Letters from my Grandparents: The Art of Ruth Schreiber

The Jewish Art Salon partners with the Anne Frank Center USA in presenting an art exhibit and artist’s talk by Ruth Schreiber.

Opening reception: Thursday February 4, 2016, 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

The Anne Frank Center USA
44 Park Place, New York, NY, between Church St. and West Broadway.

The exhibit is on view February 4 – May 31, Tuesday – Saturday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm

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Related programming:

On Writing and Remembering – A Talk with artist Ruth Schreiber.

Wednesday February 10 from 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm

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Artist Ruth Schreiber will discuss her current exhibit, Letters from my Grandparents, on view in the gallery through April 15. Her art work tells the remarkable story of the discovery of a box of letters written by her grandparents between January 1939 and August 1942, to the three of their five children whom they had managed to send to England on the Kindertransport from Germany at the height of the Nazi persecution of the Jews. Schreiber will explore her artistic process in bringing four decades and two continents worth of loss, separation, survival and reunion to life.

Read an article about the exhibit in NY Jewish Week hereLetters As A Lifeline – A book and an exhibit tell stories of family and identity, all in longhand. By Sandee Brawarsky, Culture Editor.

About the Exhibit

Ruth Schreiber’s grandparents were among the many Jews in Europe who made the brutal decision to send their children to safety in England during Hitler’s rise. In this powerful mixed media exhibit, Schreiber tells their remarkable story through a series of artworks based on the letters they wrote to their children while abroad. Moving, illuminating, and deeply meaningful, Letters from My Grandparents will forever change how you think about sacrifice, trauma, and the bonds that can never be broken.

1. Kindertransport 15x22 inches (v small)

“Kindertransport” by Ruth Schreiber

This remarkable narrative of loss, separation, survival and reunion spans four decades and two continents, and is brought to life through four visually arresting screen prints depicting scenes in Brussels, London,Vichy France and at Auschwitz. In addition to the screen prints, the exhibit features approximately twenty masks created from reproductions of the letters suspended within the gallery, and a book of letters taken from Schreiber’s larger series, entitled The Shoah Project.

3. Brussels (v small)

“Brussels” by Ruth Schreiber

 

 

 

ARTIST’S STATEMENT:

A. Background:

After my aunt Esther died in 2004, her children found a box of letters which she had kept.

The letters were written by her parents, my grandparents, between January 1939 and August 1942 to the three of their 5 children whom they had managed to send to England.

Two of these children were sent by Kindertransport on January 5th 1939, my father Nathan and my aunt Esther, who had kept the letters written to all three. The third sibling, Lottie, reached England in June 1939, once she had secured a position as a trainee nurse in Biggleswade Isolation Hospital for lung cancer.

In May 1939 my grandparents were expelled from their home in Sassanfahrt, Bavaria, Germany to the nearby town of Bamberg and from there by July 1939 had managed to smuggle themselves and their two remaining children into Brussels, Belgium. They had exhausted their flimsy resources in escaping Germany and were impoverished and dependent on the charity of Jewish Benevolent Committees, and on what their teenage children could send them from England. Their many attempts to leave continental Europe failed, as the letters testify. In May 1940, in the face of the advancing German army, they fled Belgium for southern France and there they were soon picked up and separated. Grandmother, Mina Merel, was dispatched with the two little girls to the infamous internment camp at Rivesaltes, Vichy France, where she died in May 1941. She was buried in a marked grave in nearby Perpignan. In 1979, my father (Nathan) travelled to Perpignan to disinter his mother’s bones and in a very moving nighttime ceremony she was reburied in the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives in the presence of her surviving descendants.

After their mother’s death, the two girls, Sophie and Jeni, were smuggled out of Rivesaltes camp by the OSE Underground and were housed in the Chateau du Couret home for refugee children and later with various Christian families and organisations, before being smuggled to safety in Switzerland in 1943.

Grandfather Samuel was displaced again and again, sent to various work camps and down a mine, until late in August 1942 he was dispatched to Drancy, Paris and on to Auschwitz, as we confirmed much later at Yad Vashem. Samuel continued sending letters and postcards to his children in England until August 24th. We believe that he was gassed in Auschwitz on arrival there on August 28th 1942.

The original letters and postcards are now archived at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

They total approximately 200 written sides, about two-thirds are dated and the rest not. Most are written in German mixed with Yiddish, with a couple in French and English. Yad Vashem provided a one-page synopsis of the salient points. Of these the most striking is the fact that Samuel had at least two opportunities to escape, but would not leave his wife and small daughters. In addition, both he and Mina constantly declare their faith and trust in the Almighty and admonish their children to keep to the Jewish tradition in which they were raised, and to take good care of each other. Most striking is the fact that for $250-300 then ($4000-5000 in today’s money) they could all have reached safety in Cuba or Bolivia, but they were penniless by then and couldn’t raise the funds.

The 5 children survived the War and where re-united in London in 1945. The two youngest are still alive.

  • Ruth Schreiber           Dec. 2015

B. Art Project:

I have been working with this material for some years in an ongoing Holocaust Remembrance Project.

Book:

I have had all the letters and postcards translated, and in 2010 I produced a book containing the transcriptions and translations, some photos, background material and glossary. Yad Vashem holds two copies of “Letters from my Grandparents”.

Installation 1: 120 Masks:

I have created an installation out of copies. I have reversed the black and white, and created some 120 life-sized paper masks, based on the faces of my son and my daughter, to represent their great grandfather and great grandmother. Some of the masks are fixed on the back wall, and others are suspended from the ceiling. Copies of the letters cover the floor (photos attached).

Installation 2: “Laid Table”:

I have completed a second installation piece, a table set with plates and texts drawn from the letters, and bearing a related hand-made ceramic book.

Installation 3: “2 Kinder”

This installation piece consists of two life-size models of small girls, “kinder”, dressed in clothes bearing copies of some of the original letters.

Video Art:

My project includes a short video: “One Man’s Journey”.

Other Sculptures:
I have also made several sculptures as part of the installation. One of these is a 2m tall mixed media piece; another is a small sculpture, approximately 60x30x30cm. In addition, I have created some relevant ceramic pieces: “Two Sisters”, “Remember These”, “Angel’s Wings”, fabric art, and small bronzes.

Drawings:

Several small drawings are incorporated into the project.

Sound Work: (in progress):

The complete installation includes a man’s and a woman’s voice (representing my grandparents, who did most of the writing), quoting from the letters in German, Hebrew, French and English.

Screenprints:

As a 2012 guest artist at the Jerusalem Print Workshop (www.jerusalemprintworkshop.org) I completed a set of 8 screenprints based on the letters.

Illustrated Poem:

The project includes one of my poems, “Migrating” which I have illuminated in water colour.

  • Ruth Schreiber 2015
Book of Letters 72dpi

“Letters from my Grandparents” by Ruth Schreiber

 

2 comments

  1. […] The Jewish Art Salon partnered with the Anne Frank Center to present the art exhibit Letters From My Grandparents – The Art of Ruth Schreiber. […]

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  2. […] Currently another section of that series is on view at New York’s Anne Frank Center USA until May 31. This exhibition, in partnership with the Jewish Art salon, can be viewed here. […]

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