I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
There are those who would say that that Art is another language, another form of speaking, that it too contains a form of address, and thus, a responsibility. Valerie Furth certainly would agree. Born to a well-to-do Jewish family in Eastern Europe, Furth knew of her obligation as a survivor of Auschwitz to resist the torments of dogma, prejudice, hatred, and the narrow fears of common thought, translating this duty both into her work as an artist and collector, as well as into the telling of her own tale. In the preface of Cabbages and Geraniums where the collector speaks of her experience during the holocaust, the importance of ‘collecting’ and that which is left behind–what cannot be gathered together, what cannot be taken with, what cannot be saved–already appears at the very beginning of Valerie’s adult life, and her narrative of overcoming.
“March 19, 1944. Hitler invaded Hungary. The assault abruptly ended the dreams of an eighteen year old girl. Within two weeks we wore the yellow star. […]
“We had left out most valued possessions behind us. On realizing we had to go away, father had one of his trusted workers from the factory dig a bunker in our basement. The man took three days to complete it. During this time, we and our relatives accumulated the things we couldn’t take with us. Then, like an Egyptian tomb, we filled the newly dug hole with furs, silver, fine linens, objets d’art, and solemnly as mourners, we watched father’s man seal it.” (Furth, Cabbages and Geraniums, 9)
… to be continued …
Above: detail of a sculpture by Valerie Furth. Steel and barbed wire. Date unknown