2 July 2017, Sunday
Today I found your home, the old apartment where you all lived together so happily. Before my mother and aunt were forced to move. Before you were able to join them. I tried to look through the front door – to reach you, in some way – but I couldn’t make out what was inside. The glass just reflected my own image, and beyond that the street and the buildings. I thought of Nazi flags flying there, from your neighbours’ homes.
I began photographing the letter boxes outside your apartment. Perhaps some part of me was searching for a way to send you a letter. As I was down on my knees with my camera, a family came along and asked in German, ‘Are you making art?’ Sort of, I said. I told them my grandmother and her daughters had lived here, that they were Jewish and they had to leave in ’38. I asked if they could let me into the foyer. They did, then left me alone.
As I photographed, a question hid inside me: what am I looking for?
I liked the quality of the soft light in there... I had a sense, one I would feel again before too long, that somebody unseen had just passed this way.
There was unease, too, about the people who let me in. Did someone in their family’s past simply take your home, after you were forced to leave?
I stood in that echoing space and I thought of you farewelling your girls, all of you weeping.
Then it became about the objects you might have touched – the wooden stair-rail, the decorative ribbons of terracotta floor tiles. I could put my fingers to the surfaces that held your touch... but still, there is only absence. Too many hands have passed over the railing since yours.
I look for you.
I send you a thousand kisses,
19 July 2017, Wednesday
My dearest Margarete,
Today with my own teenaged daughter I visited your modern apartment in Prague. The streetscape is unchanged from the time you lived here; the red and white trams still slide by. We stood outside, looking up at the second floor where you lived. I called out to some young people at a window, and they let me in. I entered alone to take pictures, once more in the foyer.
The surfaces here were reflective, slippery, the bright light pouring through the frosted glass door. I could hear the echo of your footsteps on the concrete stairs.
It was here you received the notice to report to the Radiomarkt assembly point on 23 October 1941. Before you were transported to the ghetto.
In this peppermint light I thought of you, making your way down the stairs, carrying your belongings. Which of the letters did you take? What went through your mind, crossing the black-and-white tiles for the last time? Did you take a tram to the station?
There in your foyer I had the sense again – I could almost see it in the corner of my vision – of something, someone, passing by. But there was nothing there.
I stood and I thought how different our lives were; how fortunate I have been.
I saw a document today too: your deportation file card. The cards – thousands and thousands of them – are kept in little creamy filing cabinets in an office at the Jewish Town Hall.
There was an identification certificate, with the photograph I know so well – this time you’ve signed it, across your body, in your elegant script. And next to the image, your fingerprint. It’s small, smudged, a little sideways on the page. I looked at this mark for a long time.
Then there was another card, dull pink, mottled with age. I held it in my hands, and I read your name, your date of birth, your address in Prague. I read the date of your departure, the words Transport C, and then a stamp in crimson ink. A single word, in capitals, your destination: LODZ.
It is as if you left something of yourself here; something of your body.