A few feet away from the St.-Annen Museum in Lubeck, Germany, stands the only still-functioning synagogue in Germany to survive the Nazi era. It exists today because, in 1938 just before Kristallnacht when the Nazis would have burned it down, the city of Lubeck bought it from the Jews. The few who remained needed the money to flee. But in fact the city never paid. This 1870 synagogue functions today for 800 Russian-Jewish immigrants, alongside Lubeck's seven soaring gothic churches, most painstakingly restored after WWII bombing.
My project is to knit together the museum and the synagogue in the context of contemporary Lubeck’s diverse population of Germans, Russian Jews, and Turkish immigrant Muslims, whose three mosques are within blocks of the museum. Paintings with texts, and video installations will be shown alongside works they are based upon in the 16th c. cloistered convent that houses the museum’s historic collection and in the new Kunsthalle attached to it.
The history of both institutions is rich, the connections unexplored. Among the questions that interest me are 1) what could the medieval and Renaissance Christian art on view possibly have had to say to the Jews next door and vice versa? 2) can the Christian narratives in the artworks both embody and transcend the tragic record of anti-Semitism in the Church and Germany, and specifically, in Lubeck? 3) how can this Christian art open new dialogues between groups that know very little about each other?
One idea that I am beginning to develop uses the motif of the scroll, in fact another sort of text embedded in an image. It, like the words on my glass, conveys a message, and is a splendid graphic element in so many of the works in the St.-Annen collection. The image you see here is a commuter sketch for a work, derived from a story told to me during a research visit in Lubeck.
As the Nazis were closing in on Rabbi Carlebach's family living just across the river from the synagogue, confined to their home and unable to provide for themselves, anonymous neighbors would leave baskets of food just inside the garden gate, a "crime" punishable by death. The day the Nazis came to take the last Carlebachs away, someone in the family left a napkin embroidered with the family's initials tied to the gate as a way of thanking these courageous neighbors. Decades later in the mid-1980s, when a surviving Carlebach relative returned as an honored guest of the City of Lubeck, a Lubecker came up to the visitor and returned the napkin his family had saved for them these many years.