When Whispered Names Become a Prayer or a Warning

Like a yo-yo, history often repeats itself as it coils and spins from learned to unlearned events. But some events are too dangerous to unlearn or ignore because to do so clouds our collective memory and creates a spinning vortex of mis-information masquerading as facts. Perception slants what we choose to see.

As an artist, perception is important to me. For example, when looking at earlier works, it is as if I am holding pair of binoculars the wrong way. Going back in time, the pieces that appear so far away have suddenly taken on new meaning and now loom large. One particular piece comes in to sharp focus.

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 returned to my studio, I held the list of names and knew who would be listening and who would hear.

"Mogen David: How Do You remember What You Never forget?"  2006, Wood, German new Antique glass, copper, 26" x 28" x 6"  © Pat Benincasa 2006All Rights Reserved

"Mogen David: How Do You remember What You Never forget?"  2006, Wood, German new Antique glass, copper, 26" x 28" x 6"  © Pat Benincasa 2006All Rights Reserved

"Mogen David: How Do You remember What You Never forget?"  2006, Wood, German New Antique glass, copper, 26" x 28" x 6"  © Pat Benincasa 2006All Rights Reserved

"Mogen David: How Do You remember What You Never forget?"  2006, Wood, German New Antique glass, copper, 26" x 28" x 6"  © Pat Benincasa 2006All Rights Reserved

"Mogen David: How Do You remember What You Never forget?"  2006, Wood, German New Antique glass, copper, 26" x 28" x 6"  © Pat Benincasa 2006All Rights Reserved

"Mogen David: How Do You remember What You Never forget?"  2006, Wood, German New Antique glass, copper, 26" x 28" x 6"  © Pat Benincasa 2006All Rights Reserved