On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Hagar Cygler shares her project Whole, an elusive journey she took with her father to try and take hold of lost memories and places and the dislocation left in her family by the Holocaust.
Whole was first published as a poster booklet [44 pages, 14.5x21x0.5 cm] in 2017, and we are thankful to Hagar for sharing it now on the Asylum Magazine.
There’s a story I think I know, vague details that add up to a larger story, a story I can tell and it sounds like it’s mine. Telling this story pokes so many holes, it feels like I have nothing left. The vague details turn into a vague story, they make the story reliable, help me possess it, claim it as my own.
I make lists, lots of them. they follow me wherever I go, they carry me, help me understand my place in the world, setting the scene for myself, knowing when and where and what I have to be. Words, short sentences, small details, each in a row, a list.
Can I understand the story from a list? like cooking with a recipe, I throw all the components in to make a story. It’s the vagueness that is leading this story, my obsession with order can not be applied. Throw at me a photo, a figure, a puzzle and I will see all the small details in it, building a full and complex story. Throw me into my own past and I will have nothing: half sentences, hesitated facts, a shaken identity stumbling on the feet of a lost legacy.
There’s a notebook. it has a white and light green pattern and in its last few pages there are two stories, life stories of my grandparents, written through details and anecdotes. There are a lot of “he doesn’t remember” and blank lines in it. I wrote them down because I knew that I will not remember the details. This notebook is in a box, the box is on a top shelf in a cupboard of my house in Tel Aviv. I can’t access this box for now, I can’t remember the details. I remember my father’s frustration of not remembering, feeling stressed as I sat across with an open notebook and a pen, waiting.
Memorabilia and neglected memories, decorative figurines and lost sense of taste and time. Warsaw holds the history I do know. The one embedded in me through education and genes. The flea markets in Warsaw hold a history with a currency. I fill the holes in my story with what others sell.
All the right questions wait for the last moment to be asked, the movies taught me I can ask them only then. I look for a common thread. Stretching it from an object to a photo and looking for the lines that will write themselves, a list of categories that will put everything into place. I understand this is a moment too late, there’s no one to ask anymore and there are no answers to be given.
We are sitting in the Biergarten in Prenzlauer Berg, we know Berlin already, we traveled here together many times. We have our memories from here that are only ours, but now I need to collect other memories, a moment before they disappear. I should have done this a long time ago, asking myself how did I get to this age, being preoccupied all these years with my family photos and questions of memory and having never got to the bottom of this. With broken German we order beer and sausages and sit down with all the locals, not watching the game, trying to sink into a serious conversation, a father and daughter one, the kind you need to remember. I’m performing: I open a notebook, start to ask questions and write down the answers. He didn’t remember much, maybe it was the situation, the notebook, the direct questions and maybe it was just what it is, he didn’t remember. When we don’t use enough the memory muscle, we forget how to use it, small details don’t turn into a bigger story, at least not a significant one, one that will last for generations.
The moment we got into the taxi was the one I understood that I don’t understand. Endless questions, a conversation in a conversation. For me it was only a building, a regular building, a property that was once owned by a rich man that happened to be my father’s grandfather. A moment before I got into the taxi I understood this building is a line connecting many dots, dots I did not know of, haven’t asked about and still do not know about some.
Now that I already know the city I can find a nice cafe we can sit in. We order coffee, I take out my notebook and then put it back. The notebook is intimidating, declares from its existence that anything written in it will last, be remembered. And what if we can’t give it what it needs. I found today in the flea market lots of small stuff. You never ask me why I buy them, your enthusiasm is quite credible when I show you my esoteric findings, I know you don’t really understand what’s my interest in them. You never questioned. I on the other hand questioned. Now I know I had to ask questions, now that it is too late. The answers are never enough, they either lack the drama I thought they will have or they are partial, lacking the information that will help me create a whole and detailed story.
Before we went up an old lady told us that the platform is not working – das gleis ist tot – it is dead. We got up, it’s a beautiful memorial, Germans know how to make beautiful memorials. When I was learning German I could not remember the word for envelope and someone explained to me that it’s just like umschlagplatz, it’s easier to use words you know so well. You once told me about the time you went with grandpa to ??odz?, you went through the city’s
umschlagplatz and how he started trembling and you took him away from there as fast as you could.
We sit on a bench in the old city, around us other tourists, like us, or almost like us. A few moments before I bought something in an antique shop and two cakes in the bakery. We eat the cakes together and guess what is this that I bought, where did it come from, who owned it, how did it get here and what does it do. What I will do with it, this doesn’t really matter. It’s a kind of a game, a memory game, the memories are not ours. I once asked you how come you never travel with a camera and you replied: “when I don’t remember a place it means this is time to visit it again”. I follow your words.