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Rigid Mobility



Clay Figures

Heaven & Earth


VISITING THE PAST                                      Page 2 of 3 pages

By 1990 I was deeply immersed in the story of the family's attempt to rescue my grandparents from Germany. I became aware that the memories transmitted to communicate about such a difficult subject. I had now determined to work with the raw material of my family's history during the Nazi era, and, moreover, to bring an exhibition about this material to the city of my birth, Bamberg, Germany.

At the time, it was hard to understand why I wanted to go to Germany. My mother and other older relatives did not approve. I knew that I wanted to memorialize the victims. In retrospect, it seems that I was looking for enlightenment, connection, understanding, and, perhaps, reconciliation. Furthermore, I was curious about what would happen.

When the city of Bamberg offered me an exhibition it turned out that the Municipal Museum, known as Villa Dessauer, had been the last house in which my grandparents had lived. In 1939, the Villa became a "Judenhaus", and my grandparents, Hugo and Rosa Rossheimer, were forced to move in with the former owners, a wealthy Jewish family that had been their friends as well as several other Jewish citizens who had been relocated to the mansion. My grandparents were deported in April, 1942, on a train of 1000 Jews from various parts of southern Germany, that ended up somewhere "east of Lublin."



As I found out these and other facts, I felt that the ghosts of my grandparents and the others were with me. I had called them back. One part of my installation at Bamberg was called "Les Revenants". These Revenants co-existed with a group of paintings called "Family Portraits", brightly but strangely colored blow-ups of family photos—photos of my family. They were installed in the Grand Salon of the Dessauer house. The room was furnished with a Victorian dining room set. Nothing else.

Bamberg Dining Room © Gabrielle Rossmer

Les Revenants © Gabrielle Rossmer
  Even more primary to the installation is the part called "Document Wall". It consists of 66 photocopies of documents that I had found among my father's papers. This was the original part of my installation. It is the heart of it. Each document was explained in an accompanying descriptive folder. The photocopies are re-constructed as original documents by small seals in the lower left corner. Each seal is stamped either with an E to signify 'evacuee', the German euphemism for deportee (if that document concerns a family member who was killed) or it is stamped with an S if it concerns a 'survivor.' The documents have gone through several levels of memory, in which they move in and out of authenticity. With the stamp, I authenticate the memory as mine.
Document Wall © Gabrielle Rossmer

A frame surrounds the original "Document Wall." It is composed of small photographic images. The images relate to the documents and to the city of Bamberg, where the story of my people took place, and where the exhibit was now being shown 50 years later. There are family pictures and pictures of the Cathedral and its sculpture. There are also pictures of the Synagogue after it was destroyed on Kristallnacht. All those parts are also part of me. As a sculptor, I was influenced by the Gothic sculpture in the Cathedral. In fact, their influence is felt in the draped cloth of "Les Revenants." Perhaps I must acknowledge that, as an American Jew, I have overstepped the historical Jewish proscription against making figurative images. Yes and no. My figures have no faces. But, then again, there are many things that women are not supposed to do in Jewish law, and I am not sure that being a sculptor is allowed. Of course, I am not observant of those laws. I am being Jewish in my own way.

On one of the walls in the first room of the installation at the Villa Dessauer was a photocopy of a poem written by my father for me when I was in my earliest years. I had never tried to read the German before. Now, while doing this work I finally read and translated it:
Sieben Heügel, Regnitz, Main
Wälder, Wiesen, schöner Hain,
Still verträumte Hecken.

Lieblich und vertrautes Bild
Umgewandelt bist Du, wild,
Jäh, in grausem Schrecken!

Was uns Heimat war ist Hölle
Höhnisch fordern bluteszölle
Unsere alten Nachbarn jetzt.

Gaby, Du bist erst ein Jahr
Weisst nicht wie's gewesen war
als wir schaudernd fortgehetzt.

Ûber's Meer, Gott liess Uns landen
Wo wir die Freiheit widerfanden
Amerika, Du Grosses Land!

Grosselternpaar, Das nicht entkam
Ein Opfer ward
Von Deutschlands Scham
Wir denken Euer unverwandt,
An Euch knüpft Uns ein ewig Band.

Translated into English, the poem reads:

Seven Hills, Regnitz, Main
Woods, fields, lush groves,
Quiet dreamy hedgerows.

This lovely and entrusted image
Has been transformed. Savage,
Yes, filled with terror!

What once was homeland now is Hell
Our old neighbors now brutal, Disdainful, scream for blood.

Gaby, you are only one year old
Don't know how it was
As we raced away in horror.

Over the ocean, God let us land
Where freedom was
Once more at hand.
America, you great land!

Grandparents who never came
A sacrifice to Germany's shame
We will always remember you.
We are tied to you
By an eternal bond.