creating his projects on history and memory, which all are essentially statements of an organic, deep, enlightened humanism. In my view, these characteristics marks him as a person and his works as architectural products with a high distinction.       

“To Keep the Memory About the People Who Were Destroyed” : The Lost Shtetl Museum and Memorial in Seduva

The project on which Mahlamäki and his bureau are working currently is a continuation of his quest into the Jewish history.

In April 2016, the Finnish architect was approached by the Seduva Foundation from Lithuania with request to create The Lost Shtetl, the unique project of a restored memory at the place at which the entire Jewish community had been annihilated.

The architectural decision for The Lost Shtetl is a masterpiece, in my perception. The compact beautiful light building looks as a dream – and such was the idea of the author. “We wanted to create a metaphor. The metaphor for the lost shtetl. The metaphor for the life lost – but remembered again, as one does in  dreams”.

The Finnish architect who is world-famous for his masterly application of light as an architectural both tool and resolution, has created a milk-coloured building which stays in the open field of Seduva immediately close to the recently restored Jewish cemetery there, as symbol of life coming back to us.

The Lost Shtetl Museum and Memorial Complex in Seduave, Lithuania. Credit: Lahdelma & Mahlamäki (C).

There is one element in that project which has a principal importance for me: the exit from the museum which is called Canyon of Memory is formed by two high white walls which are getting very close each to other creating a vertical space where from you are seeing the Jewish cemetery in front of you on your way while leaving the museum. The narrowness of the place makes your path harrowed, indeed – but the walls are white and, importantly, it is open-ending again. You are not locked in your despair. You are seeing and are coming to the cemetery, but there is white softness and light around you which is accompanying you. You are breathing. And remembering.

There are more very worthy, and unique, things created by the artist architect Rainer Mahlamäki for this particular project. We would be able to discuss it closer to the date of the museum and Memorial complex’ opening, in a couple of years time.

I am truly impressed by the degree of Rainer Mahlamäki’s personal involvement to the projects which are dealing with history, and the Jewish history in particular. To put his heart into the painful, tragic events which were torn humanity away from the human existence is not an easy thing. But it is a sign of a personal compassion, willingness to understand , and a deep thoughtfulness which all are truly ‘ a hard currency’ at any time of life and history.

Humanist of the Year 2017 of The Rogatchi Foundation

From that  point of view, the awarding Rainer Mahlamäki with the Humanist of the Year 2017 prize of our The Rogatchi Foundation was only natural. In the Rainer’s Diploma for the Award it is written “Professor of Architecture Rainer Mahlamäki – With deep respect and gratification for powerful humanism in the outstanding international architectural projects”.

We will award the great Finnish architect with this prize at the opening of my Shining Souls. Champions of Humanity exhibition at the Library of the Finnish Parliament on January 2018, commemorating the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  The exhibition is a core of the Outreach to Humanity cultural and educational project. The Helsinki Edition 2018 of this collection has as its title work special art piece dedicated to Rainer, The Way of the Light which has been created after the Mahlamäki’s famous interior design for the POLIN Museum.

Rainer Mahlamäki is the only Finn among 36 champions of humanity in this project , and the only architect there, too.

I am very glad and do feel honoured to know that man and to work with him on some of his projects which are the quest of us, living today, into the depth of the history of my people. And into the human dimension of memory in general.

Inna Rogatchi (C). The Light of The Way. After the Rainer Mahlamäki’s interior design for the POLIN Museum. Homage to Rainer Mahlamäki. Shining Souls series. 2016.



Elie Wiesel. Courtesy: Open Archive (C).

The Present Tense

In our Jewish tradition, the first yahrzeit, the memorable date of passing, of Elie Wiesel was on Sivan 26th which this year was on June 20th. In a secular calendar, the first anniversary of the great writer’s passing is July 2, 2017.

My husband Michael was surprised when I mentioned to him on the day that it is the first yahrzeit of Elie’s. “How come? Already? So quickly? It feels that it had happened just so very recently”, – Michael said being a bit baffled. “Yes, it does feel this way”, – I replied. In truth, I still am in denial of the fact of Wiesel’s passing. Not an intellectual denial, but an emotional one.

I do not feel that this man is not among us. I still feel his pain outpouring from his books; I also am completely in-tuned with his questions which have no answers. I can hear his voice, see his eyes with that unique look.  And of course, that disarming Wiesel’s smile. The smile which assures you that this world is still a right place to be despite all the horrors committed against innocent people by the ones who supposed to had some human inclinations, too.

It feels strange and misplaced to speak about Elie in the past term. When Norman Lebrecht wrote his fantastic Why Mahler? book, he decided to set it in a present tense, evoking quite a shower of critic from a conventional reviewers who simply did not get the author’s point, or rather his sense of time. Absolutely justly, Lebrecht felt the hero of his book Gustav Mahler, the one of the most dramatic figures in the modern world of culture, as his own contemporary. I am in full solidarity with Norman on his choice, and indeed, his so very special, the one of a kind book on Mahler would lose a half of its magnetism would it be set in ‘ an accurate’, from the point of view of conventional reviewers, past tense. The point here is not on grammatic. The point is on one’s sense of a person, of time, and of drama around us.

I have the same sensation with regard to Raoul Wallenberg. I just feel him as my contemporary ever since I was in my late 20s. And this feeling is subconsious one, to the serious degree.

Maybe, with the years passing on, I would be able to perceive Elie Wiesel in the way that would enable me to write and to think about him in a past tense, but it certainly not is happening now, a year since his precious soul has left This World.

I am often thinking on what has made Wiesel such universal phenomenon? There were many well-known survivors, many of them writers, artists, actors, musicians, some public figures, but hardly anyone among them had been so non-divisive and so universally respected and loved as Wiesel. Did he try to please various parties? He did not. Was he changing his views in order to be compatible to a variety of spectrum of affiliations? No, it was not the case either.

I think that the Wiesel’s secret for being loved and respected universally was his ultimate modesty. We all love modest people because they give us a room for our own existential world. In the case of Elie Wiesel, there has been a truly rare phenomenon: being completely introvert person, he was still perceived by many of us as a relative, and often as a close relative. I do not know any other case like that except another human giant, Leonard Cohen. Leonard was much more vivid and animated though, due to both his profession and his biography.

There is also another question rises here: there are so many books on the Holocaust and the Second World War, so many personal accounts. Why it is that the Wiesel’s books took such a grip of so many hearts? I think, it is because of the combination of two factors: Wiesel’s crystal honesty was narrated in his customary undertone. At the moment of horror a man speaks to himself, whispering.  Speaking to himself, Elie Wiesel did heal so many. And did evoke so many others.

That writer respected his readers per definition; he did not lie to us. His and his family’s experience were existing in the Elie Wiesel’s life in its present tense always. He felt them alive and being next to him, as we all do feel our parents, grandparents  and siblings alive does not matter how many years passed since their passing. Such is the nature of human existence.

How to speak unspeakable?

After reading practically everything that Wiesel had written, all his books of  documentary prose, his memoirs, novels, essays, his books on prolific Jewish personalities and heroes, the main question occupies my mind for years: how on earth one speaks unspeakable? 

I am not surprised at all that for more than ten years, until he has become almost 30, Wiesel did not talk on his Holocaust experience and tried to avoid the subject in general by all means.

Elie Wiesel soon after the end of the WWII. Courtesy: Open Archive (C).

My grandfather being far more mature man than young Elie who was just 17 when the Second World War was over, never spoke about his experience in the Stalin prison already after the war, during fierce anti-Semitic purges in the 1950s in the Soviet Union.

The silence of the Holocaust survivors is a very well-known phenomenon. In the case of Wiesel, however, it was not silence for life. As he did mature, he fell being compelled to write it all down writing frantically aboard while sailing to Argentina in early 1950s. The first version of Night is 900 pages, it does exist in Yiddish, and in my opinion, this book written under the title And the World Has Remained Silent has to be translated into English. We ought to Elie that much.

There is no question about the direct connection between the size of the classic version of Night and the effect of that probably the most important book on the Holocaust. Super-concise, quasi-distilled prose of Night has its sensational, bombshell-like impact on readers to serious extent because it has been so screamingly laconic.

But in order to examine the process in general, in order to know what Elie Wiesel wanted to say in the first place when he decided to let it go, it would be very important, and truly necessary, in my opinion, to publish the first edition of Night, those 900 pages in English and the other languages, as well.

Thinking back on the circumstances in which 17-years old Elie did find himself after the liberation from Buchenwald, I try to analyse his way in becoming the Reminder.

I try to put together those bits of the picture which are still puzzling me: you are witnessing the things which are beyond your capacity to perceive, both regarding your immediate family, your friends, acquaintances, neighbours, and people in general; you are shocked by the cruelty, sadism and crimes around you to your bone; you are victimized repeatedly, in myriads of sorts and ways, daily and nightly, for quite a long time.

You are brutally and abruptly forced into livid hell which stays with you forever. Being a teenager, not a small child anymore, you are witnessing the horrible murder of your beloved little sister, helpless, beautiful, innocent child, and you are unable to do a thing about it, even to scream.

In our family, my young aunt Minna who was just 18 had been murdered by the Nazis in Ukraine in August 1941, and the helplessness of the rest of my family, especially my grandmother, to do something to save her younger sister overshadowed her life until the end of it.

My husband’s aunt had been murdered at the same time and place by the Nazis and their Ukrainian eager collaborators with her entire family, including two small sons, boys aged three and five, and Michael’s family, his survived grandmother, mother and aunt were tormented by their daughter and sister’s destiny to the rest of their lives.

This kind of pain, and this kind of partially irrational but still very powerful feeling of guilt for not being able to save the loved ones, stays with us for good. This feeling has no statue of limitations.

Coming back to the experience of Elie Wiesel, you lived through an ultimate horror. You have lost your mother who had been murdered practically in front of your eyes. You saw your beautiful eight years old little sister being thrown into the flames, literally. You are witnessing your beloved father dying, being emaciated by terrible hunger and disease, being beaten and molested in his last hour in front of you, with you being kept away from him on purpose by the beasts in your barrack in the camp, not the German ones, but nice Poles and Ukrainians, and being so totally afraid of losing the last live-rope in your life, your universe, your very being that you cannot overcome the thugs and get close to your dying father who is tearfully calling for you, and this is going on for hours.

Now, how-one-is-able-to-live after all this, being seventeen at the moment of getting this outcome of human experience in a pace of time compressed by non-stopping horror? I have no answer to that question which is still standing for me.

What to do with your life for the person who had been developed  from a child to an youth being the victim of sadist murders, whose adolescence has been spent in the Nazi camps, and who is still quite young, as a young tree, to be able to withstand the horrific pressure of the nightmare-like yesterday that never ends, actually?   

I was not surprised to learn and understand from Elie Wiesel’s tormenting and beautiful books on his several suicide attempts. Yes, it comes against our Jewish tradition, and Elie of many people did know that tradition by heart and lived it with devotion and understanding. But  you do sympathise completely to his palpable inability to live without all those dear ones who were taken from him by animal-like criminals. All of his loved ones did suffer so much, they did not just pass away in their sleep. This also affects one’s psyche day and night, perpetually.

I sympathise fully to the other similar tragedies, like the ones of the great poet Paul Celan or writer Primo Levi who just could not live after the camps, losing their entire family, as it was in the case of Celan.

After the Shoah, 17-year old Elie Wiesel was alone in the entire world. How one gets up and out of that abyss? How to live with all those nightmares which are felt more real than a day-light realities?

When reading in several Wiesel’s books on his almost unpreventable semi-conscious desire to get closer and closer to the huge space of an ocean from a ship board, you do understand that an overwhelming attraction of bottomless sea could be seeing by him at the time as calming answer or comforting space with no answers needed any longer.

And then, in Day you are smashed realising that by throwing himself under the taxi in New York, young hero had no strength, no will, any physical and metaphysical possibility to live; to continue his existence in this world being so tragically and totally orphaned.

You are starting to realise that contrary to general belief that with maturing of a person the tragedy of an orphan is somehow coming to some ease. No, it is not like that, you realise with being immersed into that unbounded sea of restrained and dignified but pulsating desperately pure pain of the orphan who is 20, and then 25, and then 30 while reading Wiesel’s books.

The contrast of a huge city as New York, so ever busy, with a desperately lonely soul which is wounded and orphaned, and hangs in a blackened space around it, is only makes this pain sharpened. In some small place one could feel more comfortable, perhaps, with his own world being shredded to the pieces mercilessly.

And here he was alone in that post-Second World War world, the world which was frantically busy and rather cold at the same time. It is important to realise that for some reason, or for a number of reasons, the horrors of the war, as it happened, did not ignite much of compassion in Europe, or in the USA or anywhere else, actually. In that cold and busy world, there was that poor, hungry, tormented Jewish man who was inclining to jump into the bottomless ocean rather than to lead a merry life.

He did not know how to get married. He just could not. He had some relationships, naturally, but he just could not to start a family. That part of the Elie’s inside world has been frozen, and he was sure that it was for good.

But so very luckily, he was still going to his small and modest shul ( synagogue) in New York, the address of which he was lovingly guarding from the journalists till almost the end of his life. One guards in this way something which is especially dear to him. Those in the outside circles who knew to which synagogue Wiesel belongs and going for the services, felt especially privileged, justly so.

And then, in early 1960s,  he decided to visit the Rebbe Schneerson. It was a call of the Saviour, as I am seeing it. When more than a half of a century later I saw the footage of Elie Wiesel remembering that meeting, I could see it non-stop, because of the way Wiesel talked about the Rebbe, because of his eyes, and that smile of an introvert child who had been occasionally happy for a moment and grateful for that forever.

Elie Wiesel meeting with the Rebbe. Courtesy (C) JEM

As we know, the Rebbe who knew about the Wiesel’s grandfather, important Chassidic Rabbi in Romania, and who took a special interest towards the orphaned young writer, had been instrumental figure in Wiesel’s life, also because it was that giant of man, Menachem Mendel Schneerson who managed to convince Elie, against all odds, to get married and to start a family.

We know how happy the Rebbe was when Elie and Marion wed in Jerusalem. And we know that Elie Wiesel has put so much meaning in the Rebbe’s role in his family’s very origin that he believed that the bouquet which him and Marion have got from the Rebbe in Jerusalem on the day of their chuppah was the most beautiful bouquet in their entire life. In the way he saw it, it certainly was.

Having Love Back

Wiesel got married to his future wife of 47 years Marion when he was 41, rather late. From that moment onward, his life has become happier, especially with the birth of his only son Elisha who looks so remarkably like the Wiesel’s father after whom he is named. No wonder that Elie did love his son bottomlessly and boundlessly. He regarded Elisha’s appearance to this world as a miracle – which it was, indeed.

Elie and Marion Wiesel with their baby boy Elisha in New York. 1973. Courtesy (C) The Wiesel Family Archive.

The land and country of Israel, our land and our country, was a magnet of love in the Wiesel’s life always. Elie went to Israel on his first opportunity, soon after war, in 1949, being very young, just 19. Reading his description of his and the other peoples’ feelings being aboard of that small ship sailing for Haifa, so soon after the end of the war, Jews who survived the hell of the Shoah and were anticipating their first encounter with the land and the country which is the centre of the universe for many of us,  one is having a very strong sensation of being aboard that ship physically, and the distance of time disappears again, as it always happens in the Wiesel’s books.

Young Elie Wiesel on his way to Israel. 1949. Courtesy: Open Archive (C).

The same feeling is felt by those of us who were not born in Israel, but who were longing for it always, while reading on the first encounter of young journalist Wiesel with the Kotel, the Western Wall. It is like the most sacred things which are enrooted in him  – and us  – and which are going back to generations, were materialised in a dream-like way which was made of another kind of substance. The one which keeps you on the ground, preventing you from jumping into the dark whirl of an ocean, saving you from your desperate nights.

Israel has become a source and subject of love which started to return to young survivor Wiesel from his first visit there. His love for Israel was unconditional, as real love can only be. His pride of Israel was a source of his own motivation for his work, and his inspiration for life. He kept that beautiful and so meaningful for him tradition of keeping the Shavuot, the Jewish holiday of giving Torah to the Jewish nation, in Israel, among his friends, and he was so happy of not sleeping that special night, but instead reading and learning the Torah at the synagogue in Israel along with his dear friends there.

It made a lot of sense for Elie, because his family was taken by the Nazis to Auschwitz precisely on Shavuot, and the uplifting and inspiring holiday of receiving the Torah has become the blackest mark of his and his family’s life since he was 15. How and where to try to erase that blackness, if not in the Jewish state, among the friends, many of them survivors, honouring the memory of his parents, grandparents and his little sister?..

Similarly to Leonard Cohen, Wiesel was supporting the IDF with all his heart, and like Leonard, he wanted so much to get enlisted into the Israeli army. But they both were kept safe by the IDF commanders who knew that it would be seriously better to keep those two enthusiasts alive, not subject them to any risks, and not allow them to be on the front-lines, anyway.

The Life Returned

And then, Elie has become jolly. He was smiling and he was laughing. He was singing and he was dancing. The fountain of love did open inside him and that fountain had been pulsating till the end of his life. What had happened?

He went to the Soviet Union and met with the Jewish people there. The first time Wiesel went to Moscow in 1965. It was a love from the first glance between him and his brethren there, and that love was mutual. 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.

Elie Wiesel meeting the Soviet refuseniks. Courtesy(C) Memorial.

Indeed, we did live the life on which when I am remembering about it now, would it be during the lectures for my students or for the other international audience, I would barely believe myself relating the details which sounds quite Orwellian but which were our daily life. We did not know any other.

What’s more, we knew dead sure that there will be no other life for us being encaged inside the USSR. That knowledge defined so many people’s mentality and mode of behaviour in the Soviet Union.

When my husband and I have met with Elie Wiesel in Helsinki just over two decades since he came to seeing the Soviet Jews for the first time, we were surprised and humbled by his warmth, respect and ingenuity of his interest towards us. It also was a love from a first glance, mutually.

Although there were other precious for us meetings with Elie, in New York and the other places, during the years that followed, we both still remember our first meeting with him , dated over 20 years back, as if it has happened just yesterday.

It is due to that genuine, warm fraternity that he was so generously radiating towards us that a special bond has been formed in between us and the great writer in no time; the bond which is the one of our both’ treasures in life.

Back to the Soviet Union and the Elie Wiesel’s engagement to the story of the Soviet Jewry and the destinies of many people from that stratum, on the ground of what I know, read and heard from Wiesel personally, I am unlimitedly grateful to him for his attitude towards the people who were persecuted in generations, in big and small, who were stigmatised by the society around them on a subconscious level.

I am eternally grateful to Elie for his momentarily understanding, his generous, supportive love, his grace in noting so many nuances in our lives, characters, moves and intentions as only the one of us could ever noted and appreciate.

And then, he did help. To end the siege of the Soviet Jewry has become the 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. He did help large and he did it with love.

Elie Wiesel with the wives of the Soviet refuseniks just after receiving the Nobel Prize. 1986. Courtesy: (C) Memorial.

The attitude that the Soviet Jewry had towards Elie during more than 30 years, from his first visit to the Moscow Choral Synagogue until the collapse of the USSR and the Elie’s visit just literally on that very moment in 1989, has always been very special. Every sympathising foreigner did matter. Anyone who was helping in any way, however small, was a hero and a subject of high hopes, and a lot of gratitude.

There was no one who had been so much loved by many people among Soviet Jewry, ultimately loved without any expectations, any agenda at all, as Elie. People there knew and felt by their innermost feelings that Wiesel was a family. The family. The one that he lost, perhaps? I always did hope for that.

In any case, in my reading of the Wiesel’s life, it was his very destiny-like acquaintance with the Soviet Jewry that made it possible for him to return to life, to start to feel its colours, to remember his disappeared laughter, to feel compassion. Like in the traditional Eastern and Central European Jewish families which are wrapping their members in enduring love, the people whom Elie met in Moscow and the other places in the Soviet Union, did embrace him with instant, natural family-like aura which he had lost, as he thought, forever.

Elie and the Jews of Silence as he named them, did remember each other mutually for long time, despite the pauses in the Wiesel’s visits to the Soviet Union. In my understanding, it was his return to life, which had happened shortly before his marriage. Those three major happenings – Elie’s visit and his connection to the Rebbe, his bond with the Soviet Jewry, and his marriage forms logical line of return of his ability to live again. In surviving the Survival, if you wish.

Striving for the Answer   

I always thought and am still thinking that Wiesel’s Night is the ultimate book on the Holocaust. Many times in my head, and as I know, many other directors did it, too, I visualised the Night on the screen. I am convinced that as the book has imprinted the Shoah into the minds and hearts of the millions, as the film could have this pivotal role, too. 

With the role and place of cinema in the modern world, its effect would be colossal. I quite aware with the Wiesel’s categorical refusal for making the movie from his Night; with his utter disbelief in the possibility of his book to be transformed into a film.

I also know about his conviction on the impossibility ‘to show’ the Holocaust  in general. Of course, I do respect the conviction of the person who did live through the nightmare and who did write so compellingly about it, still believing, as Elie did, that to describe the Holocaust is the mission impossible.

He also was convinced that Khurban, Whirling Destruction, as he preferred to call it, and as the Holocaust survivors actually called it during the years after the Catastrophe, just cannot be explained.

I can see the point in the Wiesel’s conviction. Seventy years after the end of the Second World War, we are sitting with a dear friend, highly educated diplomat compassioned regarding the Holocaust, the person whose graduation work was on Paul Celan and who tirelessly works during all her long distinguished international top diplomatic career to make sure that the Holocaust remembrance is alive and adequate in any country she is posted, from the US to Finland.

My friend says: “I am thinking about it my entire life since my youth, and am lost for answer still. How on earth the Nazism did succeed to the degree we know? Where the ideology of inflamed nationalism went over its top and had been transformed  into a massive beastiality?..” 

At the very same time, my other friends, two professors of history, were debating the issue of the expectations of the local population of Europe, including the Jewish residents there, on the eve of the war, of the Nazis to behave accordingly to the known for their nation status of so very cultured and educated one. “How on earth our predecessors could be so utterly naive?” – asked the first professor. – “But how that truly cultured and education nation has turned  into such sadists in no time?”, – asked the second one.  And both were lost for answers, the same as Elie Wiesel was given that not only he had lived through it , but that he has read everything what could be read of the Nazism and Holocaust thereafter.

I know about the formulations which some Rabbis has elaborated on the still standing question on the very nature of the Shoah and its perpetrators, after many years of painful looking into that. I know also about the position of the Rebbe Schneerson on the issue, as he was asked about it by many troubled souls, including Elie Wiesel.

The Rebbe was personally affected by the Holocaust deeply and painfully, too. His younger brother DovBer, being completely helpless and on his own, had been murdered by the Nazis in Dnepropetrovsk, the city in which my grand-aunt young Minna with her immediate family, and my husband’s aunt Chalah with her small children had been murdered too, at the same time. The Rebbe’s father died of utter hunger and poverty in exile in Kazakhstan in 1944 and his mother who was with her husband in exile, has never fully recover from that horrible experience. But the Rebbe kept his personal pain for himself while was tirelessly healing the other’s wounds of the Shoah, as he did for many years for Elie Wiesel.

When you see the footage of the Rebbe’s meetings with Wiesel, you are impressed by the Rebbe’s reaction on seeing Wiesel every time he did it. The Rebbe is looking on Wiesel as on his own son or grandson, his feelings are palpable; and Wiesel’s smile every time when he sees Rebbe is the  smile when one sees his beloved uncle.  The Rebbe spoke with Elie in the way which was neither formal, or distant. He was very much involved when talking with Ellie. Every time, it was a family talk. The family talk of a cosmic importance, to me. I will always remember how the Rebbe was minding Wiesel ‘not to be angry in his books, because you are affecting so many of your readers that way”. The Rebbe did read in what was in the Elie’s books in the way that he was reading straight in the Wiesel’s heart. What could be more merciful than that?..

But I, I am still looking for the answer. Maybe, I am doing it for the reasons which are beyond rational explanation. My own explanation of my strive to get the answer is that in so many ways, the justice for the victims of the Holocaust has not been done as yet, still seventy years after the liberation of the camps which is no way had been the end of the suffering of the millions of the victims of the Shoah.

Not the whole truth has been said and become the public domain, not on the pre-Second World War development, nor on the situation after it. This maimed, distorted in many way picture of the happenings which led to the Holocaust and which has become its continuation for several decades after 1945, in my understanding precludes us from getting the answer which Elie Wiesel felt as the one which is impossible to get. But I still think that the effort is it worth of trying.

Wiesel felt himself to be compelled to examine the understanding about the Khurban, the Whirl of Destruction, one generation after. He authored a brilliant self-research and self-portrait on that called simply, One Generation After. 

Elie Wiesel with his son Elisha. Courtesy: (C) Elisha Wiesel.

Three generations after, there is enough of the people who are still devoted to that search, brilliant historians and honest, brave men, such as professor Jan Tomasz Gross, professor Jan Grabowski, professor Omer BartovEfraim Zuroff, late David Cesarani. There are the also deep-looking cinematographers, such as Roberto Olla and Saulis Bersinis who are working on this very theme as the main one for them for several decades, still looking for the answer.  There are many others, too.

Three generations after, I am still looking for the answer, too. You just cannot explain your absorption with this subject when you are asked about it. I only know that you need to walk you own way to realise the phenomenon of the Shoah. I think that each of us, the people who are devoted to the theme, do have our own, very personal understanding of it. You have to place it in your heart, in your world. And yes, it is rather impossible to place it to your mind because it does not go there.

But there is a compass of your emotional world which always moves its arrow  towards the Shoah pole, every time the theme is evoked in many of its variations.  This compass commands your occupation and your involvement. This compass is leading you, and you know the arrow has oriented you in your world.

Inna Rogatchi(C). Wisdom of the Heart. Homage to Elie Wiesel. Shining Souls. Champions of Humanity project and collection.

In my world, Elie Wiesel’s honesty in relating the Khurban’s shock to the world stays as the beacon of truth. It also stays as an unparalleled sample of humanism, after the tragedy he and our people lived through,  and the trauma which he and the other survivors were living with untill the rest of their lives.

How that utter, shattering, devastating suffering could be melted into that unforgettable Elie’s smile? – I am asking myself so very often. For that, I definitely have no answer, and I know that there is none. So, I perceive it as a mercy of the Creator and as a miracle. To show to the Nazi and pro-Nazi beasts of all sorts and calibres the answer to their bestial effort,  the Holocaust has become a source of many miracles, as we know. The Wiesel’s smile is the one of them.

But the knowledge which he did produce for the mankind on the Shoah and on a human being is not a miracle.  This is the fruit of the hardest labour possible, and this is a revelation.

It is the revelation because the first-hand knowledge and unbearable personal experience went to be processed through the innocent, good soul, and it was told modestly, unpretentiously, honestly to the bone, with a rare sincerity.

Elie used to say when people were astounded by the degree of honesty that they found in his books: “Why to start to write if not to tell the truth?..” He saw things this way. To be honest and sincere in literature it is a very demanding task. To be such sincere on the subject of Khurban is almost mission impossible because you are living it all through again and again. But from some certain moment, Wiesel knew that it would be his path, and he went through it with outstanding devotion. He thought on himself that he was not courageous enough. But in sharing of his and his people, our people’s pain and truth, he was simply heroic.

There is a quiet love and there is a quiet suffering. In the case of the Elie Wiesel, his suffering had become so quiet because a voice had gone from the man who was shocked by what he had went through. Was he telling on behalf of all the victims of the Shoah and survivors? Absolutely. Was he talking to us very privately that we see a certain person behind his every word? Definitely.

How did he reach the both outcomes in one go of his creations? Because he had guts to speak his heart out, and this language is both highly individual and vastly universal.     

In the meaning of speaking the depth of a wounded heart out to the world, and the outstanding courage of doing it; on devotion to his family and his brethren, I see the life-long work of the haunted Jewish youth from a small Romanian town as coming from the remarkable man who was loved by the Creator. My man for all seasons, Elie Wiesel.

ELie Wiesel. Courtesy: NYSUT blog.





by Inna and Michael Rogatchi (C).

There is the concept in Judaism that defines the essence of light. What makes light bright, attractive, hopeful, enduring – asks the concept? The light of the light – our sages has answered.

Leonard Cohen, our dearest Man for All Seasons, was exactly that – the light of the light. And he will be so in our memory for all the days of our lives.

Inna Rogatchi (C). An Evening Light. In Memory of Leonard Cohen. 2016.

For a mortal human being, the most difficult thing is to comprehend our own passing, our own non-being. We are born with the instinct of survival and it clashes with unimaginable sweeping horror on a thought of me-no-more. The more intellectually capable we are, the worse is this ultimate struggle. We are absolutely helpless being confronted by the thought or reality of the time of passing.

For the rescue here comes our individual spiritual capacity. Not just knowledge or even belief, but our own ability to comprehend, to accept, to become content with the state of mind and spirit which are settled on this essential matter according to our personal faith.

To be ready for leaving This World and for the crossing into the World to Come needs an exceptional wisdom and moral strength. It is a gift given to the deserving individual by the Creator. Leonard certainly was the one of those individuals, honest and loving Jewish son of his people and his G-d.

We know Leonard’s life and career in all its detail, from his first landing on the sun-crazy Hydra soil through his last public appearance just three weeks ago; his tours, his concerts, his travels and his escapes. From all this very rich legacy, the one thing stands along as powerful, as only true revelation can be. It is Leonard’s visit to Israel in 1973 at the time of the Yom Kippur War and his appearance on the stage in the super-packed hall in Tel-Aviv.

We know that the soldiers of the IDF were given special short leaves from the duties, as a reward, to visit the Cohen’s concerts. We know that whenever he visited at the time, whichever IDF unit or base it was, he wanted and asked to be drafted  – to the marines, to the air forces, to any army unit.

 And then in Tel-Aviv, he is about to go to the stage, and he cannot. He is overwhelmed. He is overwhelmed with his love for Israel and his people. This is the one of the most powerful episode of the naked human emotions documented, and we have this treasure thanks to the famed “Bird on a Wire” Tony Palmer’s documentary on Leonard. And then he controls himself, barely so, but still, he is coming to the stage where his brothers and sisters, his kin, are waiting for him patiently and lovingly. And he sings and talks and blesses them all and the land of Israel with his Kohen blessing, and you are seeing in the front of your eyes a live embodiment of a Son’s Love to his people which you do not usually see; and you know not only what the Jewish bond to our people and our land means, but how it looks, too. Plus the talent. And the sincerity. And the artistic and intellectual honesty – a very hard currency at any time. And plus that disarming smile, that chic grace, that generosity of a superb human being and a very rare man. Our Man for All Seasons, and for generations to come.

We were enormously privileged to know him, to let him know on our work and to hear back from him. Leonard did like and appreciated Michael’s Biblical series, especially his The Patriarchs and the Matriarchs one, and he has also reacted to the  Michael’s Jewish Melody series warmly calling his art, and our both art, ‘very fine, deep and engaging”.

A few years ago, Leonard was joking when saying that he is ‘at the age when he is giving away the things that he has, but this does not regard your, Michael, so very fine Zion Waltz art work which I am delighted to have”.

In his 2014 Popular Problems Album, the Samson from New Orleans song was written after he saw Michael’s Samson. The Last Song painting, and Michael is regarded this correlation as a great award.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Zion Waltz. Jewish Melody series. 2013.

When Inna created her Horizon Beyond Horizon series of allusive portraits of the great writers, composers and artistic personalities of Jewish origin, all important for her personally, she took the Leonard’s verse as a prologue for her short art film on the collection:

“Now I sail from sky to sky

And all the blackness sings

Against the boat that I have made Of mutilated wings”.

Inna’ work Heart Matter dedicated to Leonard, portraying a lonely but very warm and intense in colour and message leaf on a snow, quickly found its way to the most popular global Leonard Cohen Forum of his devoted fans world-wide, and has become the one of the most appreciated work of that series.

On Leonard’s 80th birthday back in 2014, the dear friends, founders and runners of the best in the world internet resource on Cohen, The Leonard Cohen Files, Jarkko and Eija Arjatsalo, who were the closest friends with Leonard from mid-1980s onward, and who lead incredibly important work on his legacy all these years, were thinking on what could the world fans of Leonard present to him on his 80s anniversary. The idea was fresh and everybody liked it. It was a bench at the Hydra’s square facing the sea, to be built at the spot which Leonard loved. The money for the project was collected in no time, just a day or two. The architect had been hired to create the image and blue-print of the Leonard bench. The blue-print was ready in time to be sent to Leonard for his birthday, along with the address listing all the names of the people who did contribute to the project. The blue-print and address were accompanied by the DVD of the Inna’s The Lessons of Survival film on her conversations with Simon Wiesenthal. “ I know that this is very important for Leonard”, – our common friend Jarkko said. In responding to that birthday package, Leonard wrote to us: “I have read every single name on that address”. He loved the idea of such bench-present on his 80th birthday. And he watched the film on the subject which had been always essentially important for him. He did thank us for the film with his grace, depth and friendship that always melted our hearts completely.

Michael Rogatchi (C). Samson. The Last Smile. Oil on canvas. 1998. Forefathers series.

In Michael’s study, there is Leonard’s Kohen Blessing to us which he has sent us to the one of the Rosh HaShanah, hand-written and drawn by him, the one of the most important treasures in our house. We also will be always cherishing the book of his poetry which Leonard has decided to send to us, with dizzy dedication: “For Inna and Michael, Thank you for Understanding”. Every time looking at it, we still cannot believe our eyes. We have Leonard smiling on us from his signed photographs he has sent us, as well. And being looking very much as Inna’s father, it gives us a feeling of genuine family connection, and also assurance in does-not-matter- what will be happening, there is always that special smile of that superb mind and that precious heart of a very rare man and exemplary Jew.   

In a special and unique way, Leonard Cohen was the Ambassador-at-large of  Jewish people to the world. He was beloved and followed by millions, the vast majority of whose is not Jewish. He did not push his belief or convictions ever, but he never hide it either, and so much of the essence of Judaism, the Torah, the Psalms, the important moments of Jewish history and Jewish psycho are presented in his poetry and music, in organic and noble way. We do not know any other modern poet and musician who had brought out to the world, to the vast global audience such steady Jewish message in such elegant and appealing way for the millions. From this perspective, Leonard Cohen during his over 50 years career, did help to enroot the best of the Jewish soul into the world around him, and to make all those millions of his fans to get the message, to think, to reflect, to accept, to like, to become interested, and , what had been most important for Leonard – to understand. This is invaluable service for his people, and we will always remember it.

Inna Rogatchi. Heart Talk. Homage to Leonard Cohen. 2014.Horizon Beyond Horizon series.

Another thing which has been unique in Leonard is his love for people in general. It is incredibly rare to find a star of the international fame who had been so human, so warm, so friendly, and so respectful to people both in his near proximity and towards his giant audience. We have not heard any other super-star who would always, just always, address to his audience anywhere on the planet as to ‘Friends’, exclusively so. And he meant it. People did feel it and paid Leonard back with sincere love. The love which he did generate himself. It is a very rare ability of a man, to generate such amount of love – and to keep all his humour, and that classy under-tone, and that effortless style at the same time. He was a phenomenal guy, our dearest Leonard. The hardest word here is ‘was’.

Coming back to the ultimate struggle of mortal us with the prospect of our departure, to be truly ready for that is a unique accomplishment, the most important achievement which one can hope to get in his life. Leonard was blessed to have it, due to his merits and his service to all of us, to millions who loved him for a half of a century of his career.

But to make this readiness public, to have that incredible moral strength to share it with anyone – as he did in his last album You Want It Darker and the title song of the album, his public good-bye to the millions who loves him, that is the courage of a very special kind ( the essay You Want it Darker – We’ve Got it Shining can be read here ).

We just cannot imagine what does it take from rather reflective and introvert person as Leonard was, to make the innermost of his fears and doubt, his pleas and quests, his thoughts and cries public, to share the core of the process of departing with the rest of us. Why it is important? –one may ask. Is it not the most private business of all? – the other can put a question.

It matters enormously because it helps to the others. Because we learned from a big man how to cope on that most intimate and endlessly sad road.  What Leonard did just very shortly before his passing away, was his last act of mercy towards his huge world audience; his affectionate and brave goodbye to us all. He always knew precisely what he is doing, and what for. In a paradoxical, markedly Leonard’s way, Leonard, knowing on his own soon departure was given us the rope, the life-line, the knowledge on how to cope with the Ending.

And then – he came back to us, a day after the release of his last album, on a special occasion which happened to be his last public appearance, with his gracious elegance and that unique smile. This time, this only time, it was Leonard who was without his fedora hat, and it was his son Adam who was with fedora. The sign was there, and it was put on beautifully. 

We will always remember his smile at that last public meeting on October 23d at the Canadian Consulate in Los-Angeles where he was so generous to his public, in the wider context too, to all of us, with his jokes and his promises ‘to live forever’, to calm us all down. This smile stays in front of our eyes since we saw our dearest Leonard, as it happened, the last time.

The Nobel Prize, you’ve said? Why not Leonard Cohen? – were so many voices. Nobel Prize what? – we are saying. What prize can be awarded to the man who is marked with the attention of the Creator? What human prize could be given to the true Kohen? He spoke with Creator, and he heard the Answers. We saw it in his trade-marked heart-shaped Magen David blessings, too.

Leonard who never behaved princely in a daily life was above very many of us in many respects. Even in his organic modesty, he was superb and brilliant. As a man and an artist, he was a huge gift to us all. A gift from Creator.   

We all are orphaned, and this loss is beyond repair. But the man, the poet, the bard, the Kohen who was the light of the light himself, is inseparable from millions who are mourning the fact that his way in this world has ended. As inseparable, as the light of the light is inseparable from the light.

So long, Leonard, so long.

Judaism explains that a person is departed from This World at the time when the soul which is inside his body has completed its mission on the earth. Being well educated in the Jewish theology, Leonard certainly was aware of the process – and he was blessed with the Creator’s sign of the knowledge of the time of his own departure. This is happening only towards the best, the most remarkable of the Jewish people.

But for us who are left orphaned with him no more, it is very tough. That man was creating so much new, special and unique: his humour, those phrases, always unexpected, that blink of his eyes, that impromptu reactions, that living fountain of human expressions, engaging, attractive, loving, funny, absolutely irresistible ones. Leonard was the Master of Longing.  We are longing for him since the hour we have learned on his passing away. We are longing for him every day without him more and more. We are longing for that vivid, wise and easy presence of warm, special, and unique man among us.

Leonard and Adam Cohens at the Leonard’s lat public appearance.

As Leonard has put it in the one of his poems,

“This is not silence

this is another poem”

This is how we feel the void he left behind him.

The news of the Leonard’s passing has come to the world on the Shabbat eve, erev Shabbat. On Shabbat, we shall not cry. We will try, by remembering your smile, dearest, great, beloved Friend.


ANDRZEJ WAIDA. FINALE WITHOUT ENDING. IN MEMORIAM. by INNA ROGATCHIANDRZEJ WAIDA. FINALE WITHOUT ENDING. IN MEMORIAM.  By Inna ROGATCHI (C). Wajda’s contribution into our very being had been so really huge and profound that it could be overseen and attributed to a natural environment. He was lucky to live a long and so productive life that has affected, formed, influenced so many of is in various parts of the globe. We were very lucky to have him and to learn from him in so many different ways, humanly, artistically, and philosophically.

Inna Rogatchi (C). From a Krakow Window. Homage to Andrzej Wajda. 2011-2013. Shining Souls. Champions of Humanity series. Fine Art Photography. Limited Edition.

Wajda’s share in the world of cinematography is giant, rare and so brilliantly unique. It could and would be compared with the Fellini’s legacy. Of course, the both Maestros are giants who has transformed a movie into a world, a space encompassing all existing and not existing dimensions, with ageless time having the leading role always. But my beloved Fellini was fortunate not to live the real life soaked in pain so inevitably, as his destiny has prescribed it to Andrzej Wajda. To keep all his pain, the pain of his family, and the pain of his country restrained for 70 years, a life-time, and then to unleash it with such dignity and elegance as he did it in Katyn, Andrzej Wajda did teach us one more lesson. The lesson of dignified memory that his father and all murdered Katyn officers did deserve so much. He painted his love to his father and his nation in meticulous, merciless, breath-taking way. He left no room for escapism. His judgement was fair and ultimate. He has made his pain classic. As true Masters do. We owe him so much that sometimes we do not remember that to a large degree it is due to his vision of the world we are who we are. But on the days like this, we do recall it. We really do. And it all comes back: his heroes, his visions, all those scenes, and – all those ending. The classic Wajda’s endings which are continuing all your life since you’ve saw it once, which are becoming a part of you. A part of us. A part of the world in which he lived, created and understood so painfully beautiful. Art work: Inna Rogatchi (C). From the Krakow Window. Homage to Andrzej Wajda. 2011-2013. Shining Souls. Champions of Humanity series. Fine Art Photography. The exhibition of the Shining Souls. Champions of Humanity series will be shown at the European Parliament in early 2017.




THINKING ON LEONARD COHEN on his birthday and the eve of Rosh HaShanah 5777.


On his 82nd birthday, which was September 21st 2016, Leonard Cohen released a single You Want it Darker, the title song of his new album with the same title, and the same message, seemingly.

The song is performed together with cantor Gideon Zelermyer and Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir in Montreal.

The effect of this Leonard’s deed – the song, its release, its performance, its lyrics, the way of performing it – is huge and reverberating.

After this very special single’s release, everyone is picking up the things which are closer to one’s heart: music critics are jumping on ‘mesmerising’ side of the song and performance; Leonard’s ever faithful fans embracing it as it is, and cannot help themselves but to think on the recent pass away of Marianne; wide Jewish public is attentive to the strongest possible connection to the core of Jewishness in this addressing to the Creator by the one of his very best sons.

I personally am completely taken by the Leonard’s smashing honesty and his immense courage. We know that those are his qualities, but this time, it is not about qualities. It is about the Heart of the Matter. And he did it in the best way imaginable.

As in our famous Rose of Thirteen Petals, a Kabbalah-based concept of complex and inter-depending view of the world and the place of a person in the layers of realities, both Leonard’s honesty and his bravery in the You Want It Darker-deed are far from being one-dimensional. It never is the case for Leonard, anyway, but in the things that straightforward as honesty and courage, more than one dimension is a luxury, and here, with multi-dimensional layers of it created and carried on by Leonard, we have a super-indulgence of human spirit and its strength.

I admire and salute our dearest Leonard for his human bravery, for his intellectual honesty, for his artistic finery and simplicity of the richest kind. I also am overtaken by his courage in bringing utterly innermost things to the stage open to the world – as the only real, exemplary kohen, the member of the priestly family in Jewish tradition, is able to do. And many in this world are learning from our dear Leonard in many things beyond music.

The thinking of his heart is absolutely honest, and it shines in all its darkness now when Leonard has come to the hardest thing to do for anyone; when a person comes – mentally, to start with – to the ultimate edge between the two worlds, this one and the World to Come. We all have our way to deal with it. Or we have not. To make it public – and beautiful – is given to very handful of us, the beacons for the rest of us. It is not just a blessing of the best of our priests. It is the act of courage in all its disarming sincerity. It is ultimate mercy of a big person.

Also, the honesty of the Leonard’s quest on the balance while coming to that very thin edge in between the two worlds: “You Want It Darker – We Killed the Lights” is the exemplary of the sharpness of the mind and the honesty of the admission.

The essence of the Judaism doctrine lays in comprehension of human responsibility for our thoughts, intentions and actions. Leonard brings it out on his 82nd birthday with no-nonsense sharpness. But being who he is, with his unique heart, the Master puts the sharp truth into the beauty of the voices of the Jewish choir and his cantor whose music gets the Leonard’s words up. And Up.

Inna Rogatchi. Heart Talk. Homage to Leonard Cohen. Horizon Beyond Horizon series. Fine Art Photography.

The Leonard Cohen’s 82th birthday song You Want It Darker is a great lesson on Light. After listening your sounding lesson, every word of it, I just want to tell you, dear Friend: You Want It Darker – We’ve Got It Shining.

Thank you, dearest Leonard. You are Our Man for generations to come.

(C) Inna Rogatchi, September 23, 2016.