Offenbach – Post, Sunday
April 6, 2006.
Translated from German.
Understanding Between the Generations
Heusenstamm – (‘The Beginning of the Poem”) is the title of the performance in which artist Helen Mintz, who comes from Vancouver, grapples with the theme of the Holocaust. She made an appearance on Sunday in the “Hinteren Schlosschen”, where she performed text and poems by the author Rokhl Korn. The audience was particularly moved by the charisma of the performer, who alternated between English and Yiddish. She shared the history of her grandparents, who fled from the Nazi regime to the United States.
The 56 year old Helen Mintz understands her work to be a contribution towards a better understanding between the generations. Despite the seriousness of the Holocaust theme, she does not avoid humorous elements and also focuses on current political themes.
Helen Mintz was invited by the organizers of the project “Stolpersteine in Heusenstamm” whose objective is to remember the deported Jewish inhabitants of Heusenstamm.
Stadpost, April 19, 2006
Translated from German.
Reconciliation Is Also Possible Through the Power of Spoken Word Performance.
Through Yiddish poetry, Helen Mintz offers insight into Jewish culture
Heusenstamm – When Helen Mintz spoke of her plans to search for the remains of Jewish culture in Eastern Europe, her Aunt Sadye told her, “Save your money. Stay home.” Aunt Sadye felt that after the Holocaust, there was nothing left of Jewish life in Lithuania and Galicia, the birthplace of their ancestors. For a long time Helen listened to her aunt, but in the end she undertook the trip.
Canadian Helen Mintz used the story of her journey to create the theatre piece, (The Beginning of the Poem). Mintz is an actress and author. In her performance she uses a storytelling style, telling simple stories with great expression which effect the audience deeply. Helen Mintz showed the approximately two dozen audience members in the back room of the small castle that her performance is not just for children.
It is possible that the majority of audience members were afraid that they would not understand the presentation in English and Yiddish. It is also possible that many were unwilling to deal with the issues of the Holocaust. Though in fact, the performance was not about the genocide against the Jewish people. Certainly, any process of coming to terms with Jewish culture, especially in Eastern Europe, is inconceivable without speaking about the Holocaust. But Mintz does not concern herself with the destruction of Jewish life. Instead she focuses on what was lost.
This is not common, even in the Jewish circles of today. For Mintz, Yiddish was “an intimidating language”, the expression of the common man. Mintz received this impression from her relatives who tossed their native language aside when they immigrated to North America. In this process, they abandoned their cultural inheritance.
Mintz first gained access to Jewish culture through the poems of the Yiddish author Rochl Korn. Korn’s expressive writing and metaphorical images captured her new reader, who was born in 1949, one year after Korn’s immigration to Canada. But the English translations of the original Yiddish poems did not completely satisfy Mintz. She was introduced to the Yiddish language; which, until the time of the Holocaust was spoken in many regions of Eastern Europe; by a woman living in a seniors residence.
Mintz’s impression of this “intimidating language” changed, as did her image of Jewish life. Through Korn’s poetry, she came to know a language that, though difficult, had the possibility of being both lyrical and vibrant. But just as the language is for the most part not very well known these days, so the author Rochl Korn is also little known.
In this performance, the Yiddish language, because of its origin in Middle High German, sounds somewhat foreign to the German ear. In Korn’s poetry, Jewish life in Galicia is described quite differently than in Aunt Sadye’s stories. Not everything was negative; there was more than just hate and fear between Jews and Christians. Rather than simply constant pogroms, there was also trust and friendships.
In this way, through the poetry of Rochl Korn, Helen Mintz learned many things about the Jewish culture of her relatives. It is this new understanding which she shares in her theatre piece. In On the Other Side of the Poem, Helen Mintz found a piece of history that she had assumed was destroyed in the Holocaust. Mintz found the possibility for reconciliation. The past and the future harmonize in Rochl Korn’s poetry. All this is possible through the power of the spoken word performance.
On her trip to Lithuania, where she attended a Yiddish language course, Helen Mintz met the Heusenstamm resident, Bernd Fisher, who persuaded her to visit Germany. Despite her original skepticism, Mintz now appreciates having had the opportunity to get to know Germans. She feels that the German public are open to facing what was destroyed in the past.
Out of this performance a healing strength is born. This is exactly the reconciliation that those involved in the “Stolpersteine” project are hoping for with their little brass plates. These plates focus attention on the earlier Jewish inhabitants of Heusenstamm in order to bring these people and their stories back into memory. As Helen Mintz shows, performance can be a powerful medium as can the rediscovery of the poems of Rochl Korn.
Mintz’s conclusion is that she should not listen to those who advise her to stay home and save her money.
Photo caption: With an expressive gesture and clear English, the Canadian actress Helen Mintz performing in the back of the small castle, described how she rediscovered, through the Yiddish poetry of the author Rochl Korn, the cultural roots of her ancestors.
An act of reconciliation by Helen Mintz
Gazebo Connection, March 2006
If you thought storytelling was something that kids listen to in library basements, think again. Jewish-Canadian performance artist Helen Mintz is here to show us just how versatile and profound this medium can be. Her new show, (The Beginning of the Poem) premiered Saturday, March 18th as part of World Storytelling Day, and goes on the road to Germany, where Mintz will perform it as part of the Stolpersteine project, an act of reconciliation and forgiveness.
Mintz took her audience on a journey in search of her voice – a voice she had ‘lost touch with recently’. As it evolved, her quest seemed bound up with her family’s Ukrainian origins and the Yiddish they used to argue, gossip or swap recipes. However, when she decided to undertake a pilgrimage to her native Galicia to discover her heritage, she received a chilling message from her East European travel agent, “Holocaust terrible in those places. No Jews left.”
Instead, Mintz took an internal journey after she stumbled across the work of 20th century Yiddish poet Rochl Korn (who is, coincidentally, a Galician). Through the presentation of a series of passionate translations of Korn’s poems, woven skillfully together with her own commentary, Mintz offered her Vancouver audience the vibrant world of life in the Ukraine. In Crazy Levi, we meet women in the fields “broken in the middle like sheaves”, as we walk “the roads from Yaverev to Moshtsisk to Samber to Greyding” with this disappointed lover, who carries his heart around with him “like a cat in a sack”. To watch Mintz perform is to experience the darkness, uncertainty and loss that pervades this show like memories of the Holocaust:
Maybe the hungry wolves in the woods tore him to pieces
or maybe his mother who hung herself in her youth
missed her son, and a small, white hand
reached out to him from the dark attic of the old house.
The aim of the Stolpersteine project is to place plaques in front of German homes once owned by Jews, as a way of giving names and presence to Holocaust victims. On the Other Side of the Poem at once recreates the life of the Jews butchered in Galicia, and the poetry of Rochl Korn, whose work has fallen victim to linguistic ethnocentricity. In finding her way home to authentic voice, Mintz has been able to construct her own monument to a culture that was almost, but not quite, destroyed.
This show debuted at the Unitarian Church of Vancouver as a benefit for the Vancouver Society of Storytelling www.vancouverstorytelling.org and was sponsored by the Social Justice Committee of the UCV. The project was assisted by the Canada Council for the Arts.
Crazy Levi, by Rachel Korn, was translated by Seymour Levitan and taken from Paper Roses, Papirene Roizn, edited and translated by Seymour Levitan, Aya Press, Toronto, 1985.