This is a complicated story, as most of real history and biography is.
Many such stories start, as with mine, backwards, from the present to some arbitrary point in the past.
Writing this story, putting pen to paper so to speak, was never a conscious decision. I merely started to write, as I usually do.
The passion to complete it emanates from some part of me to which I have no access. And I won’t pay anyone to help me find that portal.
I was deeply into this past (not my past) before I ever questioned why. And I still have no answer.
Perhaps it was all for you, the visitor to the Palais des Beaux Arts, and what you might decide you need.
Perhaps you will keep me immortal for an hour or two, at least.
Or maybe, I need an association with beautiful things, with new things, with interesting things, with things out of time, things out of place and things we cannot see clearly yet. As, I am sure, do you.
As an institution, idea, and building, the Palais des Beaux Arts endures and it should not remain silent; indeed, telling its story may help to ensure its future.
Seth Weiner, the Artistic Director of the PdBA, asked me to write about my relationship to this building. He surely may regret this request now.
Between us, we could not agree on the tie between the Palais and me as it stands. Seth suggested “sisters,” but I remain uncertain.
Arnold Bachwitz was the founder of the Palais des Beaux Arts and also my great-grandfather.
But for the particularities of the Austrian legal system before, during, and after World War II, I might have been owner or part owner of the Palais des Beaux Arts.
The building would have been a great place to hang the paintings I collect and for our cats to play in.
I am certain that thousands of Jewish individuals and families, speaking different languages, who survived the Holocaust, wrote and left narratives similar to mine.
Countless narratives exist of the non-Jewish victims of other genocides in the Soviet Union, China, and elsewhere before, during, and after World War II.
The world scarcely needed
one more such narrative.
Remembering someone else’s past, not our own, what does that memory mean?
When I look at all those people long gone, I am not sure what lessons are embedded here, if any.
I seem to be blowing gently on the black embers of the past, expecting perhaps just a brief orange glow somewhere in that pile, not a roaring fire but a tiny bit of warmth or light, a surprise, then colder embers again.
Something with meaning.
Thomas D. Lonner