The photographs below are some that show the stages of my baking and my life in bread.
In retrospect, it makes sense that I have become a bread-baker. My very first memory is of bread that was intended for a Guinea Pig named Rupert who lived in the classroom of a school in London I attended when I was two. I am certain that this is a memory rather than something that my parents retold to me because it is a flavor that I can still taste. I am also certain, and this part was retold to me, that my teacher bought at least two loaves of bread and carrots every day, because I was not the only child who snacked along when feeding Rupert. Perhaps the highest reward of being a bread-baker is that, on occasion, someone will taste my bread and then suddenly find themselves transported elsewhere- to their childhood or travels or a faint memory of some flavor. This is precisely what an artist dreams to do.
My artwork is derived from the unsettling recognition that my wood-fired brick oven is in many ways indistinguishable from the crematoria of Auschwitz. This observation, as it turns out, is not simply one of frivolous similarities. Indeed, J. A. Topf, the company that designed the crematoria also designed grain roasting ovens for breweries and bread ovens for bakeries. Strangely, I have found myself working next to a machine that so closely resembles an icon of vast destruction. What would it mean to bake bread in these ovens? How might I consider the space between the life-providing and life-reducing potential of such machinery? How do the mechanics of memory and its inevitable blurring with the present further complicate this quandary? What it means to be a Jewish-Artist-Baker is unsettled — it offers and perhaps even insists on its own questioning.
The story of my mother’s parents has been passed to me as follows: they were upper-middle class business owners from Berlin who, after reading a copy of Mein Kampf and sensing the consequences of the boycotts on Jewish-owned businesses, realized in 1936 that it was time to leave Germany. They were also intellectuals who read Theodor Herzl and Martin Buber and must have been Zionists, although this was never part of the explanation for their departure. While the rest of the family remained behind, ridiculing them for abandoning their German homeland, they went to Palestine where my mother was born. I do not know how they observed what was happening in Europe. I am sure that they received letters from family, desperate letters lamenting the mistakes made by those who stayed behind.
I did not know until later how much they loved living in Palestine. I assumed that when they moved to New York in 1946, it was because they longed for the sophisticated urbanity that they had left behind in Berlin. In fact, they came to the States because my grandfather’s brother asked his younger brother to help him run a textile machinery business. When my grandmother died I realized that I had never really witnessed her anger and indignation. The greatest revenge she enacted upon Hitler was to get her PhD at the age of 80. This was what she was denied by the Nazis. If there is an overarching lesson that was instilled in me by my parents it was to never extend one’s roots too deeply, to never attach so entirely to a place that one cannot see the peril outside.
I am of the generation who, for a fleeting moment longer, can hold fast to the survivors. We grandchildren possess more than an intellectual or moral curiosity towards the Holocaust. We are strangely tethered between proximity and unbridgeable distance. We are increasingly responsible for this inheritance to our collective history, which drifts and weaves between memories of memories. We grandchildren know the voices of origin, full of rich nuance, expressiveness, and great sadness. These are not, however, our memories, for ours are always tertiary, faded, incomprehensible and inadequate. We question what our responsibility to this history is. I wonder whether we have held ourselves hostage to the very insistence of never forgetting. I imagine that in some sense, the slippage and blurring of these ovens offers an expression of this history and its absolute human failing. And maybe too, there is hope.