Appassionata

23 Mar 2013

As part of the Faces in the Void project, (see interview) poet Jane Liddell-King and photographer, Marion Davies travelled to the Czech Republic and met survivors and the relatives of survivors of the Holocaust. There, Marion took photographs of the people and the surrounding area while Jane transmuted the interviewees’ accounts into poetry.

We present below one such poem and three photographs, taken from the Faces in the Void  book. The subject here is Alice Sommer-Herz, a successful pianist who was deported along with her husband and her six-year-old son to the ghetto-transit camp Terezin in 1943, where she was put to forced labour.  Her husband was deported to Auschwitz where he died. Despite the horrific conditions in Terezin itself, which led to 33,000 people dying there, the prisoners managed to keep up an extraordinary cultural programme in an effort to maintain a sense of normal life. Alice herself gave over 100 concerts during her time there.

Marion Davies described for us the experience of photographing Alice Sommer-Herz:

As far as photographing Alice…she has the most astonishing positive attitude of anyone I have met. And we have met some amazing people during this [and my other ] projects. She has an enquiring mind, is interested in other people and has taken on the traumas she has suffered and moved on.

I first met her on my own and her main concern was that it was her son, now sadly deceased, who should be photographed. [Her son was Raphael Sommer, the internationally acclaimed cellist who sadly died in 2001 at the age of sixty-five.] I therefore made sure that several pictures included the wall on which a large photo of her son was displayed.

I asked her if I could photograph her playing.  At first she said that she didn’t really want to play.  So I asked if she would mind sitting by the piano. I held my breath and slowly she started to play some Beethoven. For about 20 minutes I didn’t move and then I thought to myself, well I’m here to take some photos, and so I did. Magical.

For this project I tried to take photos that allowed viewers an immediate connection with the survivors. Jane and I often had very long conversations with the people we met before I even picked up my camera to take a photo. None of the photos involved long portrait sessions, but I did sometimes ask the person to look at me for some brief moments.


____

APPASSIONATA

(for Alice Sommer-Herz)

1.

 

So why should I die
at 104 why should I go gently
or furiously
at midnight or between the hours of two and four a.m.
or later the same day
or any day soon
today I don’t have time
I am far from ghostly
I’m remembering Franz
Kafka to you of course
such loud brown eyes
and a mouth at the edge of a smile

 

picture myself and Marianne
at seven
walking him into the forest
some July afternoon
too warm for socks or sleeves
our slight fingers locked in his
making for the blue green cool of pines
and a log to perch on
and then he
squat on a stone
took us out of story into story
where he took a late night ride on the shoulders of a stranger
and told us
listen
laugh more softly
there’s a beetle sleeping under the leaf mould
xxxxyou wouldn’t want to wake

 

and he ran Marianne’s shuddering finger tip over its hard skin
said
see how its eyes catch the light
it is as if each lens takes in a different bit of leaf
xxxxxand melds the pieces
before it can take a bite
don’t polish it off

 

so
while I remember the rise and fall of his voice
though I know he didn’t know what to do with himself
xxxxxoutside the story
if he could kiss Dora
and not take her to the Chuppah
(his skin was not so hard)
considering all this
why should I die
2.

So
October 1944
the day they sent my husband East
and the same day I had to tell my son of 7
xxxxxthere was nothing more to eat
but would he please not chew the mattress
imagine 4.00 a.m.
imagine his lips blue against his pink tongue
imagine leaving him
my Brundibár sparrow
to scrub linen and my hands
imagine him saying into the mattress
into the dark
Tonight I’ll be alone
I know you’ll follow papa

I put a finger to his lips
and promised him a gift
a nice surprise

 

that day Ludwig raged inside my head
putting my fingers to his latest longest keyboard
opening arpeggio on arpeggio
on the monstrous silence of a friend
another person not to talk to
believe me
I saw him walking the Vienna woods
the sunlight lavish on rocks and pines and streams

 

and still I heard him howl

 

and then quite suddenly compose himself
note after touchy note
sonata apasionata
I heard him growl
this is no music for cowards

 

and you know
when I walked into the room after 16 hours washing clothes
my son stood absolutely still
and his face was
should I say
illuminated
and I said tonight I will play for you
Beethoven
xxxxxxx piano e pianissimo

 

and you will see

 

there is
xxxxxxx no time
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx to die

 

 

 

 

 

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