Bearing Witness - Stories behind the Artifacts in the Yad Vashem Museum Collection
(A bracelet with a photograph of Lola, Mordecai Gebuertig's youngest daughter and the remaining link of a bracelet, both made in the forced labor camp of Oranienburg in Germany by Lola's fiancé, Boas Leser)
According to Jennifer Hansen-Glucklich, museums are often conceptualized as containers for memory, and in a certain sense this metaphor rings true; after all, museums with a historical focus are places devoted to constructing a particular view of the past and to putting that chosen past on display, thereby claiming to offer the visitor a window to another time and place for brief moments. More fundamentally, “the framing of the authentic artifacts, the display of photographic images, and the commission of the original artworks in Holocaust museums and exhibits do not simply illustrate the story being told; rather, they are story, and they largely determine how we remember the past and, therefore, how we understand the present” (Hansen-Glucklich 4). In addition, it is true that the authentic artifacts bring us closer to experiencing the Holocaust. As reported by Hansen-Glucklich Exhibits in Yad Vashem show us that it is possible to display the artifacts in a way that doesn’t reduce victims to the symbols of their death, but, rather uses artifacts to enrich the narrative of victims’ lives and to renounce an aesthetic that further objectifies and dehumanizes them.
As a part of this week’s assignment, I have chosen to address the Yad Vashem Museums in general and the aforementioned bracelet in particular. In fact, the Yad Vashem Museum represents the Holocaust through the use of authentic artifacts, testimonies, film footage, diaries, letters, and artworks. Moreover, a huge number of artifacts have been gathered during the existence of Yad Vashem. Most of these artifacts include a variety of personal effects and objects that served families or communities; “some show fine craftsmanship while the simplicity of others attests to the difficult conditions under which they were created.”[i]
The artifacts can inform us about a specific part of the Holocaust period. Thus, Yad Vashem has powerful collections because they are unique and authentic, and above all, they describe the events that took place during the Holocaust; for indeed they not only preserve the memory of the Holocaust, but also hold emotional value. By way of illustration, consider the bracelet in the photograph above; created by Boas Leser on 23/2/1945 at the Oranienburg aircraft manufacture labor camp by Berlin, the bracelet is engraved with his name, birthdate and birthplace, his prison number (132162), and the date and place of the bracelet’s manufacture. In the center of the bracelet, there is a photograph of his beloved, Lola Gebuertig. The remaining link of the bracelet is engraved with the names and dates of the camps where Leser worked a forced laborer.
The description above affords us no more than a superficial history of the artifact. If, however, we look to the artifact from a different angle, we find that it holds not only the message of the victim but also helps us to understand the what was his story: whereas recounting history objectifies, and therefore, depersonalizes, the person under discussion, relating his story restores his personhood and uniqueness as an individual. From my perspective, I would say the actual historical artifact is indeed present with the physical evidence. The bracelet and the bracelet-link that Boas made during the war were carefully preserved throughout his lifetime. When he passed away in 2006, his daughter Batya Chayko née Leser decided to donate the two items to the Yad Vashem Museum Artifacts Collection.
Based on an artistic perspective, the value of the artifact is tremendous; not because of its material, but because it is connected to a specific time and place. Its value is extremely profound because it helps to tell the story. That is to say, it revives the story into life through this bracelet.
Edwards, Elizabeth, Chris Gosden, Ruth B. (Ruth Bliss) Phillips, and Inc Ebrary. Sensible Objects Colonialism, Museums and Material Culture. Oxford ; New York: Oxford ; New York : Berg, 2006. Print.
Hansen-Glucklich, Jennifer, and Inc Ebrary. Holocaust Memory Reframed : Museums and the Challenges of Representation. N.p.: New Brunswick, New Jersey : Rutgers UP, 2014. Print.
[i] "Bearing Witness - Stories Behind the Artifacts in the Yad Vashem Museum Collection." Bearing Witness: Stories Behind the Artifacts in the Yad Vashem Museum Collection. Web. 02 Apr. 2016.