Digging up Roots
In 2009, a woman named Anna Krengel approached my first-cousin-once-removed claiming to be the last surviving member of our extended Lithuanian family. She had significant photo and written evidence to back her claim of relation to us. From there, however, each member of my family recounts a different story. Some family members who do not believe we are related confronted Anna, ultimately making it impossible for me to contact her personally. What we have all accepted is only that in 1941-1943 Lithuanian anti-Semites, with marginal Nazi encouragement, murdered the entire Krengel family save for Anna’s brother and parents. Anna was born in hiding in 1943, most likely in Germany.
I have researched my lost relatives as much as possible using various search engines and data bases, emails with my first-cousin-once-removed who met and believes Anna, emails with my first-cousin-once-removed who does not believe we are related to Anna, and attempted contact with the organizations Yad Vashem and Jewishgen. This project is comprised of what I recovered in the process. Each available story and each possible relative is included. These are partly hidden in accordance with the struggle it took to find the information and with the necessity of legibility for the viewer. The arrangement of information also follows a rough timeline of events. If the fence pieces were removed, one could piece together these stories as well as I could. And yet, the fence pieces remain—the viewers face and try to reach a family that is unreachable. The details of their fate are now unknowable.
The hallway space, in the Cornell University campus in Chelsea, New York was integral to my piece. I have set up in an escape route from which the escape door, marked “final exit,” is blocked. We neither fully trace the deaths of these people nor can they or we escape. The promise of the exit signs is not met. However, a door still exists at the end of the route. Though is has been blocked off, it remains a possibility to reach it and to escape. The improbable possibility of an exit emphasizes the improbable hope of recovery of information on this family. My work relies on dead ends and on obstacles, from the complete blocking of the hallway by fences to the dim lighting.