Eye of the Beholder in U. S. Catholic Magazine


Originally published with image:  Anni Albers, Six Prayers, 1965-66; The Jewish Museum, New York

When the Jewish Museum commissioned Anni Albers to honor the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, she faced the daunting task of materializing immense tragedy and incalculable evil, and of addressing the human desire to comprehend.  As a weaver, she relies upon our familiarity with cloth to invite our consideration of the unthinkable--the premeditated slaughter of six million people.

All the ways that cloth warms, comforts, and protects us as garments and household linens make this memorial approachable.  Relying upon a limited color palette, Albers crafted six uniquely toned panels that hang before the viewer like six people standing side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder. 

Her number choice, easy to grasp, reminds us of the astonishing scale of the Shoah; each slightly different woven surface reminds us that each person killed was distinctive, an individual.  The midsection of each length of cloth, embellished with meandering black and white thread, suggests the variety of paths and choices people face, or perhaps language and its descriptive limits.

Just as “Rachel mourns her children...because her children are no more” [Jer. 31: 15], Six Prayers offers to hold our grief.  When we pledge “never again,” it also offers us hop.