BY RUTH GRAHAM
July 19, 2005
In the summer of 1944, many Jewish families in newly Nazi-occupied Budapest received postcards from their deported loved ones. “I am doing fine,” the postcards read. “I am working.” “I have arrived safely. I have got work in my occupation.” “We are doing fine. Follow us here!” Each cheery card was postmarked Waldsee.
In fact, the cards were mailed from Auschwitz. They were dictated by SS officers to prisoners, often just before they entered gas chambers. Waldsee did not exist as portrayed, although if families consulted a map, they would find small towns with that name in Austria and Switzerland.
In an exhibit opening tonight at Hebrew Union College, dozens of contemporary artists from America and Europe offer their own meditations on the fiction of Waldsee. The only instruction from the show’s curators was that the work should be in the 5-inch-by-7-inch form of a postcard (artists being artistic, not all of them kept precisely to the rules). The results include Anton Wurth’s lined postcard with a blank square in the center, William Kentridge’s Johannesburg map laid over a drawing of Waldsee, Lorolei ard Alex Gruss’s woodcut of a group who appears to be prisoners waiting for rescue, and Archie Rand’s ink drawing seen above.
“How many different ways are there to tell the same story? You tell it always through your own lens,” said curator Laura Kruger. “This show is a marriage of personal perspective and history.”
Ms. Kruger recruited the 30 or so American artists represented in the show, including Judy Chicago, Donald Woodman, Julie Dermansky, and Ida Appelbroog. New York photographer Sylvia Plachy, who contributed a stark image of two hanging prison uniforms, lett Budapest at 13 in 1950.
‘Tte Hungarian brothers András and László Börörz gathered most of the Hungarian artists, íncluding Zsuzsa Lóránt, Gábor Kerekes, and Bea Roskó. Another version of the exhibit has been shown this year in Budapest and Berlin.
Ms. Kruger said that threse pieces have a different tone than the American contributions. “Some of the European work is totally despairing. In the American work, there are other emotions. It’s not only about despair. …the focus is more on people than on anonymity.”
Time truth about Waldsee finally came out during the Nurernberg Trials, with the testimony of Hitler’s secretary, Rudolph Hess, “On their arrival they were given picture postcards bearing the post offrce address of Waldsee, a place that did not exist …
I myself saw the cards in question, and the Schreiberinnen, that is, the secretaries of the block, were instructed to distribute them among the internees in order to post them to their families,” he said. “I know that whule families arrived as a result of those postcards.”
Some in Budapest were spared by the quick thinking of their correspondents. A leader of the Hungarian Jewish Council, Fülöp Freudiger, participated in distributing the cards in Budapest. He realized the truth only when he received his own card from two deported friends, József and Sámuel Stern, who signed their names as Joseph R’evim and Samuel Blimalbiscj – tize Hebrew words for “hungry” and “without clothing.”