By Amy Powell
“Blood memory is a term I use to describe my experience as a member of the ‘second generation.’ I did not directly suffer or even witness the horrors of the Holocaust, but they live on in me nonetheless,” says artist Lisa Rosowsky, whose selected work is on display in an exhibit titled, “Blood Memory: A View from the Second Generation,” now in the Kniznick Gallery of the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University.
Rosowsky described childhood with her father, a French Jew, who was hidden by a gentile family during the Holocaust. Her father, Andre, had little notice before he was placed with his father’s boss and never saw his parents again. “Just before the invasion of France, they had a warning and they were able to put him into hiding,” Rosowsky said.
Ultimately, Andre was raised in the U.S. by his Aunt Raya, his mother’s sister. He did not share his memories with his own children. As Rosowsky grew up with only the barest outline of what happened to her father, she filled in the blanks with her own imagination. But, when she was in graduate school at Yale and visited her aunt, she received a precious gift.
“I was almost out the door and she handed me a 40-page typed manuscript with all the memories,” Rosowsky said. Her father wrote it when he was in the sixth grade. “It was the most incredible gift for me, filling that hole I had all my life,” she said.
Rosowsky published the manuscript in hand-bound books for the family, but she was not finished. Later, she rented studio space and “thought I might have something to say.”
With little experience in fine art, she started to create. Her work felt “divinely inspired,” and every time she thought she had bottomed out, another piece of art formed in her head.
Creating art has had a healing and calming effect. “It has made me happier and more confident,” she said. The use of black, white and gray is “powerful for me and the soft tones allow the meaning to come out.”
The Angel of Auschwitz looms over the gallery from the ceiling. With a wingspan of 12 feet, the Angel bears witness. The wings, made of barbed wire, bear the inscription, “Tod Macht Frie,” meaning “Death Will Set You Free.” It references the inscription above the entrance to Auschwitz, “Arbeit Macht Frei,” meaning “Work Will Set You Free.”
The Raitzyns, a quilt made of cotton voile, rayon, leather and suede, uses the family photos and incorporates the collection of gloves left to Rosowsky by her Aunt Raya, who raised her father. On the quilt are pictures of the 11 Raitzyn sibings along with assorted spouses and children. The white gloves indicate survivors and the black gloves are for those who perished. The lower right quilt block contains a listing of those in the family who were deported, their ages, convoy numbers and the dates they arrived in Auschwitz.
Toile de Camps is wooden chair with a fine cotton-linen upholstery containing sketches of different concentrations camps. The piece was inspired by Rosowsky’s trip to Auschwitz and Poland where she witnessed instances of Holocaust tourism, including “Hebrew signs and Jew dolls dressed like Chasids that were definitely not cool.” At the same time, this Holocaust commodification made her wonder if her own work differed.
“I made a piece that dealt with my emotions,” she said. “I made a toile with some black humor to it.”
Traditional toiles were fabrics, which celebrated and idealized scenes of everyday life, recognizable places or famous historical events and people. At first, this chair is another charming toile, but closer inspection reveals it’s dark side.
Blood Memories is on display until March 7. The exhibit is free and open to the public. For hours, appointments and more information, go to www.brandeis.edu/wsrc.
Amy Powell is the HBI communications director.