FIFTH PART: FROM HOKA-NENI'S DOWNFALL

Hoka-Nevi Shows Her Collection of Apples, 2001-2002

Oil tempera on canvas,

40 x 312 in (l00 x 80 cm)

 

Therefore I give up and comfort myself

in dust and ashes

Job 42:6 (trans. Valentin Lustig from the Zurich Bible, 1998 ed.)

 

We know that Hoka-Neni died with her children in Auschwitz. Here, Lustig recreates her in a poignant manner. Her face and body are generic-the family did not have a picture of her. Her stark environment recalls the room in the first panel (we see the same sideboard and candleholder) but whereas most of the elements in that room were supposed to exist, the present room is only an imaginary recreation of that vanished reality. The mirror does not reflect anything, and the lighted candle (not lighted in the first panel) reminds us of the Jewish custom of lighting candles in remembrance of the dead. The broom leaning against the wall indicates Hoka-Nevi's former occupation as a housewife.

Hoka-Neni proudly displays a collection of apples, some partly eaten, some rotten. It was the custom in middle-class families to safeguard jewelry by wrapping it in a large handkerchief or napkin and concealing it in a closet among stacks of ironed linen. Sometimes the owner, usually a woman, would take the jewels from hiding and show them to a friend. Lustig is alluding here to an episode from Roman history-the story of Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi, who, when a friend boasted of her fine jewelry, brought forth her two sons and declared, "There are my jewels." These spoiled and rotten apples represent Hoka-Nevi's dead children. Her look of pride, coupled with the pathetic spectacle of her "jewels," eloquently conveys the manner of her pain, which in this painting Lustig has made his own.

 

by Edith Balas