© 2019 miriam morsel nathan | installation zdenka | photo John Woo

© 2019 miriam morsel nathan | installation zdenka | photo John Woo

© 2019 miriam morsel nathan | installation zdenka | photo John Woo

art and the demands of memory

american university museum at the katzen arts center, washington, dc 2024

the exhibit

This exhibition brings together a group of “second generation” Jewish artists whose practices have been indelibly marked by the trauma of the Holocaust. As memory keepers of the lives of those who could not speak for themselves, they affirm the relevance of the “past” for the world as we have found it, as well as the one we are shaping for future generations.

My installation ZDENKA, included in this exhibition, is a fragmented and partial narrative of my mother’s experience during the Holocaust. Taken directly from her written words and oral testimony, it is only a starting point.


Soon after they were married in Prague in 1937 my parents’ lives were changed inalterably when the Nazi party began its assault on Europe.

My father, Marek, escaped Nazi persecution after an odyssey through Yugoslavia, Greece and Italy. He eventually found refuge in the settlement of Sosua in the Dominican Republic. My mother was to follow but all attempts to obtain transit papers for her were to no avail and she was forced to remain in Prague.

In 1942 my mother was deported to Terezín, a concentration camp in the former Czechoslovakia. She remained imprisoned there until the end of World War II in 1945.

These strips of fragile paper carry my mother’s words, taken from her writings and recorded testimony. They are remnants of a much larger story.

the boxes

Although there were no gas chambers in Terezín crematoria were built to manage the overwhelming number of deaths that occurred there. Approximately 25,000 prisoners were cremated in Terezín. Their ashes were deposited in paper urns and kept until 1944 when the Nazis ordered them to be emptied into the river Ohře.

The painted boxes are to remind us of those paper urns, labeled and numbered, in which the ashes of women, children and men were stored until they were thrown into the river.

My mother was part of the human chain forced to empty the urns into the river.