After being exhibited at Chicago’s Spertus Museum and Berkeley’s Judah Magnes Museum, JEW became part of Witness and Legacy, created by Dr. Stephen Feinstein, the late director of the University of Minnesota Minneapolis Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
One of its many venues was The University Art Museum (Albany, NY).
W&L toured 17 US museums and galleries.
JEW is now owned by the Florida Holocaust Museum.
AFTER ALL (50 years later)
“. . . only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation be safely built.” – Bertrand Russell, 1923
Me too, I would rather not look.
Too much familiarity, my grandmother was
In my body. Zyklon gas was an improved
form of killing.
Do I, like a drunk pleading to forget, engage with the digital modernity? TV brain lures with stories and theories, sensation when there is none.
The body is missing. I work on TV,
taming it before it lulls me. Each cut, a wake to awake.
It takes repetition, the killing was repeated.
Is repeated. Over.
– Pier Marton, 5754/1994
FROM THE WITNESS AND LEGACY CATALOG
- Pier Marton is a second-generation artist who has wrestled with problems of his parents’ survival and the impact of contemporary anti-Semitism. This led him to merge the video interview of children of survivors, called Say I’m a Jew, with an installation entitled JEW, set in a cattle car. Being a member of the second generation and experiencing European anti-Semitism in France in the 1950s and 1960s led Marton to the inability to openly express his Jewishness. Drawing from his own experience, Marton was obsessed with the question of how children of the second generation have coped with growing up in Europe after World War II. While attending a convention of second-generation survivors, Marton advertised for individuals willing to tell the story of their European and Jewish identity experiences on camera. Many volunteered. Marton edited bits and pieces of the video together to form an engaging artistic and psychological work.
The American-European painter R. J. Kitaj has represented what he terms “diasporism” as a major component in contemporary artistic life. This is a useful concept to explain the works of many artists in this show, who constantly have to deal with a Jewish identity problem in a world that is potentially enticing and supportive and also contains anti-Semitism, denial and insult. Marton’s space was made to represent a blend of cattle car, barracks and a mausoleum. As Marton has written, “Memory can fuse separate locations in an inextricable blend.*” Within the installation area were seats where the video played continuously. Those attending the show were encouraged to write their responses on the walls of the entrance and boxcar itself, recalling the memory of how deportees did the same on their way to death camps.
*Pier Marton, letter to Stephen Feinstein, 11 April 1994.
Dr. Stephen Feinstein
- The prophet Joel said tell your children about the exodus. Here we are a generation after the Holocaust and it is unbelievable as the waters parting! My parents’ generation will slowly disappear, but the energy that created the Holocaust is still there. To forget is to kill twice. P.M.
Pier Marton was born in France. His father was in the French Resistance. Being an artist and photographer, he forged documents and helped hide German deserters, actions for which he was almost shot by the German Gestapo. At the same time, Marton’s mother was hiding in Hungary, in the back room of a commandant’s office, sharing the space with eight other people, including a baby.
Marton grew up in a Parisian apartment building that contained active memories of the Holocaust years in France. Years before, his father had created an escape route in the same apartment by sawing through an iron grill, which could be removed quickly. The presence of an escape route served as a constant reminder to Marton that one had to have fast legs to stay alive – legs his great grandfather and grandmother did not have. They perished in Auschwitz.
After his father’s death, Marton left France for America. For him, living in France was like living in a place where one needs constantly to know the route for escape. That claustrophobic cloud prompted his departure from France, where Marton felt he was surrounded by the same people who had betrayed his grandmother. Marton recognized the direct linkage of his family annals to his artistic oeuvre: “Knowing our parents had almost been killed many times, we grew up with a particular chill in our bones…in our homes and elsewhere, our families’ grief, terror and anger found very little room to heal. I am a witness to my parents, their wound is mine.” [P.M.]
Marton elected to escape from European soil, where the Holocaust occurred. He carried with him his Jewishness as a badge of shame, and only in his new world could he free himself from his haunting ghost-the shame of being Jewish. Thus, in Marton’s installation Jew, which includes a powerful, short documentary film Say I’m a Jew, the viewer is immersed into the artist’s search for Jewish identity among the second generation. Seated on wooden benches in a simulated railroad cattle car, the viewer sees a video of collaged interviews with men and women who, like Marton, are children of European survivors now living in the United States. Those who speak on Marton’s video describe their struggle of carrying the legacy and their rejection and acceptance of their Jewish heritage. The chorus of different voices says things that are hard to say and hard to hear. For Marton, to say the unspeakable is the only process for liberation – “to communicate one’s own inhibitions, own oneself, the positive and negative, neglecting neither.” [P.M.] The purpose of the exhibit for Marton does not end with self-healing, nor is it about creating guilt. It is about “what we can do to fight racism and anti-Semitism.” [P.M.]
This last remark by Marton brings to surface the complexity of second-generation issues and the fact that the artist’s inner realm is not limited to his personal memories. In fact, artists like Marton simultaneously wish to express the collective memory, the subconsciousness of the human race, from a Jewish perspective. This underlying universal moral objective is the backbone of all the installations in this exhibition.
Yehudit Shendar, now Senior Art Curator at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Institute in Jerusalem – from And the Lion Shall Dwell With the Fish.
- Pier Marton (born in France after the war) uses a simulated cattle car for one of his video pieces entitled “Say I’m A Jew,” first seen in 1985. The piece lasts twenty-eight minutes. From benches viewers watch a video screen on which European-born Jews now living in the United States discuss anti-Semitic incidents experienced in Europe. Works of this sort serve as historical reminders of European anti-Semitism as well as help exorcise those experiences by allowing the participants to talk about their feelings. But such memories can be so traumatic that one of the first times Marton had to say “I am a Jew” before a group of people he almost fainted, so overwhelming were his anxiety and fear.*
*Personal correspondence, May 21, 1992
Matthew Baigell, Professor of Art History, Rutgers University
On a black chalkboard wall that leads to the screening room, a visitor records her positive response to Marton’s art: ‘Amos, Joel, Gideon. My brothers’ seeds are sprouting from the ashes of Auschwitz.’
Bay Area Express
[An early] Text at the Entrance:
T O D A Y, T H E F U T U R E.
JEW… A verb? A person? Will you be there? For today’s living Jews (not yesterday’s dead).
Beyond the slogans, the speeches, the exhibits, there is you and me.
Forgetfulness though is here, as well as our current bills and concerns. But so are the echoes of the murders, and the forces of inertia and darkness…
Unreal because distant in time, or in space. Tell me it ain’t so.
Within these walls, I invite you to give a voice to what you know is real.
You who became the future for that past. You, the presence of the future, today.
May we be wiser from all the horror.
B’shalom ve b’sechel, with peace and wisdom.
Pier Marton, 5755/1995