From the Edge
BY RUTH GRAHAM
July 19, 2005
In the summer of 1944, many
Jewish families in newly Nazi-occupied Budapest received postcards
from their deported loved ones. "I am doing fine," the postcards
read. "I am working." "I have arrived safely. I have
got work in my occupation." "We are doing fine. Follow us
here!" Each cheery card was postmarked Waldsee.
In fact, the cards were mailed from Auschwitz. They were dictated
by SS officers to prisoners, often just before they entered gas chambers.
Waldsee did not exist as portrayed, although if families consulted
a map, they would find small towns with that name in Austria and Switzerland.
In an exhibit opening tonight at Hebrew Union College, dozens of contemporary
artists from America and Europe offer their own meditations on the
fiction of Waldsee. The only instruction from the show's curators
was that the work should be in the 5-inch-by-7-inch form of a postcard
(artists being artistic, not all of them kept precisely to the rules).
The results include Anton Wurth's lined postcard with a blank square
in the center, William Kentridge's Johannesburg map laid over a drawing
of Waldsee, Lorolei ard Alex Gruss's woodcut of a group who appears
to be prisoners waiting for rescue, and Archie Rand's ink drawing
"How many different ways are there to tell the same story? You
tell it always through your own lens," said curator Laura Kruger.
"This show is a marriage of personal perspective and history."
Ms. Kruger recruited the 30 or so American artists represented in
the show, including Judy Chicago, Donald Woodman, Julie Dermansky,
and Ida Appelbroog. New York photographer Sylvia Plachy, who contributed
a stark image of two hanging prison uniforms, lett Budapest at 13
'Tte Hungarian brothers András and László Börörz gathered most of
the Hungarian artists, íncluding Zsuzsa Lóránt, Gábor Kerekes, and
Bea Roskó. Another version of the exhibit has been shown this year
in Budapest and Berlin.
Ms. Kruger said that threse pieces have a different tone than the
American contributions. "Some of the European work is totally
despairing. In the American work, there are other emotions. It's not
only about despair. ...the focus is more on people than on anonymity."
Time truth about Waldsee finally came out during the Nurernberg Trials,
with the testimony of Hitler's secretary, Rudolph Hess, "On their
arrival they were given picture postcards bearing the post offrce
address of Waldsee, a place that did not exist ...
I myself saw the cards in question, and the Schreiberinnen, that is,
the secretaries of the block, were instructed to distribute them among
the internees in order to post them to their families," he said.
"I know that whule families arrived as a result of those postcards."
Some in Budapest were spared by the quick thinking of their correspondents.
A leader of the Hungarian Jewish Council, Fülöp Freudiger, participated
in distributing the cards in Budapest. He realized the truth only
when he received his own card from two deported friends, József and
Sámuel Stern, who signed their names as Joseph R'evim and Samuel Blimalbiscj
- tize Hebrew words for "hungry" and "without clothing."