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Through the Eyes of

Rachel Marker
A Literary Installation by Moira Roth
January 22 June 28, 2013
The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

About the Author

Moira Roth, a Berkeley-based writer and art historian, is the Eugene E. Trefethen Jr. Professor of Art History at Mills College, Oakland. Previously she taught at the University of California, San Diego (197485). She is a leading international voice in feminism, performance, and contemporary art, and in 2012, with her Gleanings series, she served as the official blogger for the 18th Biennale of Sydney.

Alice Herz-Sommer
Born in Prague in 1903, Alice Herz grew up in a highly cultured environment of music and literature. Gustav Mahler was her mothers childhood friend, and Alice remembers visits from Franz Kafka, who would entertain Alice and her siblings with stories when they were children. At age three she began to play the piano and continued to study it passionately. By 1924 she had played with the Czech Philharmonic and embarked on a successful career as a concert pianist in addition to being much sought-after as a piano teacher. In 1931, she married Leopold Sommer, and they had one child.

Rose Hacker
Born in London in 1906 to Polish-Jewish parents, Rose Hacker worked for ten years as a model and assistant to her fashion-designer father, Abraham Goldbloom, traveling with him to Paris and Berlin. In 1930, she married Mark Hacker, and during World War II, she and her children fled London, eventually coming to live in Letchworth where they stayed for some time with Moira Roths mother. Roses two sons attended school there with Roth until 1951 when the Hacker family moved back to London. A pacifist, activist, writer, artist, and feminist, Rose Hacker was a pioneering leader in the Marriage Guidance Council and for years worked voluntarily for causes that involved mental hospitals, prisons, and sex education. In the 1970s she was elected to the Greater London Council.

Roth Passpor t Photograph Circa 1970

Born in London in 1933, Roth has been, from childhood, deeply drawn to European history, culture, and literature. She has traveled widely and spent time in Berlin, Prague, and Paristhe sites where Through the Eyes of Rachel Marker takes place.

For more than 10 years, Roth has been creating the fragmented narrative about Rachel Marker, a fictional Czech Jew. Roth began the narrative suddenly while staying in Berlin in 2001 not far from the cemetery where Bertolt Brecht (18981956) is buried. Thus, Rachel Markers story starts from regaining her memory in front of Brechts grave. The narrative begins in Zrich during World War I and winds its way through the rise of Fascism, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and the fall of the Berlin Wall to the present. Much of the narrative is expressed through journal entries and daily handwritten letters, many of them addressed to Franz Kafka (18831924). Over the years, different parts of Through the Eyes of Rachel Marker have been presented in a variety of forms, including published texts and performances, such as the plays Rachel Marker, Franz Kafka and Alice Sommer (Manoa, Hawaii, 2005) and Through the Eyes of Rachel Marker (Berkeley and Potsdam, 20056, and San Francisco, 2008). Now for the first time, the project takes the form of a multimedia museum installation, oscillating between history, fiction, and biography. The installation, which mixes artifacts and large-scale video projection, includes personal photographs and objects, books and manuscripts, a documentary film, and a video montage of historical events in Europe between World War I and the construction of the Berlin Wall. Videography: Gary Handman Support provided by the Hellman Family Foundation, Koret Foundation, Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture, Magnes Museum Foundation, and The Friends of The Magnes

In March of 1939, Nazi forces occupied Prague. They came like vultures, she told her biographers in A Garden of Eden in Hell: The Life of Alice HerzSommer (2006). Many of the Sommers relations and friends left for Palestine, but Alice and her immediate family stayed on to take care of her mother, who subsequently (July, 1942) was deported to Theresienstadt, created by the Germans as a model camp to be shown to Red Cross visitors, and then to the Treblinka extermination camp. In July of 1943, Alice, her husband, and her son were also sent to Theresienstadt, where Alice survived by playing the piano in some 100 concerts. Music was our food, she recalled later. This I can say. When we Alice Herz-Sommer have something spiritual, we dont need food. Music Prague, 1922 was life. We did not, could not, would not give up. Her son performed in the camps famous childrens opera, Brundibar, but her husband was later sent to Auschwitz and finally died in Dachau just before the end of the war. In June of 1945, Alice and her son returned to Prague, and then in 1949 settled in Israel, a year after it had been established as a state. She stayed in Israel (she attended the first day of the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961), where she taught the piano, until the mid-1980s, when she moved to North London to be near her son, Raphael, by then a well-known cellist; he died in 2001. In England she has become a legendary figure, pursuing an active life: she plays the piano daily, reads extensively (she is fluent in Czech, German, French, Hebrew, and English), and is regularly visited by loving family members and devoted friends, as well as scholars and journalists. On November 26, 2012, Alice Herz-Sommer, the worlds oldest known Holocaust survivor, celebrated her 109th birthday.

In 1996, Hacker published her Rose Hacker an autobiography (edited by Moira Roth): d Fathe r, Abrah am Goldbloom Be rlin, 1929 Abrahams Daughter: The Life and Times of Rose Hacker. In its last chapter, entitled Facing Old Age and Death, she writes: Old age and loneliness can be transformed into new interests and creative hobbies. Even when bedridden one can model, paint, play chess and write. Computers now bring new possibilities for the disabled. Music, too, not only comforts but releases feelings. My children and grandchildren make tapes for me when they discover new performances. It is easy to feel lonely and sorry for oneself when one feels long past ones sell-by date . . . [yet] I have experienced a strange freedom in old age and I am learning to come to terms with my limitations as well as to explore new possibilities. Her last years continued to be remarkable. In 1999, one of her marble sculptures was exhibited in the British Museum. In 2006, at age 100, she began a fortnightly column for a London newspaper. Her readers were invited to Meet Rose Hacker, the oldest columnist in the worldshes 100, so she should know a thing or two. She died in 2008 after a short illness in a London hospital. She was 101 years old.

Jacques and Esther Reutlinger Director Alla Efimova Moira Roth continues to write at Nabolom every day, where frequently one of the staff members quotes poetry to her. On a recent occasion, he recited a Czesaw Miosz poem written in 1944 during the Warsaw Uprising. The Magnes is still frequented by those who experienced twentieth-century European history firsthand. For us at The Magnes, like for Miosz, Roth, and Marker, this history is real, haunting, and palpable. And now Im proud that with this exhibition, The Magnes once again is paying homage to the project, to Hacker and Herz-Sommer, and to the fictional world of Rachel Marker, a witness and a dreamer. Over the years, I have followed the development of Roths literary project with fervor and feel privileged to have witnessed its drifting between fact and fiction, biography and poetry, the real and the imagined. The narrative has been in part inspired by two Jewish women Roth knew in London: Rose Hacker and Alice Herz-Sommer. Roth considered Hacker to be her unofficially adopted mother, and it was through her that she met Alice Herz-Sommer, one of Roses closest friends. Roth credits Hacker and Herz-Sommer as key influences on the evolution of the Rachel Marker narrative because theylike Rachel Markerwere witnesses to so much of European twentieth-century history. A few years before we connected, Roth had begun crafting a narrative about Rachel Marker, a fictional Jewish character. Through Rachel Markers eyes, Roth was peering into real historical events of the past century. When we met, I was so intrigued, I immediately asked Roth to present a staged reading of the Rachel Marker narrative at The Magnes. I met Moira Roth in 2005 in front of the Nabolom Bakery in Berkeley, a few pastoral blocks down Russell Street from the former site of the Magnes. Nabolom, a collectively owned bakery since 1976, is a bit shabby, deliciously satisfying, and proud, stubbornly staking out its Elmwood territory at the end of Russell among sleeker, fancier shops of the modern age. Roth, who lives a five-minute walk away, is a regular there. She, too, stakes her own ground at one of the tables each day and writes.

In 1924 in Prague, after the funeral of Franz Kafka, whom she greatly admired but had never met, she begins to write to him daily telling him about the dramatic shifts in European politics and memories of her childhood in Prague and Vienna. She shares with him her writings including her fictional Library of Maps series, scripts for plays (365 Days of Silent Acts, 1924; The Golem, the Angel of Death and the Singer, 1939; and Letters to the Dead, 1940). She also reflects on her meetings with such famous contemporary figures as Vladimir Lenin and Gertrude Stein, with Alice Herz-Sommer and Rose Hacker as well as with fictional characters such as Rachel Spiegel, Moira Marker, Maria Sanchez, the Blind Woman, and the Mute Players.

During the course of the exhibition, Roth will continue to expand the Rachel Marker narrative, filling in the gaps in her past and perhaps bringing her into the present. In June of 1940, German troops enter Paris, and nothing about what happens to Rachel Marker is known so far (except for an isolated episode in Vienna in 1949) until she appears in Berlin in 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall when she regains her memory. She then takes photographs of the citys shadows every day, and these are later found in an abandoned room in Berlins Mitte area and are published as the Book of Shadows. In the years between World War I and World War II, Rachel Marker lives mainly in Prague, although she visits Berlin and Spain (during the Spanish Civil War). In 1939, shortly after war is declared, she leaves Prague for Paris, where she lives a solitary life in an apartment opposite the Montparnasse Cemetery.

Rachel Marker

In 1916 neutral Switzerland, Rachel Marker attends the first night of the Cabaret Voltaire, a gathering in Zrich of Dada performers and artists displaced by the war.

January 22June 28, 2013

Dedicated to the Memory of Rose Hacker

A Literary Installation by Moira Roth

Through the Eyes of Rachel Marker

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