Maccabee’s Candles (2012), about 10x 6×6 inches. Wax, wick, and book pages.
When prisoners passed through the gates of Nazi concentration camps past the motto Arbeit macht Frei (“work makes one free”), they must have understood that, of all the vile indignities that had brought them to this horrific place, this particular hell would be merciless. In this motto the executioners spoke with the omnipotent voice of Creation implying that whatever was to come was a foregone conclusion. Here the reality of Hell is the absence of reason.
Maccabee’s Candles was created using pages of an English translation of Hitler’s Mein Kampf (My Struggle) formed into candles. It is a gruesome piece that was not easy to make. Making the candles was similar to factory work albeit very short-term and, thankfully, the manufacture occurred in the quiet of my own choosing. Like many Jews, I hadn’t given Hitler’s text much attention. Knowing full well what came out of Nazi rhetoric as a whole, it seemed beside the point to read the actual text that fueled such insanity.
It should come as no surprise that Mein Kampf is, indeed, a Baroque and entirely neurotic piece of work, written in the exuberant and desperate style of a paranoid hypochondriac who, up to the publication in 1925/1926, had been victimized, not by Jews, but by his own ill-health, his doctor’s experimental treatments, his peers, and the social systems (military, educational, romantic) in which he so desperately sought approval. It’s all there: hemorrhoids, stomach cramps, blindness, creative failure, father-son animosity, sexual inadequacy, drug addiction, and episodes that point to ongoing mental illness. Knowing how it all ended made the book all the more exhausting to get through. Slogging through black mud that business.
So, I read this absurd text and then I destroyed it. Or at least a chunk of it–it is huge and would make many, many more candles. I used an X-acto knife. Then I wrapped strips of text around a wax and wick core to create 44 Hanukkah candles. I know: this sort of symbolic transference is a little heavy-handed. But after reading the actual language that fueled the fire that destroyed most of Yiddish civilization in Europe and annihilated many millions of human beings, I needed to link the atrocity called Nazism that resulted from this book with some small triumph. One such story is Hanukkah.
Seen in this light, the candles beg the question: will we burn them?