Love stories during the Holocaust are as inspiring as they are remarkable. In photographer Max Hirshfeld’s new book Sweet Noise: Love in Wartime, he offers an intimate look at one of these stories through powerful photographs, a series of emotional love letters between his parents, and the narrative of a son’s pilgrimage exploring his origins.
This Museum program explores Hirshfeld’s work with the photographer and Jacqueline Kott-Wolle, a fellow artist and daughter of Holocaust survivors. Hirshfeld and Kott-Wolle explore different forms of love, expression, and the idea that Jewish trauma and hardship did not end after the war.
Watch the program below.
This program’s original recording transcript is below. This transcription was created automatically during a live program so may contain inaccurate transcriptions of some words.
Ari Goldstein: I'm Ari Goldstein, Senioor public programs producer and it's a pleasure to welcome you to this evenings program about sweet boys love and war time really wonderful book by Max hirschfeld which will dive into in detail shortly.
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Ari Goldstein: is a difficult subject to grasp and its scale and in depth with impact and individual lives.
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Ari Goldstein: Max hirschfeld an award winning photographer search for decades for the right way to share his survivor parents experiences both their love story and the perseverance, the result of that on search was sweet noise.
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Ari Goldstein: which combines letters with stunning photographs of his mother's returned Poland five decades after the war, the book powerful window into the legacy of the Holocaust, both on those who survived it and on the second generation in order at the link in the zoom chat.
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Ari Goldstein: Max is here with us this conversation with Jacqueline caught wall also a visual artist and the daughter of Holocaust survivors.
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Ari Goldstein: Originally from Toronto Jackie has lived in the Chicago area since 2005 where she studied at the art Center of Highland park and created a gorgeous series of paintings titled growing up Jewish art and storytelling.
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Ari Goldstein: We were privileged to host Jackie for an artist talk at the museum this past spring on zoom and really excited to be bringing her and Max together this evening to explore ways live in more time.
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Ari Goldstein: please feel free to share your questions in the zoom Q amp a lot throughout the program will get to as many as we can proceed.
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Ari Goldstein: Further welcome everyone, thank you for being here Jackie.
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Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Thank you ra and Max first of all, congratulations on this wonderful book sweet noise loving more time and thank you for the honor of inviting me.
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Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: here tonight to help you launch your at the Museum of Jewish heritage, I think this is going to be a really positive experience we have lots to talk about so don't waste a minute.
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Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: In your book at the beginning, you use a Polish word called have root.
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Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: and
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Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Do you want to explain what that means for everyone here and how this beautiful books sweet noise came to be.
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Max Hirshfeld: Thanks Jackie I would love to it and I appreciate this so much and thank thanks to orient Sydney and everyone at the museum as well pardon me.
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Max Hirshfeld: In Polish there is a word that has multiple meanings for the term return put route can mean homecoming or it can mean i'm going to the store i'll be right back.
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Max Hirshfeld: When I first tackled creating a book about my parents lives before, during and after the Holocaust, the working title was returned.
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Max Hirshfeld: This is version one.
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Max Hirshfeld: interpreted this way calling my mother's first returned to Poland.
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Max Hirshfeld: A spiritual return lizard apropos but over the STOP and start progress of my book, I began to realize that I too had been on a route to the place of my family's past without ever previously having stepped foot in there, a little backstory on the books genesis.
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Max Hirshfeld: for everyone who's not familiar with it in 1993 I escorted my mother to Poland on her first return and 46 years.
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Max Hirshfeld: I took one camera three lenses and 20 rolls of film with me and tried very hard not to have expectations regarding what I may or may not experience.
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Max Hirshfeld: I took it so far, before I left my home as to talk to a couple of magazine editors regarding this and the advice I got was pretty much go do it then show us what you have so.
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Max Hirshfeld: I came back and it took.
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Max Hirshfeld: Several months, maybe a year or so to sort of come to terms with what I was looking at and at some point my father in law, asked me if I wanted to do a book about it, and I said.
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Max Hirshfeld: I don't really think there's a book here but i'll give it a whirl so fast forward to many years, this is from 93 all the way till 99 when my mother passed.
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Max Hirshfeld: And I tried various iterations of the book through those years.
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Max Hirshfeld: She passed in 1992 or three years after she passed I finally open that box that she had given me before she passed and inside that box was another box and there were 700 plus letters that my parents had written to each other in their separation after the Second World War.
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Max Hirshfeld: When I found the letters I knew that I had something so let's assume we're in the early 2000s.
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Max Hirshfeld: I can start working on a book again.
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Max Hirshfeld: And this is the second version of the book.
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Max Hirshfeld: I.
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Max Hirshfeld: think that I was misguided in some ways, because I was open to suggestions from others, and I.
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Max Hirshfeld: signed with an agent who thought this was an ideal story for the young adult audience, so I worked very hard to reconstruct my narrative.
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Max Hirshfeld: So that it would appeal to a 15 year old especially someone who may not have even heard of the Holocaust so i'm.
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Max Hirshfeld: Over those ensuing years I went back and forth with this book and really tried hard to come up with something that felt right.
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Max Hirshfeld: But I didn't let it go and Jackie and I will talk about this further is that there was a drag it on on my soul and I know Jackie soul, with her work that wouldn't let go so.
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Max Hirshfeld: i'll read you one quick line about this, and this relates to how this book finally came to be in November 2018 I completed the Commission to shoot in Africa.
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Max Hirshfeld: That coincided with Perry photo and offered me the opportunity to meet a publisher with copies of my MAC hat in hand and my father's Paris era wallet in my pocket.
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Max Hirshfeld: I knew I had nothing to lose I introduced myself to several publishers and two weeks later, I received a proposal from damiani to publish sweet noise.
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Max Hirshfeld: So that's the genesis that's what i've got and I i'd really love, if you have anything to add Jackie otherwise i'm ready to share the screen, which will give the audience, I think, a better feel for the the the book.
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Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Max I think that's a great idea why don't you share your screen and show everybody that.
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Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Wonderful video that I so enjoyed let's do it.
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Max Hirshfeld: Here we go.
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Max Hirshfeld: separately surviving death marches they found each other through and and and a small newspaper in late 1945.
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Max Hirshfeld: When my father knocked on her door and hurt her footsteps in the hall he knew that they would marry after only nine months together and nine days married.
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Max Hirshfeld: They endured a longer separation, due to the chaos of immigration, it was always through the power of the press that, after more than three years apart, they finally reunited in 1949.
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Max Hirshfeld: During their endless or deal my parents wrote to each other, almost every day and several years after I scored my mother to Poland and photograph to attempt to closure, I discovered those more than 700 letters.
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Max Hirshfeld: There were more remarkable love story helped create a book, despite the odds i'm honored to be with you today sharing your journey.
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Max Hirshfeld: As Michael berenbaum writes in his essay sweet noise is actually two books in one each different in tone and tenor each offering an insight powerful and pointed sad and so bring yet full of love.
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Max Hirshfeld: One is a book of letters, the other narrative of pilgrimage beautifully illustrated by a series of photographs.
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Max Hirshfeld: December 18 1945 Paris.
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Max Hirshfeld: Do you find you.
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Max Hirshfeld: I received was that or an hour ago, and you can only imagine what it meant to me.
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Max Hirshfeld: I felt deep in my soul.
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Max Hirshfeld: That Maybe it was you.
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Max Hirshfeld: i'm alone in Paris now living here for over half a year since American soldiers family dying and bookable and thinking that I was French send me to Paris.
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Max Hirshfeld: I have a lot to write about, but I am leaving this for another time.
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Max Hirshfeld: Now, I must ask some questions and I need the answers.
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Max Hirshfeld: Are you alone.
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Max Hirshfeld: Do you have somebody.
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Max Hirshfeld: Because I more than want you to come here, I almost demanded.
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Max Hirshfeld: But I must know where things stand.
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Max Hirshfeld: My heart nearly exploded, but I realized that I have finally found you.
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Max Hirshfeld: Writing is so hard, because my handwriting is different from before.
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Max Hirshfeld: My hand is a little stiff.
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Max Hirshfeld: A souvenir from gosh.
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Max Hirshfeld: Please right, I beg you, because I am waiting.
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Max Hirshfeld: it's been really hard for me here and I was close to committing suicide.
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Max Hirshfeld: But the depression past.
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Max Hirshfeld: I don't look well because I don't take care of myself.
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Max Hirshfeld: But my love.
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Max Hirshfeld: I didn't forget anything.
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Max Hirshfeld: I remember.
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Max Hirshfeld: Everything.
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Max Hirshfeld: life is beautiful after all.
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Max Hirshfeld: And we should take advantage of it, because we will never ever again get a gift like this.
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Max Hirshfeld: My sleep will be different.
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Max Hirshfeld: My thoughts are and will be different, as well with different plans.
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Max Hirshfeld: and different hopes.
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Max Hirshfeld: After your reply.
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Max Hirshfeld: From Lucia we found each other again and don't make me wait too long.
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Max Hirshfeld: make me happy again.
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Max Hirshfeld: At least with the letter.
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Max Hirshfeld: Because the letter that is here with me is marvelous like a beautiful dream that came true.
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Max Hirshfeld: I will write more later.
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Max Hirshfeld: But for now.
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Max Hirshfeld: i'm waiting.
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Max Hirshfeld: kisses.
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Max Hirshfeld: Your you like.
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Max Hirshfeld: To send it to 21 1945 Paris.
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Max Hirshfeld: My everything.
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Max Hirshfeld: We have to start from scratch, as if we were born again.
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Max Hirshfeld: I want to feel you next to me till my last days to know that I have someone for whom it is worth staying alive.
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Max Hirshfeld: It came to life through all this suffering through beatings, hunger and cold through brutality license bugs to hell with what we went through.
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Max Hirshfeld: It is behind us now.
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Max Hirshfeld: When we like touch you take you in my arms.
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Max Hirshfeld: If I could I would fold myself into this envelope.
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Max Hirshfeld: Your you like.
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Max Hirshfeld: 18 October 1946 jacksonville.
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Max Hirshfeld: My love, I found a paradise in my uncle's House no words are adequate when talking about him except maybe an angel he is an angel not a human his only goal now is to bring you over to see us happy together.
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Max Hirshfeld: He keeps asking me if I like it here, and he does Now let me cry which unfortunately happens a lot mostly because I can't believe all of this, something like this, we could only see in the movies, before you know.
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Max Hirshfeld: i'm very happy here, but it is also very hard to be without you they watch me all the time and make sure that I don't do anything and only rest.
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Max Hirshfeld: In the morning the servant brings me breakfast in bed really my darling I have no words to describe this this really is an amazing country, it seems as if everybody lives well and that everybody is a real human being.
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Max Hirshfeld: I think you will like it here, and if not, I will go anywhere in the world with you.
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Max Hirshfeld: Today my uncle opened a bank account for me and the name of Mrs Julian hirschfeld though I have to be careful because my aunt knows how much money, I have there.
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Max Hirshfeld: I really wanted to send you some money but i'm not sure I can make decisions like that, by myself, yet.
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Max Hirshfeld: you're loving kenosha.
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Max Hirshfeld: April 20 1947 jacksonville.
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Max Hirshfeld: My law.
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Max Hirshfeld: I am going to New York to begin the process of applying for a passport I don't want to be in America, without you anymore.
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Max Hirshfeld: If our separation is too painful maybe it would be better for me to leave America for a year and, like you said, maybe in a year, we will be able to come back here together.
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Max Hirshfeld: Your financial.
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Max Hirshfeld: Media may 11 1947.
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Max Hirshfeld: My everything.
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Max Hirshfeld: Yesterday I went to the American consulate.
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Max Hirshfeld: The console did not see me, so I saw a vice console very young and very strict.
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Max Hirshfeld: I spent a long time there and I spoken English and in French I almost cried when I was telling him about my life.
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Max Hirshfeld: I tried to stay calm.
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Max Hirshfeld: and used my most beautiful French, but nothing worked he refused to give me a visa only because I was born in Poland.
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Max Hirshfeld: yo yo.
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Max Hirshfeld: September 10 1947 New York my love, I did not end well not cancel a trip, nothing is as important as the fact that in one week I will be honest ship going to you.
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Max Hirshfeld: On September 17 at 4pm I am boarding the SS America which will arrive in sharepoint on September 24 at 5am.
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Max Hirshfeld: When you come to pick me up please stay calm we shouldn't be too sad and we shouldn't get too excited wait what am I writing, but I just think about seeing you I go crazy your friend new show.
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Max Hirshfeld: me 10 1948 jacksonville.
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Max Hirshfeld: My last two years ago, you were waiting for me in Paris, today it has two months since I returned to the US.
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Max Hirshfeld: Now, both of us must be strong believers, only then will we be together soon.
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Max Hirshfeld: We have to believe, please go to the Canadian consulate and tells them that a textile factory has offered you a job.
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Max Hirshfeld: Your friend OSHA.
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Max Hirshfeld: August for 1948 Paris.
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Max Hirshfeld: My everything.
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Max Hirshfeld: I speak to you all the time.
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Max Hirshfeld: I hold your hand and talk to you I tell you how much I love you that we will be together soon and that we will never separate again.
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Max Hirshfeld: The good news is that I met with the journalists, you mentioned the husband and wife and I told them everything.
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Max Hirshfeld: They have very interested in our story and they talk to the console about it.
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Max Hirshfeld: you'll you'll it.
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Max Hirshfeld: October for 1948 jacksonville my love, two days ago I got a phone call from Saturday evening post.
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Max Hirshfeld: They said they want to come and take pictures of me then yesterday someone else called my uncle for more details about himself they asked if it was true he lost his entire family of 143 people.
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Max Hirshfeld: We sat down and counted all the people from both close and distant family lost during the war.
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Max Hirshfeld: We wrote back to confirm your friend OSHA.
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Max Hirshfeld: June 119 49 Paris my everything I got a visa, today I am coming I am coming.
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Max Hirshfeld: Thanks to Mr best I got the visa they sent me a letter last night that the console general called Washington and explained the situation.
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Max Hirshfeld: He then received an additional number, especially for me.
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Max Hirshfeld: After all these years of suffering and obstacles, I am allowed to be with you and stay with you for the rest of our lives.
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Max Hirshfeld: I just want to take you in my arms now and press you to my heart, with no words.
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Max Hirshfeld: Just us together.
00:19:27.330 --> 00:19:28.410
Max Hirshfeld: In that embrace.
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Max Hirshfeld: Your you'll.
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Max Hirshfeld: Nine years after Auschwitz my parents settled in decatur Alabama a small city on the banks of the Tennessee river.
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Max Hirshfeld: That offer them a place far removed from their previous lives, a place where no one fully understood the man and woman with the blue numbers on their arms but welcome them anyway.
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Max Hirshfeld: By the time I was nine or 10 I started to be aware of that they had lived through a singular experience, and I was even proud of that fact and then naive misguided way.
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Max Hirshfeld: Get if my father took my hand while crossing the street, I would resist, sometimes even becoming embarrassed is need to hold me was more complex than I could see a knee deep in a man who survived the unspeakable clinging fiercely to what was his.
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Max Hirshfeld: It wasn't until after my father died and I turned 30 that I began to ask questions about Poland and my mother's memories of her home.
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Max Hirshfeld: of life in the ghetto and outfits over the next few years we discussed her desire to share her past and her need to show me the place that she remembered she told me that before she died, we would go there to her world before.
00:20:47.010 --> 00:20:59.850
Max Hirshfeld: We began to plan a trip, I wanted to look through her eyes owner and seeing both the past and the present filtered through time I hunger, to share, whereas with her that would fill in this uncharted territory.
00:21:00.930 --> 00:21:08.730
Max Hirshfeld: We stayed at the hotel Bristol in Warsaw that along with no chic synagogue was commandeered by the German military during the war.
00:21:10.470 --> 00:21:16.020
Max Hirshfeld: The hotel services headquarters for the staff of a synagogue was used to house their horses.
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Max Hirshfeld: In the sof summer light of our first evening we honor the Sabbath and nosey the only one of warsaw's more than 400 synagogues to survive the war.
00:21:27.690 --> 00:21:37.290
Max Hirshfeld: That night with barely enough men to form a minion my mother climb the stairs to the second level of the sanctuary and waited patiently for the service to end.
00:21:38.640 --> 00:21:47.430
Max Hirshfeld: A quietly took pictures from the last few waiting for the voices of the men gathered before me to reach a level that would help muffle the sound of the camera.
00:21:48.600 --> 00:21:59.250
Max Hirshfeld: I sensed spirits living in the walls of the synagogue and then posing structure soaked in history and surviving precariously in a place once teeming with Jewish life.
00:22:00.330 --> 00:22:11.940
Max Hirshfeld: On our first morning at the Jewish cemetery we saw a simple exhibit dedicated to children were dozens of photographs are embedded in a rough masonry exhibit left open to the elements.
00:22:13.830 --> 00:22:21.780
Max Hirshfeld: About above the photographs is a poem on tablets that speaks of a young man's futile attempt to bring bread to assumed to be killed mother.
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Max Hirshfeld: We traveled to a part of and located the building where my mother was born the entrance to the courtyard was through a dilapidated brick archway and as we get approached I felt a cool dampness as if a transparent presence moved with us to the air.
00:22:40.200 --> 00:22:55.020
Max Hirshfeld: Once inside my mother stopped things grow and comfortably quiet and that she began to speak it seemed that her persona altered transformed by the kind of fleeting memory that leaves before it fully arrives.
00:22:56.640 --> 00:23:06.720
Max Hirshfeld: With no vegetation insight and just a few crack tiles covered by the city evidence of where the coal is stored the courtyard felt like a haunted place.
00:23:07.740 --> 00:23:15.330
Max Hirshfeld: moving closer with my camera I watched a great sorrow come across her face she built her lower lip and began to cry.
00:23:16.380 --> 00:23:27.150
Max Hirshfeld: Rather than consoling her I photograph the moment burying my sense of duty as her son in a split second of selfishness silently welcoming the raw emotion.
00:23:28.020 --> 00:23:37.710
Max Hirshfeld: watching my mother wrestle with her memories seem to suck the air for my lungs, when I look at these photos of her physically shaking in that dismal place.
00:23:38.280 --> 00:23:55.680
Max Hirshfeld: I imagine her as a girl of three now easily unaware of the cataclysmic events stretching out before her playing and whispering and secure in her tiny universe undoubtedly that world has been in a slower way filled with promise and sweet noise.
00:23:57.930 --> 00:24:06.390
Max Hirshfeld: From a pot of we moved on to is Ivy and located the building where my mother was raised on the street that was once named Adolf Hitler Strasser.
00:24:07.800 --> 00:24:22.590
Max Hirshfeld: A woman stood on the front steps, I know suspiciously at harmony, a small dog my mother showed her tattoo from Auschwitz, to the woman and she did with other strangers, we met in Poland and her act of defiance gave me pause.
00:24:23.910 --> 00:24:37.050
Max Hirshfeld: I was apprehensive and uncomfortable hit deeply proud of her it was part of her closure to tell their story to these polls, the neighbors who had perhaps looked away or even cheered when the Jews were rounded up.
00:24:38.790 --> 00:24:49.020
Max Hirshfeld: When my mother returned to Europe in 1947 first to see my father in Paris, then two visits a vhs she placed in new stone owners and xhosa his grave.
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Max Hirshfeld: 46 years later I photographed her in that cemetery clutching a few flowers and gesturing toward way she remembered social resting place to be.
00:25:00.480 --> 00:25:19.620
Max Hirshfeld: She had arrived at this moment, so certain of the graves location that instinct propelled her movements once proud tombstones testifying to centuries of Jewish life and death we're now at the mercy of the whims of nature, like the pitch and y'all have tiny boat to the raging sea.
00:25:22.050 --> 00:25:30.270
Max Hirshfeld: It was the short drive from crack out to us reach him that moved us to the Center of my mother's history and set the stage for the dark heart of our trip.
00:25:31.020 --> 00:25:41.460
Max Hirshfeld: After parking our car I followed my mother through the hallways and up and down the stairs of blocked in the side of notorious experiments, but Josef Mengele.
00:25:42.630 --> 00:25:52.530
Max Hirshfeld: Tourists wandered the hush spaces or piles of shoes hair brushes and suitcases are displayed behind glass walls hinting at the immensity of the dead.
00:25:55.320 --> 00:26:06.720
Max Hirshfeld: At the end of a long hallway on the second floor my mother stopped to rest she leaned against the wall and closed her eyes her shoulders wilting as her body sank onto the hard surface.
00:26:07.830 --> 00:26:25.860
Max Hirshfeld: A weary posture and still expression suggested release as if a dark bird a scratchy pent up animal composed of 1000 nightmares and finally been liberated at that moment I witness both your clarity and defeat finney reminders of for deep resilience.
00:26:27.390 --> 00:26:38.430
Max Hirshfeld: When astronauts one proved inadequate to the task of guessing and cremating humans, the Nazis built the death camp on the former 400 acre potato farm in the village of Birkenau.
00:26:39.330 --> 00:26:46.080
Max Hirshfeld: On the day we visited with the cloudy sky threatening rain, but rather than I stood on the track that runs through Birkenau.
00:26:47.550 --> 00:26:57.660
Max Hirshfeld: She began to describe that day in August 1943 when Nazi soldiers ordered her family into the street and force them to the trains, but she stopped.
00:26:58.410 --> 00:27:09.630
Max Hirshfeld: grasping for language and light her face was a singular combination of defiance laced with sorrow and explosive mingling of emotions pulsing just under the surface.
00:27:11.850 --> 00:27:18.090
Max Hirshfeld: In the barracks at Birkenau my mother showed me the platform where she had slept crammed together with a half dozen others.
00:27:19.260 --> 00:27:31.590
Max Hirshfeld: alone in there with my mother, we still between the shadows and something much darker in that decrepit barn designed to hold 52 horses, but instead housing 800 humans.
00:27:32.340 --> 00:27:44.760
Max Hirshfeld: I touched the wood of the twisted bugs line the walls and caught my breath I couldn't focus the camera conduct just to the fist in my stomach or the smell of the memory of urine and death.
00:27:45.780 --> 00:27:54.090
Max Hirshfeld: Yet I continued to photograph this simple person, this still beautiful shadow of the child of three who've been almost stopped looking toward the future.
00:27:55.530 --> 00:28:05.640
Max Hirshfeld: We walked slowly toward the train terminal and once inside cloud toward the top of the guard tower that sits above the track the whole Birkenau spread at our feet.
00:28:06.450 --> 00:28:13.590
Max Hirshfeld: I hung back as we climbed watching through a window is a police car pulled up in advance of the arrival of the Queen of Denmark.
00:28:14.910 --> 00:28:19.080
Max Hirshfeld: A turn to see that my mother had moved ahead as if poised to take flight.
00:28:20.190 --> 00:28:30.450
Max Hirshfeld: instinct took over, and I pushed the shutter maybe here in the Tower was an infinitesimal slice of clarity rooted in my mother's unwavering search for meaning.
00:28:31.560 --> 00:28:41.340
Max Hirshfeld: When I look at the picture of her in the guard tower I see her climbing to heaven, I see someone who is both alive and already dead moving toward the light.
00:28:42.720 --> 00:28:58.380
Max Hirshfeld: It was late afternoon when we left Birkenau and the sky began to clear, we had a North through the heavy terrain passing farms and villages with names that seemed plucked from ancient finds the sky grew dark as we spent toward that destination.
00:28:59.400 --> 00:29:07.800
Max Hirshfeld: I wanted to say, the right things, but my throat feel constricted my emotions of tangled maze of thickened black and black and earth.
00:29:08.820 --> 00:29:12.270
Max Hirshfeld: My turn it that we'll have for closure was trying to the end.
00:29:37.680 --> 00:29:38.550
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: hey Max.
00:29:39.690 --> 00:29:51.750
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: wow this is so it's so beautiful and i've seen this video a few times already, and every time I see it, it becomes more and more emotional and Poignant, I have to catch my breath.
00:29:52.530 --> 00:30:01.710
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Before I even speak with you tonight what an incredible thing you have done for yourself your family really it's an honor to be speaking here.
00:30:02.370 --> 00:30:03.240
Max Hirshfeld: So so much.
00:30:03.510 --> 00:30:09.660
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: yeah so what I thought I would do maybe is to set the stage for everybody, so that they can understand what it is that.
00:30:09.750 --> 00:30:11.160
Max Hirshfeld: i'm doing here with you.
00:30:11.160 --> 00:30:21.240
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Tonight, and when i'm going to share with everybody what you and I have in common, first of all we're both members of the second generation but I.
00:30:21.270 --> 00:30:23.010
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: would describe this is like the bookends.
00:30:23.040 --> 00:30:36.510
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Of the experience that you're sort of from the first crop of babies born of the Holocaust survivors, and I am probably from the last crop, because my parents were children during the.
00:30:36.510 --> 00:30:37.260
00:30:38.820 --> 00:30:47.910
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: we're both artists and we both choose chose to use our art forms to tell our family story of surviving the Holocaust.
00:30:48.480 --> 00:30:55.440
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: And what it meant to be raised by people who had difficult past that were characterized by loss and suffering.
00:30:56.370 --> 00:31:09.090
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: And in this process, you, with your camera me with my paintbrush we found a way to uncover the past try to make sense of our parents, the personal histories that were cut away from us.
00:31:09.600 --> 00:31:17.940
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: and try and also understand ultimately what meant to be a second generation and the experience of straddling two worlds.
00:31:18.750 --> 00:31:29.940
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: But we have something else that is really lucky about the two of us that I want to share and I want to show something a slide that are is going to put up with something uplifting.
00:31:30.900 --> 00:31:36.810
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: And here, it is it's an example of my work a painting that I made of my parents under the hood.
00:31:37.560 --> 00:31:47.190
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: And this absolutely adorable photograph of your parents, so what we see here are all these people are Holocaust survivors, all of them.
00:31:47.850 --> 00:31:56.880
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: And these images that we're working off of we're short shortly after liberation and what we see are people who are choosing optimism.
00:31:57.360 --> 00:32:03.960
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Choosing love choosing the future and embracing the next chapter of their lives.
00:32:04.290 --> 00:32:14.760
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: So I thought this would be a nice way to sort of bring the two of us together for tonight and Max what i'd like you to do now is maybe talk about this photo of your parents tell us the story of.
00:32:15.210 --> 00:32:21.420
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: You live and fanya and how they met and and what what you want to share with us about your parents.
00:32:23.490 --> 00:32:28.080
Max Hirshfeld: Thank you, I think that's a beautiful comparative set of images.
00:32:31.050 --> 00:32:36.480
Max Hirshfeld: In terms of the amount of time, this could take I want to make sure that i'm concise with the information.
00:32:38.250 --> 00:32:46.830
Max Hirshfeld: My father was born in 1907 when he was nine years old, he was he played piano with the Warsaw Philharmonic.
00:32:48.090 --> 00:32:59.490
Max Hirshfeld: He was a child prodigy and he but he, as it is he's told me top priorities rarely go on to become famous in their form.
00:33:01.470 --> 00:33:13.320
Max Hirshfeld: He had to go to school in France, because in Paul in Warsaw in 1925 Jews were told to stand in the back of the class and in MED school, so he.
00:33:15.750 --> 00:33:33.420
Max Hirshfeld: went to school and Strasburg and blues in France, and which was paid for by a woman that he did not love, but whose father offered to pay with the understanding that he would come back to Warsaw and marry her which he did after gaining his doctorate in textiles.
00:33:34.560 --> 00:33:45.750
Max Hirshfeld: I tell you this story, because the reason my father ended up in Zambia chip and eventually met my mother, because he was working at ag farben in a small town outside of yogic.
00:33:46.620 --> 00:34:01.140
Max Hirshfeld: And called miss cove and as the director of research and because of the way, that is why it was set up as one of the last ghettos, to be liquidated he didn't go into the ghetto until early 1943.
00:34:03.480 --> 00:34:08.250
Max Hirshfeld: Ironically, if you know a little bit about how to get those were set up the.
00:34:09.360 --> 00:34:17.100
Max Hirshfeld: That people were forced into very small quarters and it turned out that my father and his wife and daughter, and his mother.
00:34:17.700 --> 00:34:31.710
Max Hirshfeld: were in a flat directly below the flat that my mother was in with her uncle and aunt who had raised her so they met they fell in love very, very fast from my understanding from the letters and from.
00:34:32.850 --> 00:34:43.770
Max Hirshfeld: Understanding putting the dates together they were both taken in August and Sep tember of 43 to Auschwitz they both survived, and as the book explains.
00:34:44.220 --> 00:34:53.370
Max Hirshfeld: They found each other, because my mother put an ad in a newspaper looking for Julian hirschfeld and someone saw that my father was in Paris my mother was in Brussels.
00:34:53.940 --> 00:35:03.930
Max Hirshfeld: Subsequently, the photo is when they had finally reconnected in Brussels all that's on the back of the photographs is Brussels 1946.
00:35:06.780 --> 00:35:07.140
Max Hirshfeld: wow.
00:35:07.470 --> 00:35:11.430
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: What a what an unbelievable story it's it's a lot to process.
00:35:11.850 --> 00:35:13.290
Max Hirshfeld: Because it's a lot of back I.
00:35:13.290 --> 00:35:33.210
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: know it is so let's get to your book, first of all it's obvious you're a gifted photographer and there's nothing to say that, just because you can take a picture, or you can paint or you know play the violin or anything that you can also write, but you are also a phenomenal writer.
00:35:33.690 --> 00:35:57.510
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: And the you know your your words, in contrast to what the Holocaust was which was graphic and and violent and undignified your words are so nuanced and respectful and universal and and all of it together just tells me that you're you're a good son like truly are a good son.
00:35:57.840 --> 00:35:59.880
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: So my question now to you is.
00:35:59.970 --> 00:36:04.980
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Did the process of creating this book change you.
00:36:07.020 --> 00:36:07.380
Max Hirshfeld: um.
00:36:08.400 --> 00:36:08.970
Max Hirshfeld: Of course.
00:36:10.020 --> 00:36:17.340
Max Hirshfeld: It had to and keep in mind, I had a wealth of material to deal with, and one of the reasons that the book took these.
00:36:18.240 --> 00:36:22.680
Max Hirshfeld: 20 plus years to put together was because I didn't know how to put it together as a book.
00:36:23.340 --> 00:36:40.530
Max Hirshfeld: So between the vintage material the photographs, I had taken the letters, the article on the Saturday evening post there was so much to both lay out on the table and then figure out how to edit that the task was daunting.
00:36:41.670 --> 00:36:43.560
Max Hirshfeld: And I think in the process.
00:36:44.580 --> 00:37:05.280
Max Hirshfeld: The biggest gift of all was discovering the letters, because I had been struggling with how to tell the history of that period without sounding like a want to be historian, and when I got the first few translations, I immediately realized that a first person narrative.
00:37:06.630 --> 00:37:16.320
Max Hirshfeld: of two people who survived it wouldn't tell us exactly what it was like, but it would tell us enough so that Why would I try to tell this story.
00:37:17.640 --> 00:37:36.240
Max Hirshfeld: Having the real thing in front of me, so the book changed me because it allowed me to focus on the important facts and also keep it in a linear fashion, because the book follows a timeline and which I think is important because that ultimately I didn't come into the picture till.
00:37:37.380 --> 00:37:43.290
Max Hirshfeld: 1951 and so by that time they were they were happily ensconced in.
00:37:44.310 --> 00:37:44.880
Max Hirshfeld: In America.
00:37:46.800 --> 00:37:56.730
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Oh, so I, we made a decision before tonight that we're going to focus more on the Pope route, the journey, but I think we should give a little attention to the letters.
00:37:57.480 --> 00:38:05.250
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: The video doesn't convey this quite as well as the book, but what you see in the book is a lot of suffering the pain of separation.
00:38:05.550 --> 00:38:18.870
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Your parents were apart for years, they were longing for each other, they were wanting each other and we had a funny moment i'm working on a painting now where i'm doing a piece of scene and I happen to have.
00:38:20.610 --> 00:38:27.240
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: A goddess with me and my studio and, as I was reading this book I kept thinking there's something familiar.
00:38:27.240 --> 00:38:28.140
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: about this.
00:38:28.530 --> 00:38:38.640
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: pain of longing for each other, and when I I had like a moment where I realized wait a second it says in the haggadah described in the haggadah that.
00:38:39.810 --> 00:38:49.890
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: The separation of husband and wife, the enforced separation of husband and wife was like the the the pain of slavery, it was the affliction of slavery.
00:38:50.430 --> 00:39:05.220
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: And so here are your parents to people who went through outfits and then being apart like that and not knowing how long it would take for them to come back together was it like another assault on them in a way right.
00:39:05.250 --> 00:39:07.650
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Like they were so depth wise.
00:39:08.190 --> 00:39:16.380
Max Hirshfeld: Well, this was the most important thing is, if in the in the keynote I showed briefly a telegram from uncle Harry that.
00:39:17.160 --> 00:39:25.920
Max Hirshfeld: it's important to understand that my mother had reached out to uncle Harry the only surviving Member for family who lived in jacksonville Florida as soon as she.
00:39:26.310 --> 00:39:35.670
Max Hirshfeld: was brought to Brussels and was brought back to a certain degree of health, she had reached out to him and he immediately told her to start applying for a visa to come to the United States.
00:39:36.180 --> 00:39:45.570
Max Hirshfeld: So this is in early i'm sorry summer early fall of 45 my father and mother didn't find each other till December 45.
00:39:46.380 --> 00:39:58.920
Max Hirshfeld: So that even though that was a crucial moment in their reconnection they decided after reconnecting January 45 they decided that she should proceed.
00:39:59.310 --> 00:40:09.840
Max Hirshfeld: With going to America, because they my father, then applied for his visa and the crush of people from in Western Europe who survived.
00:40:10.290 --> 00:40:23.760
Max Hirshfeld: was so daunting that within those few months, the process of getting a visa was virtually put him at the back of a line of 800 people in Paris, so what we learned in the book is that there's this.
00:40:25.110 --> 00:40:28.770
Max Hirshfeld: desperate man in Paris living.
00:40:29.910 --> 00:40:39.180
Max Hirshfeld: What he hopes, is going to be his dream come true because remember, he was not in a happy marriage that we had a daughter that he loved dearly.
00:40:39.570 --> 00:40:48.870
Max Hirshfeld: it's not a happy marriage and here he finds himself surviving outfits surviving a death March and finding this woman that he had this brief moment.
00:40:49.470 --> 00:41:02.130
Max Hirshfeld: of passion with right before taking, so I think that when when one sees the letters there's a Doc there's a dominant thread here of a desperate man who many times in the letter says.
00:41:03.480 --> 00:41:15.930
Max Hirshfeld: i'm so sorry I let you go, I made the second biggest mistake in my life or the third or the biggest mistake so ultimately there was a, I believe, and my mother's ensconced in jacksonville.
00:41:16.740 --> 00:41:21.810
Max Hirshfeld: Obviously happy in this lap of luxury, but only for a little while because I think the facade.
00:41:22.650 --> 00:41:30.780
Max Hirshfeld: was starting to crack very early she makes a comment in there, how she has to be careful that and Pearl knows how much money, she has in her bank account.
00:41:31.530 --> 00:41:44.040
Max Hirshfeld: So the letters are such a powerful entity here and it took me a long time to find a good translator so keep in mind there's 700 letters and most of the letters are not single page, there are many pages.
00:41:44.550 --> 00:42:02.790
Max Hirshfeld: So the editing process and the bringing the language up to current the way we talk was really kind of vital to this so i'd say there's 10% of the letters in the book, so I won't keep going about the letters, but there that that really forms, as you know, half the book.
00:42:03.210 --> 00:42:09.150
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Yes, so actually just one last observation about the letters which will take us to the next part of our discussion.
00:42:10.320 --> 00:42:25.950
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: What we see here is your father's voice seems to dominate the narrative of the letters and he's expressing some pretty intense emotion like from from complete elation to finding your mom to.
00:42:27.000 --> 00:42:38.940
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Wanting to commit suicide, at one point, and he is sharing the whole gamut of feelings everything he's got and your mom is like she's more demure she's almost like that traditional female role of her day.
00:42:39.930 --> 00:42:53.580
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Trying to keep him his intensity down and try and keep them calm nevermind the fact that she herself went through Auschwitz and lost her whole family she doesn't share much about herself and those letters it's really all his voice.
00:42:54.030 --> 00:42:55.110
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: So there we are.
00:42:55.680 --> 00:42:57.870
Max Hirshfeld: Sorry, no you go ahead i'm sorry.
00:42:57.870 --> 00:43:17.490
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: So what I thought was so so you know, so we jumped to the second part of your book here's your mother she's widowed she's older and she is now at the front and Center of your camera she's she's gonna she's gonna go back to Poland and get take you on her turf and she's in charge.
00:43:18.540 --> 00:43:28.380
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: So, so I thought this was a really important image, what do you want to talk a little bit more about what's going on here, and maybe your relationship to your camera in this moment.
00:43:30.510 --> 00:43:41.550
Max Hirshfeld: that's an excellent question, and in fact I think that this photo and the one at the toward the end of the book of my mother climbing the steps at the at Birkenau.
00:43:42.870 --> 00:43:47.250
Max Hirshfeld: are the result of a relatively long career.
00:43:48.600 --> 00:43:50.100
Max Hirshfeld: Of photographing.
00:43:51.360 --> 00:44:02.970
Max Hirshfeld: slash observing life as it comes in front of me, so I think that my ability took over in these places My instinct, as it were, took over in these moments and.
00:44:03.930 --> 00:44:12.870
Max Hirshfeld: it's it's impossible to to fully understand what I think occurs in these moments, but that I think that, at the same time it's.
00:44:13.650 --> 00:44:24.090
Max Hirshfeld: becomes a core response that it puts the photographer slash observer on a plane that everything else drops away.
00:44:24.810 --> 00:44:27.900
Max Hirshfeld: And the recognition of this moment and that's what happened here.
00:44:28.440 --> 00:44:45.900
Max Hirshfeld: And there's a moment in the book, where I talk about a similar occurrence, where she showed her tattoo to a gas station attendant but I didn't photograph that but I think that, ultimately, this photo has probably resonated more with people than almost any photo in the book.
00:44:47.460 --> 00:44:52.620
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: she's I can just I feel like I know her, I mean my husband's grandmother's from all parts are so I kind of.
00:44:53.070 --> 00:45:03.090
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: You know conjuring up a freedom to, but I feel like she's this plucky strong woman is just doesn't care what you think she's just going to tell this lady, which needs to say which is.
00:45:03.120 --> 00:45:10.950
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Real and she rolls up her sleeve, I like how she's looking up and now the Polish woman is looking down, I thought that was compositionally very interesting.
00:45:11.370 --> 00:45:21.240
Max Hirshfeld: It is and it's one of those things, one cannot ever plan to do and keep in mind my mother was born in a positive, but after the age of five she was sent to live with her aunt and uncle.
00:45:21.600 --> 00:45:36.090
Max Hirshfeld: Who were wealthier and her mother her her own mother, my mother's father had passed before she was born, so that her my grandmother on maternal grandmother couldn't raise two two daughters so she sends it to live, so I think there was this.
00:45:37.440 --> 00:45:46.770
Max Hirshfeld: Displaced displacement of her parents and actually were her aunt and uncle and if, as you noticed in the beginning of the book there's a reference to my meeting.
00:45:47.190 --> 00:45:53.790
Max Hirshfeld: Ellen psycho who I have no idea of the relation, but I like to think that there's a connection here.
00:45:54.270 --> 00:46:02.550
Max Hirshfeld: That I meet this woman with the same last name is Abraham and xhosa so I go, and I say all this because I think my mother embraced.
00:46:02.970 --> 00:46:12.450
Max Hirshfeld: The fact that she was raised by a comfortable Jewish family as she would tell me they had they had a housekeeper they had.
00:46:13.020 --> 00:46:20.250
Max Hirshfeld: Someone who drove the carriage my uncle had her uncle had a coal business and they supplied, therefore.
00:46:20.820 --> 00:46:33.240
Max Hirshfeld: Because his business was so successful they could live in that building which, on the main floor was the town hall, the second floor was their apartment so they were given access to this place that not normal so.
00:46:34.080 --> 00:46:50.460
Max Hirshfeld: The confrontational moment which was really quick with that woman was really remarkably powerful human mind i'm hearing this in Polish so i'm not necessarily understanding specifically but it's pretty obvious what was going on.
00:46:52.290 --> 00:47:02.100
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: So when we mentioned a Jewish home, so why don't we segue into the next photo, this is the synagogue in Warsaw and you have this.
00:47:03.330 --> 00:47:04.230
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: amazing.
00:47:05.310 --> 00:47:09.510
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Quality and you're writing where you conjure up spirits and ghosts.
00:47:11.010 --> 00:47:18.300
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: And, and especially somehow I felt like with the synagogue that was you know empty empty ish and, but it has a minion.
00:47:19.380 --> 00:47:27.150
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: But, but that feeling that it's soaked in history, and do you want to talk about that feeling of ghostliness on your trip.
00:47:29.010 --> 00:47:38.460
Max Hirshfeld: With this This illustrates it probably as well as anything else, and I think that what happened Jackie is that in the end, I was, I was able to.
00:47:39.120 --> 00:48:00.060
Max Hirshfeld: Go back and forth with my writing of the of the experiences by having the photography to refer to, and I think what happens is, at least for me information pours out as i'm looking at the photograph i'm thinking about a multitude of things i'm thinking about how i'm I wasn't raised.
00:48:01.140 --> 00:48:10.560
Max Hirshfeld: With a synagogue like this in my life i'm thinking about the fact that the Gestapo put their horses into this building this sacred place.
00:48:11.100 --> 00:48:22.410
Max Hirshfeld: i'm thinking about there were 400 over 400 places of worship for Jews in Warsaw, this was the one still remaining and obviously wasn't torn down because the Gestapo was using it.
00:48:23.670 --> 00:48:35.730
Max Hirshfeld: I also like to be of wire and when I was in college, I always sat in the back of the class, so I could observe all the people in the in the classroom.
00:48:36.090 --> 00:48:45.990
Max Hirshfeld: And I could hear enough about what the Professor might be saying, but it's the same thing that happens to me often both in when I go to the movies, and certainly happened to me here.
00:48:47.160 --> 00:49:04.800
Max Hirshfeld: I don't know if we count 12345 I might have been the 10th man in this group, and if you look carefully at the top left corner there's my mother on the railing and I even fantasize about this man looking at her and he's wondering who is that.
00:49:05.490 --> 00:49:17.850
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Well it's funny because, when I look at your mother at the top there and I guess the women's section Nestor is a young woman and it's almost it's like her back in time, like there's like a younger version of herself.
00:49:19.410 --> 00:49:19.770
Max Hirshfeld: So.
00:49:20.220 --> 00:49:25.440
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: That was that kind of I don't know sat with me also, as I studied this this particular.
00:49:25.890 --> 00:49:29.070
Max Hirshfeld: photo it's the next real briefly with me with.
00:49:29.460 --> 00:49:46.710
Max Hirshfeld: The idea that we discussed of memory, tourism and ultimately in 1993 there weren't a lot of American Jews, that we met in Warsaw or on in Auschwitz or Birkenau it was virtually empty Ari told me this remarkable.
00:49:48.990 --> 00:49:56.670
Max Hirshfeld: statistic that there are over 2 million people who have visited Auschwitz, and I don't know if that's year by year, or not we can probably.
00:49:58.620 --> 00:50:15.900
Max Hirshfeld: confirm that, but I was i'm blown away, and I also think that this could not have occurred, today, the same way, so you know my mom gave me a couple of gifts when was this trip, obviously, where I could use my talents and the other was not throwing away those letters.
00:50:17.730 --> 00:50:19.080
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: And we met let's.
00:50:19.110 --> 00:50:20.100
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: just talk a little minute.
00:50:20.190 --> 00:50:30.240
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: You said something in the synagogue that you wanted to wait for the sound of the minion to muffle out the sound of your camera clicking on I assume on shabbat.
00:50:30.270 --> 00:50:32.040
Max Hirshfeld: Right so you're taking picture course.
00:50:32.220 --> 00:50:32.490
Max Hirshfeld: I saw.
00:50:32.700 --> 00:50:33.840
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: You reference sound.
00:50:33.930 --> 00:50:50.730
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: In your in your writings you talked about being a boy and putting the covers over your head to muffle the sound of your father's Wales in his nightmares and, most notably you call this book sweet noise so is this.
00:50:51.210 --> 00:50:59.130
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Something subconscious did you purposely reference sound, or is there is, you want to talk about that a little bit like that, and I know.
00:51:00.090 --> 00:51:08.220
Max Hirshfeld: it's very subconscious and I think you, you heard me mentioned the term sweet noise which comes from the text and I didn't have I had a title for the Book of.
00:51:08.610 --> 00:51:22.860
Max Hirshfeld: called return or for fruit, but once I started writing the title popped out at me and, interestingly, my publisher suggested that we have that we should have a subtitle because sweet noise is sort of opaque.
00:51:23.970 --> 00:51:31.650
Max Hirshfeld: What really quite knows what it is, but I was adamant because this is what I had I had led myself to believe was the appropriate title.
00:51:32.460 --> 00:51:44.160
Max Hirshfeld: I think that historically there's a lot of people in photography a lot of well known photographers and i'm not putting myself in that mix, but that music is an integral part of their.
00:51:45.180 --> 00:51:50.520
Max Hirshfeld: background and their practice and so forth, and so I see that as something that's.
00:51:52.350 --> 00:52:05.910
Max Hirshfeld: In in tandem with the observations because music, of course, can be so visual to us, be it, you know, a Beethoven concerto or be it.
00:52:07.050 --> 00:52:13.920
Max Hirshfeld: Something current and I think that for me that happens frequently so that I believe that ultimately.
00:52:14.430 --> 00:52:21.630
Max Hirshfeld: The the I never noticed what you noticed, and I think that makes it really special to me, I will say one thing that.
00:52:22.590 --> 00:52:37.710
Max Hirshfeld: As a photographer and you don't have a tripod you're looking for a place to put your camera so that it doesn't move very much so on the back of the last few in the synagogue if you put it on the back of the Pew in front of you you've got a brace a little place.
00:52:37.920 --> 00:52:43.890
Max Hirshfeld: To keep the camera also cameras that I traveled with were somewhat noisier when the shutter.
00:52:44.340 --> 00:52:46.170
Max Hirshfeld: shop, so I think at one point.
00:52:46.260 --> 00:52:50.340
Max Hirshfeld: Of a gentleman turned around, but of course I was looking the other way, so.
00:52:50.880 --> 00:52:53.550
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Alright, so I just got to know from our we gotta move this along.
00:52:53.580 --> 00:52:59.040
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: I want to like really want to show a picture that was not in your film and I think it's a sensitive.
00:53:00.060 --> 00:53:09.630
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: image, are you can go to the next slide, and this is difficult territory let's look at these images here you have if your mom as she visited and hugged.
00:53:10.020 --> 00:53:20.490
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: A fellow survivor in her small apartment in Poland and sitting on the table were framed photos of this woman's children who perished during the Holocaust.
00:53:21.780 --> 00:53:23.190
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: And there's a quote that i'd like to.
00:53:23.190 --> 00:53:37.950
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Read just to kind of share what's going on here and your words, you said she pointed to the pictures of her children who were killed during the war, and I was startled to find myself thinking that they to our children of a survivor.
00:53:38.700 --> 00:53:49.350
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: My half sister did not survive the War I didn't know of her existence or that my father had been married in the 1930s until I was a teenager and he showed me her photo.
00:53:49.830 --> 00:54:00.630
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: staring at the face of this long dead sibling I felt as if my life were both weighty and flimsy I was here she was not but it seemed completely random that this was so.
00:54:01.230 --> 00:54:11.070
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: I have never let being the child of survivors become an identity, it has simply been effective my life, but now I wondered if this fact made me different from other people.
00:54:11.610 --> 00:54:20.940
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: As I learned about the Holocaust, I could not shake the thought that I am here only because of it, it seemed like an accident that I was born at all.
00:54:23.010 --> 00:54:33.630
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Oh Max this is powerful stuff and I think there's a lot for you to unpack here you have a half sibling.
00:54:34.080 --> 00:54:45.750
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Who is a victim of the Holocaust, but you stated very well, we you and me, we are accidents history, if not for the Holocaust, we wouldn't exist, you wanted to talk about that a little bit.
00:54:46.290 --> 00:54:55.620
Max Hirshfeld: Of course, and this was a woman that we didn't my mother didn't know, but she got the name of so I think we were both relatively surprised to live in a one room apartment.
00:54:56.670 --> 00:55:15.870
Max Hirshfeld: And the sentiment that I think you're so eloquently raising connects in a way, with the next quote, that I think you pulled about my sense about the Holocaust being this giant as I described it a heavy black door closing on me and in the end.
00:55:17.100 --> 00:55:24.930
Max Hirshfeld: We discussed this as well that there I wasn't raised in the Community of survivors, so my parents.
00:55:25.620 --> 00:55:41.730
Max Hirshfeld: lives were really beautifully softened and quiet for a long time, living in decatur Alabama but that I and they tried hard, I was bar mitzvah but and they tried, as much as they could but, ultimately, I think that there are.
00:55:42.900 --> 00:55:57.840
Max Hirshfeld: I don't know if there's positives and negatives or it's all this kind of Gray mass of the children of survivors figure picking parts of their background to focus on, and I was fortunate like i've said that I had this.
00:55:59.340 --> 00:56:08.850
Max Hirshfeld: This journey with her that I could photograph and then come back and many years later, start to analyze how did that really represent.
00:56:09.390 --> 00:56:22.350
Max Hirshfeld: And so, and I appreciate your saying that i'm a good writer, and I do love writing However I it's a challenge, but I found that when you have material as riches these photographs and you have material is riches these letters.
00:56:22.830 --> 00:56:30.300
Max Hirshfeld: That the writing needed to be honed down and edited tightly so that my voice could speak out.
00:56:30.870 --> 00:56:45.690
Max Hirshfeld: And I think that it's obvious photography shouldn't have to be explained, I think it's wonderful when it leaves more questions than answers, but I think that language and i've been accused in the past, trying to be too poetic but ultimately.
00:56:47.520 --> 00:56:51.660
Max Hirshfeld: Ultimately, I think that um the less poetry, the more powerful.
00:56:52.800 --> 00:56:54.780
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: So that's what we had for things to talk about that.
00:56:54.840 --> 00:57:05.340
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Though like we're wrapping up the fastest hour ever but are there any quick questions that we can we can do, maybe we you know that would be wonderful if you want to bring it.
00:57:05.460 --> 00:57:05.790
Max Hirshfeld: bring it.
00:57:05.850 --> 00:57:16.560
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: forward to us, but my suggestion is everyone should use this as read this book for their book groups, I think it would be phenomenal material to unpack so thank you.
00:57:16.920 --> 00:57:28.620
Ari Goldstein: Know we're kind of strict on time, but you guys have so much that you prepared it I don't know if you want are able to run 1015 minutes late, you want to take a couple more minutes to revisit some of these photos and then we'll we'll throw in one or two audience questions.
00:57:29.880 --> 00:57:30.780
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Good if you're good.
00:57:30.900 --> 00:57:33.630
Max Hirshfeld: it's it's really I mean I got nowhere to go.
00:57:34.050 --> 00:57:34.830
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Okay.
00:57:35.100 --> 00:57:35.550
Max Hirshfeld: All right, because.
00:57:35.820 --> 00:57:36.090
Max Hirshfeld: You know.
00:57:36.330 --> 00:57:36.870
00:57:38.280 --> 00:57:40.950
Max Hirshfeld: I was trying to consolidate the time they're a little bit.
00:57:42.270 --> 00:58:01.560
Max Hirshfeld: Frankly, because of the it's almost the hours out, but when I brought up about this, the heavy black door it's really important to understand that I think when you don't have something in your background like that that you crave it because you read about it, or you see it in movies, however.
00:58:02.580 --> 00:58:03.690
Max Hirshfeld: In retrospect.
00:58:04.770 --> 00:58:09.000
Max Hirshfeld: The real gift that they gave themselves was by moving to a small town.
00:58:10.470 --> 00:58:21.150
Max Hirshfeld: there's a from what I believe it was done in the late 80s early 90s Helen epstein's book children of the Holocaust is really a pretty remarkable landmark book.
00:58:21.570 --> 00:58:34.530
Max Hirshfeld: And I believe there's a there's several children of survivors that grew up in the south, that are featured in there, one I believe was a beauty queen in South Carolina and I bring this up, because in the end it.
00:58:35.700 --> 00:58:46.830
Max Hirshfeld: The suffocating nature of growing up in New York or Toronto or Montreal Chicago surrounded by other survivors may not have produced.
00:58:47.790 --> 00:58:58.290
Max Hirshfeld: What my mother decided to do, and I say that only because perhaps if she had a half a dozen friends let's say in a survivor ghetto in Toronto.
00:58:58.770 --> 00:59:09.720
Max Hirshfeld: that she may not have felt compelled to go and figure out what this really represented, but she was on her own my father had passed, she had a very rough 10 or 11 years.
00:59:10.620 --> 00:59:27.180
Max Hirshfeld: After he passed so that by her decided to do this and I God lover I couldn't let her go do this by yourself and I was, I was also being selfish you know I had this opportunity that's very rare that any of us have them.
00:59:27.720 --> 00:59:37.680
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: So, now that we have a couple more minutes are you would you maybe put up the next photo which it would you call it in the book The dark heart of your journey.
00:59:38.310 --> 00:59:53.220
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: This is the most bizarre picture ever because it's the crematoria at Auschwitz and there's a LACE curtain over the window and I, you know most of me wonders why would anybody going to LACE curtain.
00:59:53.820 --> 01:00:07.260
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: In office a you asked a good question about the man who work there, like what would motivate somebody to put on a suit and tie sit at a desk that a Nazi had set up set up before.
01:00:07.860 --> 01:00:18.540
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: and work there every day on in his short life, I mean truth, really, really is stranger than fiction and I just thought this juxtaposition was unbelievable.
01:00:19.470 --> 01:00:20.070
Max Hirshfeld: it's interesting.
01:00:20.430 --> 01:00:26.220
Max Hirshfeld: yeah we have the name of this gentleman we get scheduled appointment with the Director of the.
01:00:27.030 --> 01:00:39.480
Max Hirshfeld: What it has been at the time, even had become a museum facility, and I say this because, when we got the outfits we had a guy who took us through who was from the front office, but then sitting in this room.
01:00:40.800 --> 01:00:51.270
Max Hirshfeld: And I keep in mind by this point, I had understood that most publish homes, even the people who wants a wealthy often almost always have this.
01:00:51.840 --> 01:01:05.280
Max Hirshfeld: This LACE curtain in front so i've looked at it, as more of a cultural application, the juxtaposition of it is striking the fact that the windows open just told me, we were there in July, and it was hot but.
01:01:06.570 --> 01:01:16.740
Max Hirshfeld: What I find very compelling is at the time, I have the urge to ask my mother to stand inside the curtain.
01:01:17.580 --> 01:01:27.510
Max Hirshfeld: And I didn't do it and I don't know if it really would have been successful, but as a photographer it's very easy to then pick apart facts in the in the image.
01:01:28.320 --> 01:01:40.020
Max Hirshfeld: This man that this whole block at Auschwitz had been turned into a museum they had a classroom with art on the walls that was from from inmates.
01:01:41.970 --> 01:01:46.980
Max Hirshfeld: Anyway, so it's it's i'm glad it's also a photo that resonates with a lot of people.
01:01:47.910 --> 01:01:56.220
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: So you had mentioned the Holocaust, being a heavy black door i'm going to read this quote because I think it'll.
01:01:56.460 --> 01:02:06.450
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: begin an interesting conversation about Jewish identity also so and that's something I thought you and I were going to address a little bit here so so let me read this quote from your book.
01:02:06.840 --> 01:02:17.730
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: On page 134 you say, for me the Holocaust was a heavy black door that had slammed shut on my history relatives vanished with the snap of a whip.
01:02:18.300 --> 01:02:26.910
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: uncles aunts and cousins with odd names I had never heard in my small Alabama town were sent to die, with a simple pointed finger.
01:02:27.660 --> 01:02:40.140
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: It was different from my parents, they can recall their murdered families by tapping into a collective centuries old memory, made up of they're made up of their old lives and the lives of dozens of relatives.
01:02:40.710 --> 01:02:48.750
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: growing up Jewish in Poland before the war meant, not knowing another way it meant a pure segregation with those of the same tribe.
01:02:49.230 --> 01:02:59.880
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: A history that went on, and on unabated though I was raised in a Jewish household and became a bar mitzvah Polish Judaism remained a murky Gray unknown.
01:03:00.420 --> 01:03:15.450
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: When I washed my father stand up during high holidays to recite yester prayers and allowed authoritative voice, I felt proud yet confounded all at once, I had no reason to join him no warm memory, to visit.
01:03:16.950 --> 01:03:27.150
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: For me, this this quote summarizes the pain that Hitler continues to inflict on us, the second generations.
01:03:27.570 --> 01:03:34.530
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: The narrative of our communities, our history was violently cut We grew up like.
01:03:34.920 --> 01:03:48.780
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Swiss cheese there's holes and we're trying to fill them in and and for you, you had these Jewish spaces these these identity spaces, that you couldn't fill you didn't have the feeling of warmth toward your Jewish.
01:03:49.200 --> 01:03:54.180
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Life do you want to expand on that a little bit more, and where you are now with your Judaism.
01:03:55.110 --> 01:03:55.590
01:03:56.610 --> 01:03:58.590
Max Hirshfeld: Yes, I I guess.
01:04:00.000 --> 01:04:01.500
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Not every school you don't have to.
01:04:02.610 --> 01:04:05.790
Max Hirshfeld: Go no it's Okay, I really appreciate this and ultimately.
01:04:07.170 --> 01:04:20.280
Max Hirshfeld: When I wrote this I didn't know that I felt this, but then, when I wrote it, I remember vividly realizing that when one has a long history.
01:04:20.940 --> 01:04:31.950
Max Hirshfeld: could be in New England, with an old brahmin family, it could be a Jewish family that was here for many generations ultimately I didn't have that at all, so that.
01:04:33.420 --> 01:04:35.490
Max Hirshfeld: The fact that it existed for them.
01:04:36.930 --> 01:04:42.960
Max Hirshfeld: was something, and maybe I was imagining this but, when my father would stand up in and recite the Oscar.
01:04:44.850 --> 01:04:56.850
Max Hirshfeld: He would be able, perhaps to tap into a memory of doing the same thing with his father and the same thing his father, with his father and knowing what we know about.
01:04:58.170 --> 01:05:06.750
Max Hirshfeld: or Judaism, in Poland, certainly was predominantly if not fully orthodox so there was this very isolated.
01:05:07.980 --> 01:05:27.630
Max Hirshfeld: Specific specific specificity of religion that was shared by I don't know how many hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, and I like to think that I can tap into that because I know the details, but I have a lot of.
01:05:29.070 --> 01:05:40.890
Max Hirshfeld: Personal issues with embracing it because I didn't grow up with it in the in my DNA in my cultural DNA and therefore I grapple with it.
01:05:42.450 --> 01:05:52.560
Max Hirshfeld: I was bar mitzvah my parents tried hard, I believe, to introduce me to high holidays and to we had Passover service every year, we would invite.
01:05:53.460 --> 01:06:06.240
Max Hirshfeld: The same Scottish man that worked with my father Monsanto, but other than that there was no Community, and I think that's the key, the key word is that sense of community.
01:06:09.180 --> 01:06:09.600
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: wow.
01:06:09.900 --> 01:06:19.890
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Okay Max one more picture let's circle back to your mom and so you said she went on this journey to.
01:06:19.950 --> 01:06:33.900
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: attempt closure, how was she affected by this trip did it change her, and do you know if any part of her achieved sense of closure, as a result of this experience.
01:06:34.890 --> 01:06:43.830
Max Hirshfeld: um well it's interesting you and I talked about this briefly, I actually remember showing her the photographs some of the photograph just his prints.
01:06:44.730 --> 01:06:55.680
Max Hirshfeld: Six months after we returned, and I remember that she was hesitant to talk much more about the anything more about the.
01:06:56.580 --> 01:07:11.670
Max Hirshfeld: mostly about how she looked in the photos not about what her emotions were, and I think perhaps the connection with the came up in the letters that you really picked up on beautifully is that she.
01:07:12.720 --> 01:07:35.070
Max Hirshfeld: until she was able to go on this journey and decide to do it, she played the beautiful wife, she played the beautiful Nice in jacksonville she was always a demure person and therefore my memory of her articulation is really not as clear.
01:07:36.390 --> 01:07:36.750
Max Hirshfeld: As.
01:07:39.270 --> 01:07:44.280
Max Hirshfeld: What we read in my father's letters I say that only because I can only judge her closure.
01:07:45.300 --> 01:07:55.260
Max Hirshfeld: As an attempted closure I don't know if one can ever fully have closure, I think that I had better closure on this than perhaps she did.
01:07:56.670 --> 01:08:07.620
Max Hirshfeld: it's a very hard word I don't think that it, you know it's very, very difficult I think there's always threads that pull you back into the the deciding process of closure.
01:08:08.970 --> 01:08:17.250
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Well Max i'm going to finish with a couple of remarks, first of all, you have this rare gift of taking near perfect photographs.
01:08:17.640 --> 01:08:34.350
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: But then what's so uncanny is that your words are so vivid in my mind I can't distinguish like I get pictures of my head from from your words and I almost can't remember which ones I actually saw on the page and which ones you just described beautifully so.
01:08:34.890 --> 01:08:46.860
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Just kudos to you for all of that, and the other thing I want to thank you for is for I guess naming and giving form to the sort of otherness the uneasiness of being a second generation and.
01:08:47.220 --> 01:08:58.290
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: And just helping people like you and me kind of tap into understanding, who we are and where we came from I think you've done a lot for anybody who is the second generation to just.
01:08:59.460 --> 01:09:08.070
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Look at you know, look at how they grew up and understand you know some of the questions that I was a little out of step of like everybody, but not like everybody and.
01:09:08.520 --> 01:09:18.990
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: All those questions that they really they really were crystallized in in your writing and in your photographs and in this book, so I think you really can bottom my heart for all of it for letting me speak and.
01:09:19.470 --> 01:09:20.610
Max Hirshfeld: This will, I appreciate.
01:09:21.150 --> 01:09:31.590
Max Hirshfeld: You know, Michael berenbaum mentions that that at the end of his essay and just for the audience to know there's two essays in the book michaels essay starts the book it's called the breath of death.
01:09:32.280 --> 01:09:42.060
Max Hirshfeld: And the book is finished with Stuart eisenstaedt wrote an essay called imperfect justice so there's an interesting book ending to this but Michael talks about how other.
01:09:42.540 --> 01:09:55.860
Max Hirshfeld: Children have survived second generation may be envious of what I had, which was this story, and my camera but I say that because the the idea that this.
01:09:56.730 --> 01:10:15.930
Max Hirshfeld: Is the existence of this propelled me over those many years of not doing a book to not forget to do a book and therefore I would wake up in the middle of the night, not all the time, but I would say to myself, I have to go do something with this, so I think that the.
01:10:17.010 --> 01:10:24.060
Max Hirshfeld: Most important part, was that, by being able to share it with you and with other 2G and now, certainly with 3G.
01:10:25.350 --> 01:10:33.810
Max Hirshfeld: Individuals is is a remarkable gift that I feel wonderful that I can share this with the world.
01:10:35.010 --> 01:10:52.320
Max Hirshfeld: I give a lot of kudos to my Italian publisher which gave me a chance to go to belong here for a week, so I that's an extra benefit, but ultimately, I appreciate that very much I don't know if there's any 2G 3G people that have made comments are not in the audience.
01:10:52.710 --> 01:10:56.910
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: So i'm gonna ask you one last question before he takes over what's next for this.
01:10:57.120 --> 01:10:59.250
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: What do you, what do you plan, what do you see.
01:11:00.000 --> 01:11:07.230
Max Hirshfeld: Well i'm i've actually been because of covert I started thinking about time to produce a traveling exhibition with the work.
01:11:08.490 --> 01:11:08.850
Max Hirshfeld: and
01:11:09.990 --> 01:11:20.700
Max Hirshfeld: i'm moving forward with that, and I say that because the the nature of an exhibition is different than a book and it's different than a keynote presentation.
01:11:21.270 --> 01:11:31.830
Max Hirshfeld: And through coven i've learned because of covert i've learned that the museum's are all clamoring for material and they're opening back up, but they have to be very sensitive to.
01:11:33.090 --> 01:11:43.920
Max Hirshfeld: How much they put on the walls and what's involved so, thank God, I have the photography to really carry an exhibition, but I think that I would hurt myself if I didn't have.
01:11:45.270 --> 01:11:57.960
Max Hirshfeld: A smattering of the letters somehow that tie in here so i'm learning i'm on a big learning curve now, so the goal is a traveling exhibition so so stay tuned.
01:11:59.370 --> 01:12:01.200
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: All right, all right, please take over.
01:12:02.070 --> 01:12:07.230
Ari Goldstein: let's take to audience questions Max David asks other plans to publish the book in.
01:12:07.230 --> 01:12:07.740
01:12:08.970 --> 01:12:20.340
Max Hirshfeld: Oh that's a great question the my translator would love to do that and, in fact, she has suggested that the two volumes one just to the letters and just the book.
01:12:22.350 --> 01:12:22.680
01:12:23.880 --> 01:12:30.480
Max Hirshfeld: hope that I could occur, and I think that perhaps that's the one of the extra things that we should pursue.
01:12:31.560 --> 01:12:38.130
Max Hirshfeld: there's a phrase, and one of the letters that I don't believe we talked about but it my father, said that the.
01:12:38.700 --> 01:12:47.850
Max Hirshfeld: These letters were like paper bridges, so that people eventually he would help people to read them as a memoir so, of course, when I read that I was.
01:12:48.540 --> 01:13:00.690
Max Hirshfeld: I was blown away, it was very emotional to read, but the title of paper bridges is really a beautiful title for something like that so fingers crossed does Does he know any great publishers in Poland.
01:13:02.160 --> 01:13:02.670
Ari Goldstein: Hopefully.
01:13:03.720 --> 01:13:15.120
Ari Goldstein: And one more question from Lisa who asks when your images are viewed as fine art objects removed from the story and narrative around them, what do you hope for the audience to take away.
01:13:19.530 --> 01:13:23.670
Max Hirshfeld: A very good question part of the grappling with how to design the book.
01:13:24.780 --> 01:13:36.390
Max Hirshfeld: which I had done in several iterations, as I mentioned, was that I kept thinking that it was important to see a photo and a text next to each other so that you could ultimately have.
01:13:37.410 --> 01:13:40.740
Max Hirshfeld: An understanding and I but i'm also a proponent of of.
01:13:42.030 --> 01:13:53.760
Max Hirshfeld: Showing and not telling so that I think that, based on the simplicity of this type of documentary work the photos would tell enough.
01:13:54.210 --> 01:14:04.500
Max Hirshfeld: and leave questions, but I think that, ultimately, an exhibition is going to have to answer that question and i'm not there yet with understanding how to how to embrace that.
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Ari Goldstein: X Thank you so much for sharing your story and your art with us this evening Jackie Thank you so much for being our insightful excited moderator this is really a wonderful conversation.
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Ari Goldstein: Our audience can order sweet noise love and war time at the link in the zoom chat.
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Ari Goldstein: We did record this evening's program and you will all receive an email from us tomorrow with a link to the recording and some other suggested links and resources that you may find interesting.
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Ari Goldstein: We hope you'll stay connected to the museum and join us for some of our upcoming programs, including our next artists talk on December 16 with Naomi Harris so just a great big thanks to everyone, and especially to both of you Max and Jackie.
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Max Hirshfeld: Thank you so much, this was great.
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Jacqueline Kott-Wolle: Having you.
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Ari Goldstein: Take care.
Discover Max Hirshfeld’s Work
Max Hirshfeld is the son of two Holocaust survivors who owns a photography studio in Washington, D.C. Sweet Noise: Love in Wartime is his first photography book. See more of Hirshfeld’s work on his website.
Discover Jacqueline Kott-Wolle’s Work
Jacqueline Kott-Wolle is a contemporary artist in Highland Park, Illinois whose paintings explore the people and experiences that have shaped her distinctly North American brand of Jewish identity. Watch Kott-Wolle present her work in this Museum program.
Listen to Helen Epstein’s Reflections on the Second Generation
Among Max Hirshfeld’s inspirations is Helen Epstein’s 1979 book Children of the Holocaust, which was one of the first books to examine the intergenerational transmission of trauma from Holocaust survivors to their children. In April 2021, the Museum hosted Epstein as she reflected on her life and work. Watch the program with Epstein here.