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Interview with Eve Neiger
Eve Neiger, born 1987 in Chicago, Illinois, USA, is an archivist, designer and visual artist. Until September 1933, Eve┬┤s grandfather, Isaak "Itschu" Neiger, lived at Auguststra├če 10, where the family had a kosher bakery. Eve grew up looking at ...
AVIVA: You came to Berlin for the first time in 1998 to visit ┬┤Auguststra├če 10┬┤ - together with your sister (Arielle), your mother (Carol), your father (Carmi), your grandmother (Shirley), and most of all: your grandfather Isaak/ Yitzhak "Itschu" Neiger.
What were your expectations, what are your memories?
Eve Neiger: I really don┬┤t remember what my expectations were at the time, but I remember being excited, mostly because we were going to go to Amsterdam to see the Anne Frank house after Berlin. I was very interested in Holocaust memoirs at the time and, as a voracious reader, was reading many books about individual experiences during the Holocaust, including ┬┤The Diary of a Young Girl┬┤ which I had read a few times. My memories of the trip itself include mostly snippets until we saw Itschu┬┤s neighborhood and Auguststra├če 10. I remember lots of rain in Berlin, really good chocolate, eating at M├Âvenpick, and lots of interesting graffiti. It was my first time out of the USA and I think I was overwhelmed by the new smells, and sites, and experiences, and of course the really fantastic ice cream (I was eleven, after all).
I have very vivid memories of walking through Itschu┬┤s neighborhood in Berlin and seeing his house at Auguststra├če 10, most of which I wrote about in "KuLe. Kunst & Leben. Ein Haus in Berlin-Mitte seit 1990".
AVIVA: How did it feel to see the bakery and all the other places like your grandfather┬┤s school for the very first time? You were 11 years old, which impact did this experience have to your (future) life?
Eve Neiger: It was really amazing to see all these landmarks of Itschu┬┤s early life. I think, in a way, his memories and stories that I had heard previously were similar to the Holocaust memoir books I was reading. They were real but not so alive, and I couldn┬┤t really relate as a young kid growing up in a privileged life in the US. However, I think seeing all these sites in Berlin, made it all come alive. It was like I had stepped into one of my books and was suddenly living in the story. When we walked through Auguststra├če 10 and saw, for the first time, the baker┬┤s oven in the basement. All the adults were overcome with emotion. They all began to cry as my grandfather told stories about his childhood that the sight of the oven and the house were bringing back for him. I don┬┤t think I had ever seen adults cry like this, overcome with emotion of an experience, not because they were sad, but because they were experiencing a powerful moment. I think that is what really impacted me: the power that memory and living history can have on us. I was also aware of how rare it was that we were able to return to Itschu┬┤s childhood home, something that very few survivors were ever able to do.
AVIVA: What does ┬┤Auguststra├če 10┬┤ mean to you personally?
Eve Neiger: Auguststra├če 10 an important symbol, for our family, of where we came from, and the place that my grandfather┬┤s bakery held in their community. It is also in some ways a receptacle of my grandfather┬┤s memories, because it had so much power to pull out memories that had been hidden for so long. The community at the KuLe also has immense importance because they are a symbol of welcoming spirit, of creative energy and empowerment, and of a community that values and respects their place in history and those that came before them. It is good when a family is interested in their own history, but for a group of strangers to embrace, value, and show interest in that history as well? That is a very special thing.
AVIVA: What does ┬┤Auguststra├če 10┬┤ mean to you as a historian?
Eve Neiger: I think buildings can be archives also. A building has stood through many residents, events, wars, and the changes of the world. Buildings can reveal a great deal about history, you just have to ask them. The KuLe has made many changes to the Auguststra├če 10, but have also preserved a lot of what they found their in 1990, things that were preserved because of the building┬┤s location in East Berlin. There is so much we can learn from it, not only about the history of the KuLe community, but also about the history of our family, or the neighborhood, and of Berlin. It stands as an artifact of the past and a reflection for the continually changing world around it, and that makes it a very important record of history.
AVIVA: Did you ever visit the grave/cemetery of Chaim und Dvora in Israel?
Eve Neiger: Yes. In 2007 my parents and sister and I went to Israel to visit our cousins, the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of my grandfather┬┤s brother Jacob. My parents had both been to Israel before, but it was my first visit. Chaim and Dvora Neiger are buried in a cemetery on a hill in Haifa. It was very powerful to visit their graves, again, like the visit to Auguststra├če 10, because it connected a physical place with stories and made them more real for me. Seeing their graves made me feel more connected to my family and especially to Itschu.
AVIVA: Can you please tell us about your grandfather┬┤s suffering of not being able to rescue his sister Fanny, who was killed by the Nazis September 14th 1942 in Auschwitz?
Eve Neiger: I believe that Paula and Jenny also felt a deep sense of guilt for Fanny┬┤s death. I never knew Jenny but Paula spoke about her guilt in her video testimony for Steven Spielberg┬┤s Shoah Foundation project.
In many ways, this guilt is to be expected, and is very common: Survivor┬┤s Guilt. But I think in this case, Itschu felt that he had brought Fanny back to France because it was his desire to go, to finish his schooling, not hers. Paula, in turn, felt guilty because she had encouraged them to come.
Itschu always felt that it was really his fault that Fanny ended up in Auschwitz. It may be that because he was the brother, he felt that it was his job to protect her. He carried this guilt with him his whole life and didn┬┤t talk about it much but I understood that it was there. It was very difficult for him to come to terms with this guilt so I believe he just continued to carry it with him and honored his sister Fanny by speaking about her frequently and remembering her.
AVIVA: Your family was forced to sell the bakery for very little money. Did your family ever receive restitution, "Wiedergutmachung"?
Eve Neiger: My great-grandfather and great-grandmother Chaim and Dvora Neiger did not received restitution because they died in Haifa in 1937, long before the end of the war. However, their oldest son, Jacob, my grandfather┬┤s older brother, did receive some restitution from the German government because when he left Berlin he was a prosperous baker with a promising career. Paula, my grandfather┬┤s sister, who was a few years younger than Jacob also received a small amount because she and her husband at the time lost their livelihood and a full household of furnishings and personal belongings. Since my grandfather was still a young boy, only fourteen, when he left Berlin, he did not receive any restitution and did not seek any.
AVIVA: The title of your essay in the book "Art & Life. A House in Berlin-Mitte since 1990" is "Memory found at Auguststra├če 10: The Life Story of Itschu Neiger, the Baker┬┤s Son" and the title of your lecture on Friday 3 June is "In heritage: Deriving meaning and building connections from memory, place, and the historical record". What is for you the most important issue in passing on personal memories as well as images to the next generation/s regarding understanding of history?
Eve Neiger: I think it is simply that personal lived experiences are much more relatable and easier to understand than broader political history or national history told from the point of view of an objective historian. We are feeling creatures and memories have feelings and emotions that we can relate to. Memories, especially told by people we love and care for, make history come alive and have a greater power to convey understanding than a simple recitation of facts. They also can make us recognize moments in our own lives that reflect past events, and encourage us to stand up and participate in history as it unfolds, creating our own memories, that can, in turn be passed on the next generation.
More info at:
Stiftung Denkmal f├╝r die ermordeten Juden Europas www.stiftung-denkmal.de/en
USC Shoah Foundation sfi.usc.edu
Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale web.library.yale.edu
Read more at AVIVA-Berlin:
Dedications. Festival zur Publikation des Buchs - KuLe Kunst & Leben / Art & Life. A House in Berlin-Mitte since 1990. Ein Haus in Berlin-Mitte seit 1990
Das Kunsthaus KuLe in der Auguststra├če 10 verbindet seit ├╝ber 25 Jahren Kunst und Leben. Zum Booklaunch am 3. Juni 2016 waren Carmi und Eve Neiger aus den USA, Nachfahren der j├╝dischen Familie, die dort bis 1933 eine koschere Gro├čb├Ąckerei betrieb, zu Gast.
KuLe. Kunst & Leben. Ein Haus in Berlin-Mitte seit 1990 / Art & Life. A House in Berlin-Mitte since 1990
Herausgeberinnen: Ursula Maria Berzborn, Steffi Weismann
Verlag: Revolver Publishing
396 Seiten, 100 Seiten in Farbe, 485 Abbildungen, deutsch/engl.
39 ÔéČ Ladenpreis
Weitere Informationen zum Kunsthaus KuLe und zum Buch finden Sie unter:
www.kunsthauskule.de und www.revolver-publishing.com