Mogen David: How Do You Remember What You Never Forget?


In 2006, a dear friend had told me about her discovery regarding the fate of an Eastern European town where her husband’s relatives lived during WW2. The Nazis executed over three hundred Jews and their bodies were placed in a mass grave nearby.

I asked her for the names and she gave me a typed list. In my studio, I quietly whispered each name, not sure who was listening or who would hear. I rummaged through broken, weathered boards bleached by time and use. Pieces of wood began to form a Star of David. Hammered strips of copper conspired with pale yellow German New Antique glass to recall the yellow Stars of David that Jews were forced to
wear. The words that came to mind were: "How do you remember what you never forget?”

I called my friend and asked how to write this question in Yiddish? She suggested that I use Hebrew instead, and that she knew an elderly man who knew both
languages. She showed him the question and he told her that he would very much like to translate it into Hebrew. (He had a typewriter with Hebrew fonts.) When I received the translation, I meticulously painted the text on to the copper to complete the piece.

Soon after, my friend invited me to show this work to a gathering of the Yiddish Vinkl Club in Minneapolis. I was nervous about doing this because I am not Jewish, I am a first-generation Italian American woman. Would that matter?

Then I met the elderly man with the typewriter that had Hebrew fonts, he told me that he was “honored to do the translation.” He was a survivor of Auschwitz.
When I went back to my studio, I held the list of names and knew who would be listening and who would hear.