Art student explores grandfather’s Shanghai interlude
By Deborah Moon
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The intergenerational impact of one man’s flight from Vienna to Shanghai to escape the Holocaust comes across in the Oregon Jewish Museum’s new exhibit created by museum intern Lauren Pressler.
“Ludwig Salzer: Man of Letters. From Exile in Shanghai to Life in the United States,” opened Oct. 14 and remains on display through Jan. 20, 2008.
“The show combines my grandfather’s experience through his writings and photographs with my artwork … (which) reflects my understanding of how as a survivor he raised my mother and how that affected how I was raised,” said Pressler.
Ludwig Salzer’s journals, letters from his parents who had been relocated to the Lodz ghetto in Poland, and correspondence with his gentile girlfriend in Vienna form the core of the exhibit.
To reflect the thousands of Jews who found refuge in the war-torn city, the exhibit also includes the stories, photographs and mementos of other European Jewish refugees from Shanghai who now live in Oregon.
Pressler said her family learned the details of her grandfather’s life only after she obtained two grants to translate the four journals and letters after his death in 2004.
A Carson Undergraduate Research Grant from Willamette University enabled her to translate about a quarter of the journals. A second grant through the Lily Project funded the remaining translation and provided her a stipend to work as an intern at OJM to create this exhibit.
Pressler said she had attempted to question her grandfather about his history before his death, but said he told her, “Some things are meant to be forgotten.”
Pressler, who said she only knew her grandfather had fled Austria because he was Jewish, began using artwork to explore the Holocaust while she was still in high school. The exhibit includes the first painting she did for a Holocaust class in high school through her subsequent explorations of the topic including one completed recently specifically for this exhibit.
The art collection shows both her growth as an artist and her greater understanding of her grandfather she gained reading the translation of his journals. “The artwork shows that understanding and inspiration as well as better technique and style,” she said.
Now a senior majoring in art at Willamette University, Pressler said she learned a great deal about the hardships her grandfather went through as he repeatedly lost everything. Born in a well-to-do Austrian-Jewish family, he left everything behind when he fled Nazi persecution.
“I couldn’t wrap my head around how bad a situation he was in as a displaced person,” said Pressler. “He went from Austria and losing his entire family, to a war torn city to live in abject poverty in horrible conditions for years and years.
“How that shaped his life and the scars of being a survivor—I could see how that trickled down through the generations,” she said.
“One of my goals (for the exhibit) was to touch a different set of emotions,” said Pressler. “Being a displaced person can destroy somebody. But I also wanted to show his perseverance and hope and how healing can come two generations later.”
Located at 310 NW Davis St., OJM is open 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1-4 p.m. Sunday. Regular admission is $3; members get in for free. For more information, call the museum at 503-226-3600.