University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies
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CHGS

Voice to Vision VI

 

“Tsitsernakaberd”

30" W X 40" H

David Feinberg and great–granddaughter of Armenian Hamidian massacre survivors, Ariel Strichartz and artists Bonnie Brabson, Chris Charbonneau, Joni Christenson, Sarah Hiatt, Peter Lommen, Tena Patterson, Rowan Pope, Michael Zittlow, and Tat’Yana Kenigsberg

Cambodia: The Story of the Broken WagonAs a child, Ariel Strichartz was fascinated by the rotating gallery of family photos on her grandmother's dresser and on the walls of her grandparent's house. The importance of remembering the Genocide was always communicated by her grandparents, whose parents were survivors of the Hamidian massacres (1894-96). Yet despite the palpable insistence on passing on memories, Ariel feels that the details surrounding the figures in the photos, many of whom were victims of the subsequent Genocide, have slipped through her fingers.

At the end of a month long trip in Armenia in 1997, Ariel traveled with fellow volunteers to Tsisernakaberd*, the genocide’s memorial in Yerevan. The contours of the memorial were difficult to make out in the dusk and the eternal flame at the memorial's center was extinguished due to fuel shortages. To Ariel's surprise, a member of the group called out her name and said someone was looking for her: her cousins from Yerevan, whom she had never met before. They brought her tulips, which she in turn left at the center of the memorial in remembrance of the lives lost in the Genocide. To her, the unexpected and poignant encounter with family at the Tsisernakaberd evokes the feelings communicated by her grandparents: a terrible sadness for what was lost, but a celebration of what managed to survive.

*Tsitsernakaberd, the memorial for victims of the Armenian Genocide, began construction in 1965 and was completed in 1968. It is located on a hill overlooking Yerevan, Armenia. Ever year on April 24th, hundreds of thousands of Armenians travel to the site to honor those who lost their lives in the genocide of 1915.

 

“Niagara Falls 1912”

30" W X 40" H

David Feinberg and granddaughter of Armenian genocide survivors Beth Warner and artists Bonnie Brabson, Chris Charbonneau, Joni Christenson, Sarah Hiatt, Tena Patterson, Rowan Pope, and Michael Zittlow

Niagara Falls 1912Beth Warner’s grandmother, Anna Dardarian, was an 11-year-old girl in a Syrian refugee camp when she saw her mother for the last time. Surrounded by her sickchildren and ailing from disease herself, Anna’s mother had no choice but to accept what little money a Syrian family offered her in exchange for her daughter. After weeks of marching in the dessert as part of the Armenian genocide, barely surviving and experiencing horrific atrocities, the family had little hope. For Anna, the exchange meant that she would live. Anna would go on to live a life marked by a strong dedication to family, her memories respectfully honoring those that were left behind in the camp in Syria, and those whom had already become casualties of the Armenian genocide.

In 1965, Anna shared some of her memories and experiences as a survivor of the Armenian genocide into a tape recorder at the urging of her family members. In this testimony, Anna speaks of her own grandmother, who explained to her grandchildren that although there are many kinds of people in the world, “they’re all human beings.” Beth Warner says that her grandmother came from this same place of tolerance when telling her grandchildren stories of the past. To Beth, Anna Dardarian is remembered as a woman who possessed a pervasive kindness and sense of humor, tremendous wisdom, and a fierce love for her family members and friends.

Before reaching Syria, Anna’s family had undergone unimaginable brutalities. They were driven from their peaceful home to a life of endless trekking through the dessert, a time defined by loss. After days of marching, Anna’s mother asked her to carry her little sister on her back. As their passage progressed, Anna felt her sister become heavier and heavier. When they reached a place to stay for the night, Anna discovered that her sister had died.

In 1921, at the age of 17 and alone, Anna traveled to the United States. In her tape recording, she talks of her overwhelming feelings of hope upon first seeing the Statue of Liberty. As Niagara Falls 1912 communicates, the statue remains a symbol of light and hope to Beth’s family, a turning point that brought light to a dark journey. Illustrating the link from the past to the present is the image of the Armenian genocide monument* inserted into Lady Liberty’s crown. Growing up in Armenia, Anna’s family had a prominent last name, a name that put them at the top of the list for removal at the time of the genocide. Because of this, they temporarily changed their name to Balimian, meaning beekeeper. In the painting, a beehive signifying this family name history covers the torch’s flame and how although hidden, the family’s hope and spirit for survival burned strong. This theme is carried on in the circular links that lay on the upper left hand corner of the painting, a drawing by Beth herself of the bracelet her grandmother Anna would frequently wear. To Beth, these shapes, similar to that of a honeycomb in a beehive, serve as metaphor for the interconnectedness of the Armenian people, culture, community and the journey of the Armenian genocide.

Anna made a life for herself in Niagara Falls, New York, marrying Leo Dardarian and owning and operating Louis Restaurant, a tourist favorite. Clippings from the menu of the restaurant can be found at the bottom of the painting. Beth Warner’s piece at once represents a painful past, a loving present and honors the legacy of a family’s journey.

*Tsitsernakaberd, the memorial for victims of the Armenian Genocide, began construction in 1965 and was completed in 1968. It is located on a hill overlooking Yerevan, Armenia. Ever year on April 24th, hundreds of thousands of Armenians travel to the site to honor those who lost their lives in the genocide of 1915.


"Scattering of Pears"

30” H X 36” W Mixed media painting

Collaboration between David Feinberg and Dragana Vidovic, Bosnian storyteller, with contributions from Peter Lommen, Chris Charbonneau, Joni Christenson, Daisy Giles, Sarah Hiatt, Rowan Pope, Nicole Rodriquez, Mike Zitlow, and Daliya Jokondo

 

Scattering of PearsDragana Vidovic of Bosnia created this piece in response to her family’s experience during WWI, WWII, and the Bosnian Civil War in the 1990s, which involved Nazi persecution and Croatian invasion.  Dragana painted lush green hills and valleys in the background to illustrate the natural beauty and fertility of her country.  The red roofs of her town and the soccer ball in the center of the painting are symbols of a happy childhood and a safe community in which the children of her town enjoyed playing soccer.

These symbols stand in contrast to the many statues that were erected to commemorate the fallen Bosnian heroes of World War II.  The statues are a perpetual reminder of the violence that impacted Dragana’s family over the generations.  A statue was built on every spot on which a hero died, and a park bench was placed next to each statue, forming small parks throughout the town.  The statue in the painting represents a Bosnian heroine that Dragana was particularly moved by, and the bench is where she often stopped to sit and reflect.

The pears in the painting symbolize the pears Dragana gave a friend’s brother as a parting gift, before he left to fight in the Bosnian conflict. Dragana remembers him as a charismatic young man who was full of life.  Much to the grief of the town, his body was brought back a month later.  He was the first soldier from Dragana’s town to join the army and his death was especially tragic because he died so young and so soon after leaving their village to fight.  She remembers that when the hearse carried his coffin around town, there was only silence, rather than laughter over good memories of him.

The blue lady in the mountains represents Dragana’s grandmother, who was her hero and mentor.  Her family was forced to leave their village, separate, and live as refugees until 1995 when the war ended. 

 

“The Last Thing He Would Eat”

30” H X 36” W Mixed media painting

Collaboration between David Feinberg and Chris Kiberian, storyteller, with contributions from Chris Charbonneau, Joni Christenson, Bonnie Brabson, Sarah Hiatt, Rowan Pope, Nicole Rodriquez, Mike Zitlow, and Daliya Jokondo.

The Last Thing He Would Eat

Chris Kiberian told us a story of his great-grandfather, who was about to be taken away and executed during the Armenian Genocide.  Knowing that her father was going to his death, Chris’s grandmother went to kiss her father, and spit a cherry into his mouth. It was the last thing he would ever eat.

Chris reacted very emotionally when he told this story, and when Chris’s dad told this story he would also get emotional. He would also get upset when he told the story of the last photograph taken of Chris’ entire family; upon viewing this photograph, Chris’s grandmother said: “Look at all I’ve created.”

 

 



Self Portrait As A Child

30" W X 40" H, 2010, David Feinberg and artists Chris Charbonneau, Joni Christenson, Sarah Hiatt, Rowan Pope, and writer Julia Irwin

Self Portrait as Child

In this painting, Hong, a Cambodian Genocide survivor, depicted his memories of growing up under the regime of the Khmer Rouge, the ruling party in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. The Khmer Rouge’s efforts at socially engineering the Cambodian people resulted in the genocide of approximately two million Cambodians. To create a purely agrarian-based communist society, the Khmer Rouge targeted city-dwellers and educated people, like professors and students, and forced them to work in collective farms or labor projects. The Khmer Rouge investigated Cambodian families and killed anyone who wasn’t considered “socially appropriate.”

When Hong was nine years old, he started to notice changes in his community as the Khmer Rouge began implementing their power. Although he didn’t fully understand what was happening around him, he knew that his family no longer had things they needed, like medical treatment for his mother. One day in November of 1975 when Hong was at school, Hong’s mother and father were near a pagoda - a religious site used to celebrate the Festival of the Dead - when she began to vomit blood. There were no medical facilities nearby, and she died.

Hong began to see other families being split up. He said that he would visit a house of a family he knew, and if they were gone, he knew that something bad had happened. As food became scarce, his family would go to great lengths to find something to eat. He recalled one instance when his sister went into the jungle to look for mushrooms, and as she was digging, she encountered a corpse. Hong said, “Everywhere there were bodies.” He heard rumors of “super human beings” that would aid Cambodian refugees, transporting them to safety. As he began to regularly witness “the atrocity of the killings,” he wondered if there could really be a super-being on earth that could help him and his family. He felt helpless as a child, and this feeling is represented in the central image of his painting. He felt paralyzed and frustrated by his situation, as if all he could do was cry.

Hong describes the village from which he and his family were forced to flee as an “extinct, dying place” or a “little place of death.” Their destination was a village by the river, which had more food and nice people. This river “paradise” reappears in his painting as a family vacation, located at the right. The image represents heaven - a happy place where nothing bad can happen. The flying dove is a reminder that “one day there will be peace in the land.” Hong also included a figure of the Angor Wat monument, which is close to the heart of every Cambodian, a symbol of national pride and their country’s history. Hong said that when something prestigious like this monument exists, the people feel secure and protected.

 

"Swarm”

23” H X 35” W, Mixed media wall construction, 2010.

Collaboration between David Feinberg and Daliya Jokondo, daughter of The Sudanese Civil War survivor, with contributions from Chris Charbonneau, Sarah Hiatt, Silvia Mangia, Mike Zitlow, and Joni Christenson.

There are three separate stories told here, but all three stories overlap and are interconnected. These stories are the products of memories, stories passed on to us by our mother, and eavesdropping on my father’s political gatherings. My father never directly spoke to us about the war.

SwarmBeginning in the far left is my mother’s village and it’s about to undergo a militant raid. These were frequent deadly attacks that left villages famished and filled with grief.

The midsection is about survival and what almost never was. It focuses on an incident that took place during one of those raids.  My mother was between six and seven months pregnant at the time. During the chaos my mother was separated from her family and faced death at the hands of soldiers on a pick up truck. Her salvation came through her recognition of one of the soldiers. They were childhood playmates and perhaps out of shame at what he has become, he convinced the others to spare her life. The soldiers’ faces, their voice, and the pick up truck are all images that plagued me for years. My mother was pregnant with me. Yet this became part of my reality.

The last panel on the right is of things falling apart. There is chaos, and this chaos comes in the form of bees and I have an intense fear of bees. So, I am very much tied to this last panel emotionally.  I feel a heartbreaking loss in terms of deaths in my family, and my separation from them. I also feel great loss for my cultural and ethnic uprooting. Yet I can’t allow myself to feel all these things.

Although the bees appear throughout the piece, they are tied to one story.  My mother, aunt, my sister and myself were at a train station one night when something angered the bees in the farm nearby. They attacked in swarms. My mother covered all of us in thick blankets. She said the screams were terrible and there were deaths. It was an easily controllable situation that became uncontrollable through fear and panic.  My mother always said that bees smell fear and sting only when they feel threatened. That’s no different from humans and their reaction to the unfamiliar. Unfamiliarity can be read as danger, and people panic at the face of danger and make fatal mistakes. I felt fear throughout my life, but I could not let it take over me. You have to stop being afraid in order to survive.

 

"Children of Survivors: A Strong New Branch"

30" W X 40" H, 2010

David Feinberg and artists Bonnie Brabson, Chris Charbonneau, Joni Christenson, Sarah Hiatt, Peter Lommen, Tena Patterson, Rowan Pope, Michael Zittlow, Tat’Yana Kenigsberg, and writer Julia Irwin

Children of Survivors: A Strong New BranchJoanna Sussman’s parents were survivors of the Holocaust. Her father served as a witness at the Nuremburg Trials, traveling frequently from his family’s new home in America back to Germany in the 1960s. Joanna always had a sense that her family had endured something that made them different, but never knew the full story. As she grew older, she pieced bits of information together from the scrapbooks she found in her family’s bookshelves (to the left of and above tree stump).

After the war, Germans gave her parents one photo album that held pictures of concentration camps, and finding these mementos led Joanna to a more sophisticated understanding of her family’s history of survival. In this story, the theme of monuments continued to arise. At the concentration camp where Joanna’s dad was imprisoned, a statue of a survivor was mounted along with a sign, which serves to honor those who perished within the camp’s gates (above Cadillac). For Joanna, seeing this monument on a family trip to Europe made her parents’ experience more concrete. Since Americans had liberated her father, both her parents embraced American patriotism and the idea of democracy. To continue this ideal, her parents took the family on a trip to Washington D.C. (Washington monument, upper right).

Freedom of expression was valued in Joanna’s home; her parents did not want to gloss over reality, but rather accept all that the world had to offer. According to Joanna, they had no fear- they knew what real horror was, and in comparison, nothing they faced could be that bad. The stump (center) symbolizes the Jews’ near extinction after WWII, but the small green leaf that emerges represents their strength and rebirth.  The leaf then continues to grow into a strong new tree that features an image of WWII refugees arriving in Israel. A menorah (Chanukah candleholder) designed to look like a tree stump served as Joanna’s inspiration for this imagery.

Laura Zelle’s family is from Greece and also one of survivors. She, as well, grew up knowing that something was different about her family, but she did not understand until she grew older. She noticed the stark contrast between her friends’ large extended families and her own small one, made up of only the few who survived. In addition, her parents’ accents, food, dress, and customs provided a constant reminder that Laura’s family was different. After creating a stable life in the United States, her mother finally fulfilled her wish of buying a pink Cadillac (lower right), provoking much ridicule from Laura’s friends. However, Laura was taught to always wear a smile, because nothing could really be that bad. It was not until she visited Greece with her grandmother that she learned more of her family’s history.

They walked the streets together while her grandmother shared her memories, which she insisted be passed down to future generations. The Parthenon’s columns (spread along top) represent not only her family’s ancestry, but also the stories that accompany it. For instance, the man holding the string of beads (lower left) represent the worry beads Laura’s uncle had when the Nazis came to Greece and began rounding up Jews. He snuck his younger sisters back into hiding, heroically saving Laura’s mother. He later left Laura his beads. Behind him, the long, open platform (center), tells the story of Laura’s grandfather. When getting off the train, prisoners would stand on the platform for selection: to one line for workers, or to the line for execution. Laura’s grandfather was a tall, strong man, but he switched over to the line for the weak, old, and sick in attempt to outsmart the Nazis. This decision resulted in his death, and Laura still sees him in her dreams (bed with lightning and figure). Similarly, when she watches a Holocaust film, she hopes to see her grandfather’s face rather than actors because she feels so much of his story is unknown.


"Children of Survivors: Smiling To Pretend"

30" W X 40" H 2010.

David Feinberg and artists Bonnie Brabson, Chris Charbonneau, Joni Christenson, Sarah Hiatt, Peter Lommen, Tena Patterson, Rowan Pope, Michael Zittlow, Tat’Yana Kenigsberg, and writer Julia Irwin

Smiling to PretendMicki Naiman’s parents survived the Holocaust by concealing their Jewish heritage and moving from Germany to America after the war. They became friends with another group of survivors, and when overhearing their conversations, Micki had the sense that her family was different. Her household seemed darker and more humorless than those of her friends, as if an ominous cloud hovered above it. Micki feels that the Holocaust changed her parents’ entire worldview. They lived in fear of revealing their Jewish identity, and for this reason they were overprotective of Micki. They never spoke about Judaism in the house, because they felt they could trust no one. Micki did not even know she was Jewish until her parents sent her to a Jewish camp when she was ten years old. The smiling girl (top left) represents Micki as an only child, always wearing a smile so she wouldn’t upset her parents, since she knew they had lived through something horrible. Micki felt that she should act as their “sunshine,” and if she ever felt sad, she would go to her room (left) so her parents wouldn’t know. One of Micki’s most positive memories is of her family vacations, which involved taking the train to Chicago. However, trains were also used to transport her Jewish relatives to the crematoriums, so there is a darker aspect to the image she drew (upper left). The joint chimneys (center) represent the crematoriums that killed so many of her parents’ loved ones, and also symbolize the history of survival that Micki shares with her husband, Mort. They believe that the force of fate brought them to meet in Jerusalem at the Western Wall.

Mort Naiman was born in Brussels and his family moved to New Jersey in 1952. One of his most meaningful childhood memories is the chicken farm (right) that his father and uncle bought upon arriving in the States. When Mort asked his father why he wanted chickens, he responded, “Chickens don’t speak English; neither do we.” Like his wife Micki, Mort also knew something terrible had happened in his family’s history, and this feeling magnified when he saw a replica of a tomb (upper right) on a mantel in his aunt’s room, dedicated to her husband who died in the Holocaust. He grew up knowing it represented something important that had happened in Europe, and it carried an aura of respect and sacredness. This small replica became a symbol in his family for all of the relatives who were lost in the war. Another poignant memory is of his local synagogue, which resembled a white clapboard house (upper right), and featured a stained glass window in the front. During the Yom Kippur (day of repentance) service, he and the other children would be sent outside, where he could hear the “heart rendering” wailing of the survivors within. These cries were for the deceased who had no graves at which relatives could say Yisgur, the prayer for the departed. A final step in Mort’s understanding of his family’s history came during his teenage years, when he realized the meaning of the numbers on his father’s and uncle’s arms: an eternal reminder of their time as prisoners in Auschwitz.


“Children of Survivors: Bosnia, Holocaust (Greece and Lithuania), and Sudan”


35” H X 26.5” W Mixed media wall construction

Collaboration between David Feinberg and Daliya Jokondo, daughter of The Sudanese Civil War survivor, Laura Zelle, daughter of Holocaust survivors from Greece, Joanna Sussman, daughter of Holocaust survivors from Lithuania, and Dragana Vidovic, family displaced during Bosnian genocide, with contributions from Chris Charbonneau, Joni Christenson, Daisy Giles, Sarah Hiatt, Tat’yana Kenigsberg, Rowan Pope, and Nicole Rodriquez.

Children of Survivors Four people from different parts of the world (Bosnia, Greece, Lithuania and Sudan) have come together to create this piece in order to give voice to the tragic human experience of war and genocide. Although they each have varied backgrounds, their lives were affected similarly by war. Each participant was either a child or grandchild of survivors of genocide and each used their own experience to add to the piece. To incorporate all four stories into the work, each participant was asked to pick out certain objects that triggered memories or emotions that related to their experiences. 

Joanna Sussman was struck by a pair of eyeglasses that reminded her of her uncle who had survived the Holocaust along with her parents. She explained that the Jewish people in the concentration camps were stripped of clothes, shoes, glasses, and all other personal belongings. She stated that her sight-impaired uncle described his many years of near-blindness in the concentration camp was like “living in an alternate universe.” Joanna believes that his inability to see the horrors about him was a blessing within a curse.  Joanna also chose a storm trooper figurine to represent the anonymity of their persecutors and also to represent that they could be everyone and anyone. And lastly, in stark contrast to the storm trooper, she chose a Captain America action figure to represent her parents, whom she described as heroes for being able to retain their humanity as well as their passion for life after enduring such trauma and tragedy.

Dragana Vidovic picked a little cart for her first item to represent the cart she traveled in to escape her hometown in September of 1995 during the Bosnian army occupation. Most of those who had to flee were women and children because the men were away fighting. Dragana recalls with gratitude that the escape was only such a success because of a neighbor woman called Mara who organized town dwellers into trucks, carts and tractors, making sure that all who wanted to leave were able to get out safely.  When they returned months later, most of the town was burned down to the ground and all who had remained were dead. Dragana believes that if it were not for Mara, they all would have lost their lives.

Laura Zelle chose a blue beaded necklace that reminded her of her uncle’s worry beads. Her uncle was only a young teen when the Nazis came to Greece and began the rounding up of Jews. He used a pushcart to carry his four young sisters into hiding. Her second object was a small piece of fabric that was representative of a white tablecloth that her Grandmother owned. It was one of the only heirlooms that her grandmother was able to keep from Greece for her daughters’ dowries. Laura and her cousins honored her memory by using the tablecloth as a huppah in their weddings. Her last choice was a locket. The locket reminded her of a necklace that her grandmother had been able to keep hidden from the Nazis in Athens. The necklace had an upside down heart and was inscribed with a Hebrew prayer or blessing for a joyous occasion or simcha. For Laura, the necklace symbolizes the life that her family had in Athens before they were forced to leave. The necklace is still in their family’s possession today.

Her own family locket was one of the few objects that they were able to keep when the Nazis came to Greece. It remains in her family to this day.

Daliya Jokondo, chose a phone as one of her objects to represent early memories in her childhood when her parents would call far away relatives in the Sudan. Since it was rare and very difficult to get through the phone lines in Sudan, most of the calls were very brief news updates that mostly dealt with the death of different relatives. Daliya came to associate the phone with mourning and loss. Her second object was a machine gun that directly related to war and conflict in the Sudan.