Thoughts about -The Faces of Race and Memory
I am neither an expert in art nor am I in the habit of writing articles of psychological analysis in that sphere. But this exhibition by my friend Haim Ma'or has a special significance for me, both on the professional psychological level, as someone who treats the children of holocaust survivors, and on the personal level, as someone who has been a party to the idea of the exhibition, its development and its presentation to the public.
I was in close contact with Haim Ma'or as he contended with issues of essence and content on the subject of racism, the construction of stereotypes and prejudices, scapegoats, victim patterns, remembering and forgetting.
As an artist, he illustrated his questions and doubts with pencil and brush.
The process, which lasted approximately two years, comprised two attitude levels, both apparent and concealed. One was an artisticintellectual examination, while the other was a personal-cathartic process. In this emotional process Haim Ma'or contended with the significance of the difficult trauma undergone by his parents and with the conflict of a son born free to parents who had lived through the absence of human freedom. Psychotherapists are in disagreement as to whether the concept "second generation of the holocaust" has any validity. Some of them regard it as a metaphor which helps to give a better understanding of the emotional interaction between the generation of parents and that of their children. Others point to genuine, shared behavioral characteristics of the children of survivors.
One way or another, I have no doubt that the children of survivors have a continual nees, almost an urge or an obsession, to establish contact with the personal significance of the trauma of the holocaust for their parents, and with the dual conflict of impotence - omnipotence (helpless victim or heroic survivor). This need exists both in its cognitive aspect, in study, research and explanation, and in the attempt to cope with the emotional difficulty of identification and severance, as part of the natural maturation processes. As a psychotherapist, i understand the need of the children of holocaust survivors to hear what their parents went through and to want to break down the barrier of silence in order to work through the burden and excess responsibility they have taken upon themselves.
A similar phenomenon can be found among the children of Nazi families who ask, examine and investigate, seeking to break down their parents' barrier of silence and denial, out of a sense of collective guilt.
The way Haim Ma'or has chosen to deal with the personal significance of the holocaust for him was, in my opinion, self-therapy, as it were, on the levels of both understanding and experience.
Experiencing something means "settling an unfinished account," "completing the form," (gestalt) and "as long as a gestalt is incomplete it will utilise every means of attaining completion.' (Fritz Pens). Where the holocaust is concerned this means legitimising-feelings of sadness, anger, alienation and rejection vis-a-vis the surviving parents as well as those responsible for the holocaust.
I regard this exhibition as evincing Haim Ma'or's psychological development and maturity in coping with this subject, not merely by the cognitive means which he has mastered but particularly by experiencing repressed emotions.
I remember how difficult it was for him to paint his father's portrait for the first time, and his look of amazement when he first realized how the picture has turned out; his emotions after painting his father's number or when he attached the portraits to planks with railway sleepers and death masks; his excitement and apprehension before going to Germany and his psychological release when drawing the last pictures for this exhibition. It was a sense of being rid of a heavy burden, of repressed energy which had sought and egress.
This process constituted a significant stage in the transition from the position of observer to internalisation and introspection. It seems to me that a similar process is undergone by the spectators at the exhibition as they walk along a planned course which leads them from the position of viewing photographs and pictures to introspection, as they themselves become the "echo-chamber" at the end of the route.
In his special way, suffused with intellect and symbolism, Haim Ma'or has confronted us all, as human beings, with dilemmas and penetrating doubts, pointing to the almost imperceptible ease with which the human brain catalogues, connects, categonises and labels objects.
I found myself thinking about the scientific understanding of the human need to employ this course of action in order to store information, is man able to set limits? Can man rule without being tempted into prejudice?
I do not know if I have the answers to all the questions which bother me. I have no doubt that Haim Ma'or's work has helped to focus and illuminate them for me. His work has served as the additional stimulus, impelling me to ask, explore and ponder the question of whether I an not also the son of a holocaust survivor, whether we are not all the children of holocaust survivors, in one form or another.
I remembered the Passover Seder and my grandfather reading the Hagadda: "Every individual should regard himself as having left Egypt."
Yaron Ziv, M.A. - Psychologist and Psychotherapist - December, 1987