Some of Pier Marton's recent lectures include
The Body of Knowledge: Successful Holocaust Films and their Doubles
(Yad Vashem, Israel)
The Holocaust in 1,000 Years
(St. Louis University/Fordham University, NYC).
He has also produced the videotape Say I'm a Jew with a parallel video installation, JEW, which have toured the U.S. through many museums and galleries.
Cf. University of Minnesota Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies
University of Tennessee
- with a few links needing updates -
For many years now, he has regularly introduced films at the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center in St. Louis.

The most remarkable achievement ... not a moment is wasted, nor a word...
It is the wonder of Mr. Marton's film that his young people heal their wounds almost before our eyes. They end not as victims, but as exemplary human beings. And we leave convinced that - to quote again from Mr. Marton- "nothing short of complete healing is required of all of us." This, if ever, is a film that justifies the title of the show -"Video Art and Identity."

Individual identity, individual healing, individual transcendence are his subjects. It deserves a much wider audience.
John Russell in the New York Times

Two related and published texts: Singing at the Ghetto's Gate & A Plea Against the Fluff,
and an interview in the St. Louis Jewish Light.


I start with a quote by one my father's favorite writers, the Nobel prize winner, Romain Rolland:
There are some dead who are more alive than the living.

My name is Pier Marton, I was born and grew up in Paris, five years after the war.
My parents' stories of survival are stories of resistance.

The odds and the times were against you two, but between luck, being politicized and smart, you both managed to make it.

Papa: in 1937, you left Budapest, Hungary for Paris, to establish your second studio of the artistic Modern Revue, which was to have offices in Budapest, Paris and New York. You advertised your artwork in Esperanto (the language which means "one who hopes," created by another Jew, Dr. Zamenhof, an ophtalmologist from Bialystok, a man of great vision).
You had designed some stamps with the star symbol for Esperanto. You hoped Esperanto could become the universal language of the future, to eliminate like communism, the injustices and the misunderstandings between people.

It needs to be clear, there was no such thing as "The Holocaust," we spoke of "the war" throughout my childhood.

I remember you telling me, I was possibly 8 years old, about the bullets flying by your head as you were waiting for the German convoy that you were to ambush, right from the rooftop of that last building you moved into, to escape arrest.

That's the building I grew up in, where we lived below the roof, in an artist's studio that had been vacated because it was too close to a munition factory, and in danger of being bombed.

I remember being amazed by looking at the sawed off metal bars by the window in the loggia, the small room where we all slept and where one could not stand up because of the low ceiling.
If someone was going to arrest you, the escape route was clear: it would take a second to lift off those metal bars. To a casual observer they looked normal, but if one looked very carefully, black paint was hiding the cuts. They remained there throughout the 21 years I spent in that apartment: reminding me of the need to have both vigilance and an escape route.

At another time, you told me that the police interrogated you and that they released you.

You also spoke of hearing the police going through another apartment you had lived in, Rue Daguerre, as you were walking up the stairs.

I remember seeing that photograph of you with the medal you received upon the liberation of Paris.
But you did not expand, I had to fill in the many gaps.

One cannot ever know the life of another, do we even know our own lives?

Many years later, in a book by the famous Spanish writer, Jorge Semprun, strangely enough, there was a character with my name, as Semprun describes a resistance network in my own street.

As a curious child, going through the closets I did find a book, the most horrible book I was to ever look at, with piles of mutilated and sawed off bodies, collections of tattoed skin [I let youimagine the rest].
It established for me the need for solid documentation of human rights abuse.
THERE, was one of the loudest screams emanating from these pictures, a sound that says in the most urgent manner, WAKE UP, something terrible was happening, and is CONTINUING TO HAPPEN.
OPEN YOUR EYES, even if it is difficult and painful.

From time to time, we visited that family in Freiburg. You had hidden the father, Henri, a German deserter. But we did not speak about the past, we were in the present.

Later, the puzzle came together further when the letters you had mentioned, "FTP-MOI" became those of the notorious network, mocked by the Nazis in the famous Red Poster, characterizing the resistance as Jews, foreigners, and communists - which in your case was completely true.
Those 23 who were arrested and executed by the Germans were immortalized by the famous French song, L'Affiche Rouge.

Maman: your trust in people was repeatedly broken. It might have started as a kid on a tramway car in Kiskunfelegyhaza, the small town in Hungary where you grew up, when you had asked a stranger for the time. He had answered: "I don't have to tell Jews the time."

You did not volunteer much, you did not want to talk about any of this ever. I think you wanted for us to walk straight, trust the world.
You did not speak much, but when you spoke, you meant it.
You would say: Alles ist halb so wichtig/everything is half as important, which you attributed to Ernst Toller, the left-wing Jewish playwright.

Like for most children of survivors, WHAT WAS NOT SAID had the most impact.

One could say that we received the war, like our mother's milk, through our body (the transfer was not through words).
Our history books and our lessons: how we all breathed, how we walked, and how we used our brain... and even how we smiled. We became specialists in the topic. Our bodies were the place where we heard the stories.

We had to know what to ask to get answers. That's how you told me that you had to step over so many cadavers when walking on the streets at the liberation of Budapest.

For the sake of time, I will ask you to read the stories which are described on the panels outside in the lobby.

These are stories I heard for the first time as my mother spoke to a TV crew when we were both in Salt Lake City for the opening of my video installation "JEW."

The message was clear: work for the public good and do not trust the powers that be... a politics of non-politics.





I will start with a quote by Martin Buber:
All actual life is encounter. Only where all means have disintegrated, encounters occur.

But first, thank you Marci and the committee members to allow me to say a few words about the Holocaust, my father and my mother.

The Holocaust is like a stone in one's stomach, not to be digested, because it is not digestible, never to be understood - which is not an excuse not to ferociously study it.

Yes, once a year, we gather to remember.
We say words, sometimes many words... but do we not in fact hide behind our words and our tears?

Are we able to be here and there where no one would ever want to go back to, or re-live it in any way?
We are here to be truly disturbed (beyond this moment, beyond these walls).

SO disturbed that we do everything in our power to say not just "never again," which has often been used as a blind rally cry, we are here because we know that deep down, we are to be forever disturbed.

Violence, pain, injustice, racism which were as legal as the law itself, those things travel too well across time.
Unfortunately it is not about the Christians, the swastikas or the Germans... not anymore than it is about the Arabs or the Muslims.

Part of our problem is that we are at the mercy of the unfortunate desire to be comfortable, to avoid difficulties. There is after all an entire media industry perfecting our need to distract ourselves... and supported by all kinds of gadgets.

We have to content ourselves with small truths as Primo Levi says in an "auto-interview:"
We must be cautious about delegating to others our judgment and our will. Since it is difficult to distinguish true prophets from false, it is as well to regard all prophets with suspicion. It is better to renounce revealed
truths, even if they exalt us by their simplicity and their splendor, or if we find them convenient because we can acquire them gratis.
It is better to content oneself with other more modest and less exciting truths, those one acquires painfully, little by little and without shortcuts, with study, discussion and reasoning, those that can be verified and demonstrated.

We are doomed to remain unsatisfied, unsatisfied because we can never express what needs to be expressed, what needs to be opposed, what needs to be known.
Ceremonies have their place, but they should disturb us... into action.

I will not tweet about the Holocaust, but my five minutes here can only point to anything, that's all we can ever do.
And point to the fact that the boundary between the living and the dead is very small.

Yes, we are a small minority, we the living, with our ceremonies and decorum.
The dead just lie there, without pomp, silent forever. But we... we speak, and gesticulate.

But we will be lost without our humanity, the bridge that has to carry us across time, the living and the dead.
We cannot speak anymore only of our people, as much as it is necessary to do so.

I notice that that which is for me the most evident of realities has become for them, history.  Stefan Zweig/Je remarque ce qui est pour moi la plus évidente des réalités est devenu pour eux de l'histoire. Stefan Zweig.

A Romanian artist, Marcel Janco,  describing Bucharest in 1941:
Animals kill, but do not mutilate the corpses, as the corpses of these innocent victims were mutilated. Tongues were cut out, eyes gouged, fingers and hands severed, the skin flayed while the victim still lived. Bodies were
hung on hooks in the abattoir and the word "Kosher" was scrawled on them.
Bodies with stab wounds in various places, decapitated trunks, limbs torn out…

To live today, comes with a heaviness that feels like some "too much" and yet we need to be here, Right there where the past and the future come together into a pregnant present, full of possibilities.
The future that happens has to be one somewhat closer to the one we hope for.

As the son of Holocaust survivors, complacency and co-optation have been my main enemies.

My father survived the obligatory wearing of the Jewish star which he never wore, the round-ups by the French police. He survived an interrogation by the police, even though he made false papers and anti-Nazi flyers and drawings, he
hid the German deserter who remained our friends for life. When awaiting on the rooftop of the building I grew up in, he survived the bullets that flew by his ears, but he did not survive a brain hemorrhage at age 55.

My mother survived the many attempts to have the Jews register themselves as Jews, she survived in one windowless room with her three sisters and my cousin a baby who was known not to cry at the appropriate times, she survived the
German guards by the entrance of the building, she did not swallow the cyanide capsule she carried as she convinced the Hungarian gendarme to let her go as she convinced him that the Russians were approaching, she moved downstairs
from a second story building, the night before it was bombed, later she survived the Russian soldiers.

A friend and filmmaker in Paris wrote me recently that his family had been victims, "not heroes" like mine. I wrote him back that being killed for being different is heroism too.
Resisting is being willing to struggle.
The people Yisrael, the people who are willing to wrestle with G-d, that's what is in that name.
Find something good but difficult to do, and explore that. That will test your resistance.

I am more than a Jew. I am more than a living person. I am a dead person. The burden of the past has to be carried on our exhausted shoulders, but so should the future, which is at least as heavy as the present is.

We never compare. Comparisons are not needed. Instead we open our blinders and expand the scope of our concerns, our humanity, so that to our vigilance and our cries never end.

A recent NYTimes article mentions the conversations of two soldiers on an aircraft, about to bomb among others a Reuters cameraman whose camera, from above, was mistaken for a gun: Look at those dead bastards, one said. Nice, another responded.

Psychologists with good intentions "excuse" them for the distance necessary to kill.

The number of dead (in the millions) -Stalin, Hiroshima, Pol Pot, Rwanda, Sudan, Congo, Iraq/Iran War,
Iraq, Afghanistan... 2 million dead Vietnamese, 58,000 dead US soldiers.

It is clear by now that I like quotes. I will end with three:
Before you know what kindness really is – You must lose things... Naomi Shehab
Nye (a Palestinian-American writer)
Suffering is the unique reason behind consciousness. Dostoïevski
but Flaubert provides the appropriate ending:
The passionate desire to conclude is one of humanity's most pernicious and
sterile manias.

Below are Jewish Résistance Fighter panels I gathered materials and did research for (with the assistance of the USHMM).
In that context I designed also two large panels for my parents:
my father Ervin Marton
my mother Martha Marton.

All Photos © Kristi Foster