Tag Archives: Family

Finding Inspiration at the Art Gallery of NSW

I spent part of New Years Day at the Art Gallery of NSW having a wander through the exhibits.

The text accompanying Tony Albert’s Hey Ya! (Shake it Like a Polaroid Picture) read, in part

Ritsi (the young man in the photographs) and Albert share an experience of re-connection to country and community by following the movements of their ancestors.

One image from Tony Albert's 'Hey Ya! (Shake it like a Polaroid picture)' at the Art Gallery of NSW
One image from Tony Albert’s ‘Hey Ya! (Shake it like a Polaroid picture)’ at the Art Gallery of NSW


Part of what I’ll be doing on my Big Ride is, in a way, just this: I’ll be re-connecting with the places my antecedents lived for thousands of years by following their movements across Europe. I will visit reminders and remainders of their culture and, hopefully, connect with my fellow descendants who still, or are again, living there.

The European Jews were, of course, displaced by the awful tides of hate history bore down on them. My families have done well in the diaspora, I’m not complaining. They were fortunate to have been driven out by the pogroms before Hitler’s Final Solution was enacted. But still, they were displaced. They were disconnected from their places and their communities. They had to learn from scratch how to make their way in the world.

As a still new, and happy, immigrant to Australia I suspect I see Australia’s Aboriginal history and people somewhat differently than I would if I had been born and raised here. The relationship between new and old Australians is complicated — as are these relationships anywhere in the world where there are New and Old.

Tony Albert’s work had me thinking about two things. How can I, living my modern peripatetic non-religious assimilated life connect with my not-to-distant Eastern European Yiddish-speaking shtetl-living observant Jewish ancestors? And how can my efforts to do so connect me with these, my fellow Australians, the descendants of the first Australians.

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Tom Carment's 'Flame Tree'
Tom Carment’s ‘Flame Tree’

I was also taken by the exhibition of Tom Carment’s small watercolour sketches of parks and street scenes. These reminded me to put a sketch book and watercolour kit on my shopping list for the trip. I have basically no experience drawing or doing watercolours – not since I was a kid anyway – but am keen to give it a go. It seems like the time one would take to really look at a scene to try to represent it in pen and ink would be good — just taking that time to really look, will be a good exercise.

“Who Do You Think You Are?” with Andrew Denton

Remember when I said I’d take a break from Holocaust stuff? I think you send a vibe of interest into the universe and queue stuff up to come to you – literally, though perhaps without intent.

I just watched the Andrew Denton Who Do You Think You Are? in which he traces his family back to a town in Poland. There he met a man in his 90s who spelt out the whole thing  out to him – no, no one left, rounded up, forced to destroy their synagogue and holy books, forced into a ghetto, then transported to Treblinka. Andrew then travelled there and met the last surviving survivor of the, like, 60/800,000 (60 survivors from 800,000 prisoners brought to the camp). It was a straight-up death camp. You died within hours of arrival; they could and did kill up to 12,000 people a day. The man he met had been selected as slave labour – among the things he did was shave heads. The Nazis, he said, used the hair in the mattresses on submarines because it didn’t absorb moisture. True or apocryphal?

From http://curiosahistoria.blogspot.com.au/2008/07/treblinka.html
From http://curiosahistoria.blogspot.com.au/2008/07/treblinka.html

Also in Poland he met the Chief Rabbi of Poland who showed him a book – a memory book of the town his family were from. There are 1000+ of these books, published in Israel after the war, filled with the memories of places the Nazis removed from maps, as Jewish places anyway – each filled with dozens or hundreds of stories of those who survived or had the good fortune of getting out while they could. Stories of the sorrow, grief, shock and anger but also melancholic remembrance of love and happiness.

How do you deal with the descendants of people who did that? I get, and agree, that the sins of the father should not be visited upon the son. But how will I find Germans, Poles, etc. I can talk to about this stuff. I can’t just travel through remarking on the pretty countryside. That’s part of my fascination with them. What shadow is cast by the knowledge that your parents, grandparents, at minimum bore silent witness and more likely actively participated in some way. Not everyone’s grandfather dropped the canisters of gas but some did.  I have to find some literature on this issue – descendants of Nazis talking about it.