|Wir nicht! (Not Us!) - Collage
|The photo-collage Wir Nicht! (Not Us!) deals with the confrontation between eastern and western European Jews. As a result of Tsarist pogroms in Russia in 1881, a mass exodus of eastern European Jews into Western Europe took place.
These Eastern Jews were confronted in both Germany and above all Berlin with Reform Judaism. Owing to their utterly different background, a life in great poverty in rural shtetls, they had hardly or no understanding of day-to-day Jewish life in Germany. Even the opposite was the case: many eastern Jews rejected Reform Judaism as an aberration.
Equally, many German Jews rejected the Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. On the one hand, because of what they considered to be their 'backward' way of life and on the other because of their religious practices such as praying nearly the whole day, their unique us of Hebrew in services and finally because of their orthodox opinions. Finally, their outward appearance and behaviour in public played a role. They were usually poorly dressed and clad in long black garments while always wearing big black hats. The only language they spoke was Yiddish.
Vital elements of this conflict still play a role in today's Jewish life in Germany. The Holocaust resulted in either the emigration or annihilation of Germany's reform Jews. Displaced persons, who were the survivors of the death camps and who mostly came from Eastern Europe before the war, founded post-war German Jewish communities. These Jews also had great difficulties with the history of German Reform Judaism. This is why even today most Jewish communities in Germany are either conservative or orthodox. The small number of Reform Jews in Germany today have a lot of trouble both within as well as outside the existing German Jewish communities. The destruction of progressive and tolerant Judaism through the Holocaust is today still a hurting wound.
All of this is the topic of Wir Nicht! (Not Us!)
The mirrored picture is a self-portrait of the Jewish painter Felix Nussbaum, murdered in Auschwitz in the summer of 1944.
While the left-hand topside of the collage shows photos and paintings of well-known German Jews such as the architect Erich Mendelssohn, the publisher Samuel Fischer and the actress Elisabeth Bergner, who all played a leading role in German cultural life in the 1920's of the 20th century, the right-hand topside shows paintings and photos of eastern European Jews.
The statement Wir Nicht! (Not Us!) on either side of the collage reflects the lack of willingness to address or tolerate the other side. The very opposite is the case: either side is proud of its own way-of-life.
The use of the mirrored self-portrait of Felix Nussbaum, reflects the destructive character of the Holocausts for both groups.
Wir Nicht! (Not Us!) is both criticism as well as an attempt to take a stance against existing intolerance within European Judaism today.
|the original painting by Felix Nussbaum