“Two Family Archives” – Shimon Lev, Friedemann Derschmidt
Objects of Memory – Shimon Lev
Since the beginning of the 1990’s I have been working on a project which deals with my family’s background and memories. The ”Family Photo Diary” contains hundreds of photographs portraying different aspects of the family. Through the years, questions arose regarding Jewish culture continuity, attitudes to the Holocaust and the breakage and calamity following the Holocaust.
My father – well-known professor of Physics William (Ze’ev) Löw – was born in 1922 in Wien. His grandparents emigrated from Poland after WW1, and are buried in the Wiener Zentralfriedhof, 4.Tor (Vienna Central Cemetery, Jewish section). He grew up in Wien with his parents, Nachum and Erna, and his sister – Liana, born in 1927 – until the family left surprisingly and tragically to Nazi Berlin in 1934. The purpose of moving to Berlin was to take care of the family real estate business. In retrospect, this decision which was against the historical current, ended with a catastrophic result. The family lived in Thomassiusstrasse 11, and Willy and Liane attended the Adas Israel School. In January 1939, 16-year-old Willy was sent by his parents to England with the Kindertransport in order to save his life. Being a German citizen, he was arrested when WW2 began and sent to an Internment Camp in Canada. Since he left Berlin he corresponded with his family, which he never met again. All the correspondence went under strict censorship, and since the beginning of 1942, they could correspond only through Red Cross special letters limited to 25 words. The last from Berlin was sent on the end of April 1943.
Willy’s sister Liane, to whom my daughter Tamar has an amazing resemblance, was sent to relatives in Belgium in the mid of 1939 in attempt to save her. When the German forces stormed Belgium and France the relatives flew to France with Liane, but when they received visas to the USA, Liane had to return alone by train, to her parents in Nazi Berlin. On 17 May 1943 Erna, Nachum and 14 years old Liane were evacuated from their apartment. They were concentrated in the Lewetzowstraße Synagogue from which they were forced to walk to the Putlitzsstrasse train station and transported on the 38 Transport Ost to Auschwitz, were they were murdered.
As part of the “Family Photo Diary” I have been working on the project entitled “Objects of Memory” in Wien, Berlin, Ukraine, and Israel during the last few years. I photographed and traced my father’s family locations, roots and memories. The works in this exhibition deal not with the broad general and impossible to grasp aspects of the Holocaust, but rather with facing the complex and complicated private past, along with the present personal outcomes of growing up and living in Israel. The works negotiate with the past and present, while dealing with the questions of both personal and national histories, the possibility of a dialogue with Austrians and Germans, archives, and the method by which history is implemented, excluded, shaped, represented and taught to a society.
Reichel komplex – Friedemann Derschmidt
Growing up in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in a well known Upper Austrian family, I was made to believe that I am a part of an “outstanding” family, but I was not able to put a finger and figure out why.
Slowly I started to realize, with the help of some family members, that there is a very sophisticated cocoon woven around our family, made of myths, narratives and lies about the former generations. I learned that people I truly loved where actively taking part in weaving this net of self-aggrandizement and some still do until today. Inside the cocoon I found out that some family members had been Nazi Party supporters or even members, army and SS officers.
This was the beginning of a process which turned me to be one of the family chroniclers. I collected loads of material, and started to do interviews with family members for almost two decades, but did not have a clue what to do with all the information.
My great grandfather, Dr. Heinrich Reichel, a well-known Physician and Eugenicist, played a major role in what I call “The System of the Family”. He saw a noble task in having a large family for the sake of the “genetic stream”.
He encouraged his students to do their own family research in order to learn about their “genetic stream” and to have a lot of children to continue it as he himself did.
This is a cardinal point of my project: Until today a majority of the greater family is still committed to the idea of “an extended tribal family”.
In 2010 I set up a web 2.0 platform together with my cousin Eckhart Derschmidt, inviting family members to join it. I provoked them by asking: “Did the Eugenicist Dr. Heinrich Reichel conduct a personal genetic experiment on his own offspring. Are we the result of an experiment? ”.
I promised the family members that the platform would not go public for two years (2010-2012). During a difficult and painful process one third of the extended family joined the platform. On the other hand I gained some real enemies.
Ironically, I became an antagonist to my great grandfather, doing exactly what he wanted people to do: family research. But my interest is not in “the genetic stream”, rather in the “ideological stream” of six generations of this bourgeois family.
At this stage, I started to have discussions with historians, sociologists, psychologists and so on. I invited them to join my advisory board. The process is still going on and we keep adding plenty of historical documents and other materials from archives to the database related directly to my gamily.
It is important to understand that the Nazis haven´t been just the “others” and didn’t jump out of a box like a bunch of lunatics so as to manipulate the majority. On a broader view including 19th century, and in order to understand the family’s past, one has to consider the relation between nationalism, youth movement, health and purity ideas, and most important modern science (eg: genetics). The Reichel family is not unique in this context. The model of this art project “Reichel complex” can serve as an example to other Austrian, German, and many other European families.
For people living today it is less a matter of guilt, but probably a matter of shame and I will remain part of the system, if I like it or not – there is no escape.
The dialogue between an Israeli and an Austrian artist searching their families’ past, from two extreme opposite sides, is obviously very challenging and sensitive. This joint project deals with the complexities of the conflicting aspects of the history of the Holocaust, together with the question of how we can relate to each other on this subject. It is like walking in a mines field, as every point and subject touched might turn out to be a step which results with one hurting others or himself.
Although both deal obsessively with their families past, there is a huge difference. While one is able to research using information from interviews with family members, whose lives continued normally after the war, the other can only relate to the few luckily remaining photos and letters as his family members perished. While one can trace and exhibit using continuous life in Austria, the other can only use up to date works and photos which reflect the personal family past in Wien and Berlin.
The idea of the “Two Family Archives” exhibition came up during Shimon Lev’s art residency in 2012 in Wien, to which he was invited to work on his project. Friedemann was one of the organizers of the project MemScreen, which is hosted by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. This joint exhibition “Two Families Archives”, is the result of that meeting.
Shimon Lev, Friedemann Derschmidt
Tel Aviv, Wien, 2014