Saturday, January 18, 2020

In Paris (and elsewhere in France) Look Out for Statues of Notable Jews

Paris, France. Hommage au Capitaine Dreyfus by Louis "TIM" Mitelberg (1986). Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2020.
Paris, France. Leon Blum by Philippe Garel. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Paris, France. Elie Wiesel by Denis Chetboune. Photo: Cynthia Mitchell 2019.
In Paris (and elsewhere in France) Look Out for Statues of Notable Jews
by Samuel D. Gruber

After past visits to Paris I've written about on this blog and on Public Art and Memory several noteworthy monuments and memorials. These accounts hardly scratch the surface in a city which may boast more public sculpture than any other city in Europe. The more one visits a place and keeps eyes open, the more one understands the networks of places and spaces. Even when a building or statue or light-post or bench is put in as an individual act it immediately becomes part of a greater whole. In the past this was well understood. The six "talking statues" of pre-modern Rome, for example, carried on public discussions across the city. In this post I try to draw some connections between monuments and memorials I have seen - some by intent and others just by happenstance.

These networks with their invisible lines and (almost) inaudible conversations are what keeps a city thrumming behind the noise of cars and trucks and the indifference of temporary visitors. We discover these connections - we don't imagine or invent them. They rise up in high relief at different times that can depend on a route walked, the way the sun shines, or a particular mood. Some people stop for every red light. I stop for every monument, plaque, and statue (much to the chagrin of my walking companions).

Paris is a very walkable city and now with the ongoing metro strike it is more so than ever. Many, if not most of the figurative and representation sculptural works are allegorical and there are also hundreds of historical events presented in heroic and mythologized forms. In Paris, the allegorical and historical often intermingle, and different timelines can also easily become entangled. Never is this more so than in the historically confused, ambivalent, and defensive French attitude to Jews, and the long Jewish presence in France.

The tendency to generalize and obscure is found in all sort of monuments, and until quite recently this has been especially true of monuments to the victims of World War II concentration camps, and even more so on memorials to Jewish victims of the French and German deportations to Death Camps. I've written about the memorials in the Pere Lechaise Cemetery to French victims of various camps here, and about victims of the Velodrome d'HIV deportations here. To these, can be added the series of bronze reliefs by Arbit Blatas that are installed on the walls of the entry court of the Mémorial de la Shoah (currently covered during renovation work).

Paris, France. Mémorial de la Shoah. Arbit Blatas bronze reliefs. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2012.
Paris, France. Mémorial de la Shoah. Arbit Blatas bronze reliefs, detail. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2012.
Paris, France. Mémorial de la Shoah. Arbit Blatas bronze reliefs under wraps. Photo: Samuel Gruber December 2019.
There is another class of monuments to Jews in Paris also worth considering. These recognize individual Jews important in French history. While they are only a few in number, these represent a growing trend in France (and elsewhere) to diversify the historic figures in stone and bronze that reside in so many Parisian parks and squares.

Statues to at least three notable Jews - Alfred Dreyfus, Leon Blum, and most recently, Elie Wiesel, have been created and installed since the 1980s.

Paris, France. Elie Wiesel by Denis Chetboune. Photo: Cynthia Mitchell 2019.
Paris, France. Elie Wiesel by Denis Chetboune. Photo: Cynthia Mitchell 2019.
On July 2, 2019 a new statue of writer, human rights activist, Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel was unveiled in the small Parisian park with a double name: Square du Temple - Elie Wiesel. Wiesel's name was attached to the square in 2017. The Wiesel statue, by sculptor Denis Chetboune, was donated to the city by the "Association des fils et filles des déportés juifs de France."

It's notable that the sculpture mixes materials - bronze and wood. The wood may be a railroad tie, a reference to the Holocaust deportation trains. The bronze bust of Wiesel is respectfully representational, showing the human rights advocate with a serious gaze. Wrapped around him like a necktie, is a group of unidentified human figures, Holocaust victims from whom Wiesel's visage emerged as spokesman, advocate and storyteller. Embedded in the wooden tie is a Jewish Star, an overt reference to Wiesel's Judaism; not surprising since his entire literary and public career drew on this identity and history. Though Wiesel spent many years in Paris, he was never French.

Paris, France. Elie Wiesel by Denis Chetboune. Photo: Cynthia Mitchell 2019.
Already in October 2007, a separate memorial plaque was inaugurated in the center of the Square du Temple (before Wiesel's name was added). This plaque has the names of 85 Jewish children under the age of 6 who lived in the 3rd Parisian district and were deported to Auschwitz between 1942 and 1944. It is one of many plaques installed around the city about a decade ago as part of more public recognition of the French role in the deportation of Jews - especially children - and commemorating the victims.

Paris, France. Square du Temple - Elie Wiesel. Memorial to Jewish children under the age of 6 who lived in the 3rd Parisian district and were deported in Auschwitz between 1942 and 1944. Photo: Cynthia Mitchell, 2020.
This statue honors Wiesel, but by extension commemorates the Holocaust because Holocaust memory was the cause of Wiesel's life. Coincidentally, the bronze box set within the railroad tie, empty except a Star of David, reminds me of the buried cache of synagogue Judaica discovered just a few days ago in Wieliczka, Poland. There, the box has rotted away, leaving only the jumble of weathered metal ritual ornaments.

Paris, France. Elie Wiesel by Denis Chetboune. Photo: Cynthia Mitchell 2019.
Wieliczka, Poland. Newly discovered Judaica cache beneath synagogue. Photo: Michał Wojenka.
The star in the box is also reminiscent of the large bronze star that caps the deposit of ashes from death camps in the crypt of the Memorial de la Shoah. It is itself a sort of sunken box, lit only by an oculus through the bronze "well-head' in the memorial forecourt. This also recalls the lonely stars in the paintings of Vilna Ghetto survivor Samuel Bak, in whose mournful memories of the Holocaust one hears the empty dry winds of death, longing, and even the loss of hope.

Paris, France. Memorial de la Shoah. "Crypt" with ash from concentration and death camps. Photo: Memorial de la Shoah / Nathalie Darbellay.
Samuel Bak. Ghetto, 1996.

Of course, after the Holocaust, Wiesel's box was not empty. As a writer and advocate he mined it for memory, pain, stories, and strength. Sometimes he found hope; sometimes not.
Paris, France. Hommage au Capitaine Dreyfus by Louis "TIM" Mitelberg (1986). Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2020.
Paris, France. Hommage au Capitaine Dreyfus by Louis "TIM" Mitelberg (1986). Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2020.
Alfred Dreyfus, on the other hand, whose name and fame are now synonymous with late 19th-century French antisemitism, saw himself as entirely French. Still, he was falsely accused and convicted of espionage because his enemies only saw him as Jewish. In 1985 French Minister of Culture Jack Lang (whose father was Jewish), commissioned Polish-born Jewish-French political cartoonist and artist Louis "TIM" Mitelberg to create a statue of Dreyfus (Hommage au Capitaine Dreyfus)  to be installed in the courtyard of the École Militaire, where Dreyfus had been degraded. The country seemed to be on a point of reconciliation, until the over-life size statue was rejected by the conservative military brass. The statue may be a caricature, but it is deadly serious.

At least twice the height of Dreyfus himself,the enormous statue is both cartoonish and monumental. Here Dreyfus is shown as a grand gesture; a symbol more than a man. He is in military dress, at attention, with his raised but broken sword. In the style of Alberto Giacometti, the figure is attenuated, the head too small and the feet too big. Dreyfus was not a great man - at least not initially. He was not more than his uniform and his allegiance to the state and idea of France. It was his ordeal that made him great, and changed his name into an ideal. The statue hints at this. The uniform is greater than the man inside. But the uniform gives the man his posture, his pride, his patriotism and even his heroism.

There are few statues of heroic Jewish military figures with which to compare this work. It is obviously different from those early Zionist works of the Maccabees, such as Alfred Nossig's Judas Maccabaeus, made c. 1901 at the height of the Dreyfus affair, just two years after Dreyfus was pardoned and released from prison in a face-saving move by the French military. Nossig's heroic Jewish fighter is shown with raised sword. The theme is also repeated in Wilhelm Wachtel's near-contemporary illustration of a Jewish Youth Swearing Oath (1902), with raised sword. Sadly, Nossig himself as an old man in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 was found guilty of collaboration with the Nazis and executed by the Jewish Combat Organization. The new generation of "heroes" discarded the old. With all this in mind the notion of Jewish heroism, and image of the raised sword, needs to be viewed with caution.
 
Alfred Nossig. Judas Maccabaeus (ca 1901). From R. Cohen Jewish Icons, fig. 128.
Wilhelm Wachtel. Jewish Youth Swearing Oath. Illustration, Rocznik Zydowski,
1902. JHI, Warsaw. Jewish Art, Vol. 23-25.
Dreyfus's broken sword, the result of the highly stylized ceremony of public humiliation and literal degradation where Dreyfus's uniform was stripped of buttons and insignia and his (previous filed down) sword was broken, reminds me of a very different destruction of swords represented in the dramatic bronze Universal Peace of Jules Butensky (c. 1910) which shows swords beaten into ploughshares.

Alfred Dreyfus' degradation, 5 January 1895. Picture by Henri Meyer on the cover of Le Petit Journal (13 January 1895), captioned "The Traitor". Photo: Wikipedia.
Jules L. Butensky Universal Peace, c. 1910, bronze. Metropolitan Musuem of Art. 4)
The Dreyfus statue also stands distinct from the version of the heroic Jewish fighter created by Polish-Jewish sculptor Nathan Rapoport in his Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Monument of 1948 and its progeny celebrating Ghetto fighters and the warriors of the Israeli War of Independence.

Warsaw, Poland. Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Monument. Nathan Rapoport, sculptor, 1948. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2008.
As Thomas Bass has written in an informative essay about the Dreyfus statue and the entire Dreyfus Affair, "If it had been installed in its rightful place, Dreyfus would be saluting his fellow officers and the army that tortured him. But the army was on to Mitelberg and his subversive sense of humor. They wanted no cartoons of soldiers holding broken swords."  See Thomas Bass, "Still Wandering," (Tablet, Oct 18, 2011).

The Dreyfus statue eventually found a permanent home in the small Square Pierre Lafue. Since 1998, a full-size copy is now installed in the courtyard of the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme where it is seen by a larger public. Appropriately, the museum houses the Fonds Dreyfus, an archive of over 3,000 items donated by the grandchildren of Captain Dreyfus.

Paris, France. Leon Blum by Philippe Garel in front of the Hotel de Ville of the 14th Arrondissement. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Bridging the lives of Dreyfus and Wiesel was Leon Blum (1872-1950), the first Jewish and first socialist prime minister of France, who led the Popular Front coalition government in 1936–37. He was born into a Jewish family in Alsace, educated at the École Normale Supérieure, and studied law at the Sorbonne. The Dreyfus Affair brought him into active politics on the side of the republican Dreyfusards and led to his joining the French Socialist Party in 1904. Read more about Blum here.

A bronze statue of Blum by Philippe Garel was installed in front of the Hotel de Ville of the 14th Arrondissement in 1991. The statue is an  homage, and draws on famous models. Blum's expressive features and his billowing coat recall Rodin's great statue of standing Balzac, seen across town in the Musee Rodin (and also in the sculpture garden of MOMA in New York).
 
Paris, France. Leon Blum by Philippe Garel. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Paris, France. Leon Blum by Philippe Garel. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Paris, France. Leon Blum by Philippe Garel. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Paris, France. Leon Blum by Philippe Garel. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Paris, France. Balzac model by Rodin. Musee Rodin. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013.
Paris, France. Balzac full statue by Rodin. Musee Rodin. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013.

Though I wasn't actively looking, I did not see any statues to women or people of color in my recent walks through Paris, though there are bound to be a few. There are no statues (in Paris) to famous Jewish stage celebrities Rachel Felix and Sarah Bernhardt, though Felix has one of the most impressive tombs in the Jewish section of Pere Lechaise cemetery, and an allee named after her.

Paris, France. Pere Lechaise Cemetery. tomb of Rachel Felix. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
A bust of French politician, human rights activist, Auschwitz survivor and EU president Simone Veil, who died in 2017, was however, installed just a month ago in the town La Roche-sur Yon. Sadly, it was promptly vandalized. Whether the vandals despised Veil as a Jew, or the most prominent proponent of women's rights in France in unknown. It was Viel, after all, who was most responsible for legalizing abortion in France, still a hot-button topic for many religious conservatives. The bust itself is not remarkable as sculpture. It is a remarkable matter-of-fact likeness of the French politician whose likeness at the time of her death was probably as well-known in France as the (ever-changing) face of Marianne.

Echoing the dearth of statues of accomplished women across Paris, Veil is only the fifth woman given the honor of burial in France's Pantheon, where she was laid to rest in June 2018. When I visited her grave a few weeks ago, however, I noticed that the curators have not yet gotten around to including her biography along with all the other dignitaries entombed nearby.
 
La Roche-sur Yon, France. Bust of Simone Viel, after vandalism December 2019.
Lastly, on the this topic of the sculptural depictions of real Jews, Ruth Ellen Gruber wrote in 2018 about a double portrait memorial to the poet and painter and critic Max Jacobs, created by sculptors Philippe Meffroy and Veronique Millour and erected in 1995 in the small town of Treboul in Brittany. 

According to Ruth, Jacobs "was born in nearby Quimper in 1876 and vacationed in Treboul from 1929. Born and raised a Jew, Jacob (who was gay) converted to Catholicism in 1909 (apparently after claiming to have had a mystical vision of Christ). Still, he was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944 and sent to the Drancy internment/deportation camp outside Paris, where he died of pneumonia before he would have been deported to Auschwitz. His brother Gaston, sister, and brother-in-law were murdered at Auschwitz." The memorial stands at the top of a path leading from the port near the church of St. Jean.

Treboul, France. Memorial to Max Jacobs by sculptors Philippe Meffroy and Veronique Millour, 1995. Photo: Ruth Ellen Gruber 2018.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

England: Southampton's Old Jewish Cemetery

Southampton, England. Old Jewish Cemetery. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Southampton, England. Old Jewish Cemetery. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Southampton, England. Old Jewish Cemetery. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
England: Southampton's Old Jewish Cemetery
by Samuel D. Gruber

When I was in England last month I made an unplanned visit to the Old Jewish Cemetery in Southampton, which was opened in the mid-19th century. It was a rainy day on the Common, but the rain stopped long enough for me to poke around the small burial ground, and to take some photos. Here's what I learned and saw.

Southampton Jewish Cemetery is situated within Southampton's (Old) Cemetery, one of the England's oldest municipal cemeteries, located at the south end of the Southampton Common. Ten acres of cemetery were designed in 1843 by noted London landscape gardener J.C. Loudon, the year he published his influential book On the Laying Out, Planting and Managing of Cemeteries. Local nurseryman W.H. Rogers adapted Loudon's design. Five more acres were added in 1862 and an additional 12 acres in 1885. The cemetery is noted for its many graves of war dead, especially from World War I, and also graves or markers for victims of the 1912 sinking of the Titanic, which sailed from Southampton with a largely local crew.

The cemetery was opened in May 1846 by the Bishop of Winchester for Church of England burials. A section was left unconsecrated, however, for dissenting religions and agnostics. Soon after opening a petition was sent to the town council requesting that a portion be set aside for Jewish burials. Consequently, a small Jewish section with it own pre-burial hall was created and the first burial took place in 1854. The space is almost entirely filled today. 

This is one of the earliest modern Jewish cemeteries in England, and the first within a municipal cemetery It follows the example of Glasgow, Scotland, where Sharman Kadish has pointed out "the earliest example of a Jewish plot planned and landscaped as part of the overall design of a municipal cemetery" is the Jews’ Enclosure at the Glasgow Necropolis, laid out in 1829–33 on the model of Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris (1804). Kadish describes the earliest burial in the entire Glasgow cemetery as "that of Joseph Levi, aged 62, quill merchant, who was interred on 12 September 1832 in the Jewish plot. Levi had died of cholera, an epidemic raging in the city at the time. His coffin was filled with lime and water either to prevent the spread of infection or as protection against grave robbers." (Sharman Kadish, "The Situation, Preservation and Care of Jewish Cemeteries in the United Kingdom" in Jewish Cemeteries and Burial Culture in Europe, Berlin: ICOMOS, Journals of the German National Committee No. 53 (2011), pp. 82-87").

Across Europe more Jewish sections were included in municipal cemeteries. This practice began in France and throughout the 19th and early 20th century and spread to countries in Central and Eastern Europe, too. (See Rudolf Klein's recent book Metropolitan Jewish Cemeteries (ICOMOS, 2018).

The Southampton Cemetery is owned and managed by the Southampton City Council, but the Jewish section is managed and maintained by the local Jewish Community.
 
Southampton, England. Sign with map of Commons. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019
The stones in the Southampton Jewish cemetery contain several with noteworthy though common decorations, especially a series of round-headed stones that include reliefs showing an arm and hand from heaven wielding a ax and felling a tree, a sign of someone cut down in the prime of life. The stones are similar in source, shape and design, suggesting a single stone carver was responsible for many stones. It is not known (to me, at least) if the stones were prepared locally or shipped from London or elsewhere.

One of these stones with the felled tree tells the sad story of Zelda Melamed, age 48, who died en route to joining her husband in Brooklyn. Southampton is a port city, so it often was a point of transit. It is not known if Zelda died on a ship en route to Brooklyn via Southampton - perhaps leaving from Hamburg - and thus her body was transported here, or if there was another circumstance. The date of the stone - 1930 - suggests that Zelda may already have been in America and was returning from a trip to the old country. That is because the United States pretty much closed is borders to new Jewish (and other) immigrants in 1925.


Southampton, England. Old Jewish Cemetery. Grave of Zelda Melamed (1930). Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019
Zelda's is also one of three stones I saw that still had traces of a enameled portrait of the deceased. The method of fixing a photographic image on enamel or porcelain by firing it in a kiln was already patented in France by 1854. The practice spread widely in Europe and by the late 19th century was being used regularly in cemeteries as a much cheaper alternative to statuary for the personalizing of the gravestone. In America, the practice had caught on by 1900 and in the early 1900s the mail-order retailer Sears-Roebuck was advertising in its catalogue for “Imperishable Limoges porcelain portraits [which] preserve the features of the deceased . . .”

Southampton, England. Old Jewish Cemetery. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.

 Southampton, England. Old Jewish Cemetery. Grave of Zelda Melamed (1930), dtl. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.


Southampton, England. Old Jewish Cemetery. Grave of Zelda Melamed (1930), dtl. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.


  Southampton, England. Old Jewish Cemetery. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Southampton, England. Old Jewish Cemetery. Stone with portrait on ceramic. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Southampton, England. Old Jewish Cemetery. Stone with portrait on ceramic, detail. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Southampton, England. Old Jewish Cemetery. Stone with portrait on ceramic. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Southampton, England. Old Jewish Cemetery. Stone with portrait on ceramic, detail Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
As far I can tell, most burials were made along rows in the order of death, and this explains the groupings of often similar stones as they were carved and set within a rarely short time span and were most likely provided by the same monument maker.


Southampton, England. Old Jewish Cemetery. Two stones of men who died in 1923. They appear unrelated, but the stones are cut by the same monument maker. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Southampton, England. Old Jewish Cemetery. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Southampton, England. Old Jewish Cemetery. These three stones on the right date from 1930-1931. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
At least three stones show hands raised in the Priestly Blessing, indicating that the deceased were Cohanim; the names of these Cohanim are Abraham Collins, and Benny and Moses Cohen. Only the grave of Abraham Collins is at the edge of the cemetery; the other two were in the central area. Since the graves are set close together it does not look like there was ever "Cohanim walk" to protect ritual purity. More likely, such matters were not a great concern to the families of the deceased.

Southampton, England. Old Jewish Cemetery. Gravestone of Abraham Collins (died 1894). Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Southampton, England. Old Jewish Cemetery. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
One other stone shows hands - those of a woman giving the blessings over the Sabbath lights. The hands are shown with candlesticks, a traditional emblem to denote a good and pious woman.

Southampton, England. Old Jewish Cemetery. Gravestone of Kate Rosenberg Bachins (?), 1923. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Southampton, England. Old Jewish Cemetery. Gravestone of Kate Rosenberg Bachins (?), 1923. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
At least one war veteran is buried in the cemetery. Lt. P.L. Moss died in 1946, and there is one O.B.E. (Officer of the British Empire) recipient:  Nathan Turk, Chairman, Westminster Savings Committee who was named an O.B.E. in 1953 ans died in 1985.

Southampton, England. Old Jewish Cemetery. Grave of Lt. P.L. Moss, died 1946. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
Southampton, England. Old Jewish Cemetery. Grave of Nathan Turk, O.B.E. (right), died 1985. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2019.
FOR FURTHER READING:

On Jewish cemeteries in England also see Kadish, “ Bet Hayim: An Introduction to Jewish Funerary Art and Architecture in Britain”, in: Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society 49 (2005), pp. 31–58; S. Kadish, “ Jewish funerary architecture in Britain and Ireland since 1656”, in: Jewish Historical Studies [JHSE] 43 (2011), pp. 59 –88.