How do you deal with a traumatic history that isn’t your own, but that profoundly affects your life? As a daughter of two Holocaust survivors, I’ve lived with this question my whole life. Haunted by images of how my grandparents, aunts and uncles were murdered, the Holocaust was never a subject I wanted to tackle in paint. I paint landscapes in France in the tradition of the European masters.
Yet, my writing was often on Holocaust-related themes. I’ve also been recording and videotaping my parents and their friends along with co-director, Laurie Weisman for more than 30 years. After my 50th birthday I reflected on my place history—as a painter and as a daughter of survivors. I came up with the idea for The Memory Project, an art installation that combined my mother’s story with painting. For years I wanted to use videotape to bring viewers inside the painting process. I decided to use a photograph of my mother’s lost brother as a subject. Painting his portrait over and over again, I felt a deep connection to his life force. It was healing to focus on that for the first time rather than the horror of his death. Through my mother’s stories, the art exhibit and this film, we’ve reclaimed his humanity. That’s my victory over fascism.
Whenever I feel discouraged, angry or hopeless, I find that talking with Anna Jacobs snaps me out of it. It’s not just because nothing I experience remotely compares with what she’s gone through, it’s the lilt of her voice and the unconditional love she offers me. One of the reasons I am driven to work on this project is to bring that voice to others. Knowing her, even vicariously through film, is transformational. As one 15 year-old said after seeing the film, “I have hope because she has hope.” For me, working on this project is a way to connect people to their own histories and to each other’s humanity. It’s my hope that compassion grows from connection and understanding.