“My mother, Esther Brunstein, died… in January 2017 aged 88. She had been a prominent and powerful public speaker. She ‘found her voice’ in the 90’s when Holocaust Denial, perpetrated by revisionist ‘historian’, David Irving, reared its ugly face. She could be silent no longer, in her words: “to deny the Holocaust is to deny my very existence”.
“A survivor of the Lodz Ghetto, Auschwitz, a slave labour camp in Germany, and Bergen-Belsen, she campaigned relentlessly on anti-Nazi platforms up and down the country at every opportunity. It was her mission, to let everyone know what had happened to her, and to always make connections with contemporary abuses of human rights – the plight of refugees, asylum seekers, evils of racism, anti Semitism – and to guard against complacency, warning it could always happen again.
“Always be vigilant, a single act of bullying, name calling, discrimination, can be the first step that leads to the gates of Auschwitz”. Having already been to Auschwitz, one could ask me as to why I wanted to go again – in fact as some family and friends did. I thought long and hard, but felt it was fitting and appropriate, in the year of my mothers death, to revisit that site of horror, and to bear witness, as she could go no more, and to, maybe, say goodbye.
“My youngest daughter Alicia, decided to come with me. I was this time going back as ‘me’ in my own right, as a mother and a daughter. I was of course very pleased Alicia wanted to come, but anxious and concerned as to how the experience might affect her.
“Gathering soil from shoes: A final memory I would like to share was in the coach, on our journey back to the hotel.
I am an artist and I make work that draws from my family history exploring Inherited Trauma which I believe firmly manifests itself in subsequent generations. I had asked everyone on the coach on our return if they would scrape some soil off the soles of their shoes. We collected a fair amount in a plastic bag. Apart from what I carry in my heart and head, the only other thing that remains and holds a memory for me is the soil. It carries our history and is a witness .”
Unite against Fascism (UAF) ia a campaigning body that stands in the tradition of previous anti fascist organisations like the Anti Nazi League. We were honoured that Esther Brunstein’s daughter, Lorna came along on the trip with her own daughter. That both informed our days in Poland and at Auschwitz so powerfully and profoundly with their presence, affected all who were there.
Given the far right’s rise across much of Europe, and homegrown fascists like ‘Tommy Robinson’, the legacy of Esther Brunstein and what she stood for was very much alive for all who met and chatted with Lorna and Alicia in Poland. Lorna’s art reminds us of Brecht’s quote, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it”.
UAF has long campaigned against the British National Party and the EDL, both now essentially defunct. Today, with Trump and Johnson leading governments in the US and the UK, the far right is looking to press home its toxic ideas. Anti Semitism and islamophobia are twin evils and like Esther did to people with her work, this exhibition will be affecting and inspiring. There is a continuity of Esther’s stirring words and actions to resist racism and fascism. UAF are proud to be associated with Lorna’s exhibition and wish it every success.