Past is Prologue

 

When I began this body of work about my family eight years ago, I wasn’t certain what it was, or  what it wanted to be. Did it have relevance, or was it simply one more narrative in the long collective history of the Jews in Europe with its periods of uneasy rapprochement culminating in the inhuman denouement of World War II?

 

Art if it is to hold more than the characteristics of a museum piece must speak to the present generation; not solely with regard to Shoa, but what it means to be human at all.

 

It may seem a long stretch from life here in the United States to the story of one family born in Lithuania, who lived there over a century ago, who came to this country under duress, and whose story there ended in the fields of Paneriai. Yet generations later that landscape still echoes from the consequences of a war and of a people whose actions were driven by a national idea of themselves.

 

It is my hope that this exhibition raises questions about ideas, beliefs, and the power of ideology as cosmology. With that in mind, I renewed my sojourn into the corpus of collective memory, into the story of family, identity, migration, loss, and celebration.

 

In the arc of our lives, past is prologue, and it is left to each generation, as Hannah Arendt once said, to stand “committed witness” to what is before us.

 

The words I wrote in 2011 seem more prescient than ever.   Today, in our nation, the current administration is tearing families apart, ruthlessly deporting immigrants who have lived and worked here for a generation, continues to stereotype and threaten Muslims, and gives tacit cover to white racist nationalists.

 

Anti-Semitic attacks have surged 90% in the first three months of 2017. When the nationalist slogan of “America First” with its fascist lineage   has become the rallying cry of many of our fellow citizens, our very notion of national identity is called into question. We must ask ourselves who we are as a nation. Do the words of Emma Lazarus still mean anything?

 

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

i lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

 

Are her words still a part of the American or Jewish conscience?  Or have we forgotten history that easily.

 

I have always envisioned this work to be a starting point for discussions about the historical signposts that lead to barbarity. The question I ask myself today – “Are we here  today on that edge?”

 

 

 

 

 

Please contact Barbara Michelman for more information.