Beyond words: an embroidery in memory of Anna Binderowska, married 1864

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Leora Auslander writes that: “Human beings need objects to effectively remember and forget; and we need objects to cope with absence, with loss and with death.” This text discusses the personal memories and thoughts about my own Jewish family history in the context of the holocaust, which are embedded in the design of a picture, embroidered in wool on canvas, that I made in the mid-1990s in memory of my great-grandmother, Anna Binderowska. The picture was displayed in the exhibition “Hand Made Tales,” curated by Carol Tulloch at the Women’s Library, Whitechapel, London in 2011, when I was also asked to lecture about it at the related conference. Anna, who married in 1864 and had a large number of children, lived and died in the poor Jewish district of the Polish city of Słonim, then in the Russian Pale of Settlement. Four of her children, including my grandfather, Morris, emigrated and settled in Manchester, England in the mid-1890s. Never having been to Słonim, I invented a naive, comforting, idyllic vision of Anna’s gravestone in the old Jewish cemetery in the town, under fallen leaves and a blue sky. Researching that cemetery’s specific history twenty years later for Carol Tulloch’s conference, I found that in July 1942, SS Brigadeführer Eric Naumann, in command of Himmler’s special SS Einsatzgruppen B battalion, reached Słonim. The little town became an infamous killing ground, a place of mass Jewish slaughter and destruction. As all over Poland, the town’s Jewish cemeteries, including Anna’s gravestone, were smashed one by one. This text reflects finally on the fact that Naumann was tried at the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal and executed in 1951. While he took no part in the Naumann trial, my father had been a member of the British prosecution team at Nuremburg and I realized that my embroidery had also been made in memory of my parents, my Jewish mother and my Welsh father.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)300-313
Number of pages14
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2013


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