The book and the interactive application “heim.at.home” introduce readers to New York Holocaust survivors and their memories.
His regular seat is the front row aisle seat. Always armed with the latest issue of The New York Times and his oversized glasses. It takes him about 45 minutes to get from Queens to Midtown Manhattan. And yet, he is always there. For every single event, whatever the weather. Front row aisle seat. That is Kurt Sonnenfeld's seat.
Kurt Sonnenfeld is 86 years old and a personality to whom the attribute "extraordinary" definitely applies. He is an exceptional networker, a loveable Jack of all trades. The aisle seat in the front row is located in the auditorium of the Austrian Cultural Forum New York. And that is exactly where our friendship began and the idea for the project "heim.at.home" had its origin.
Sonnenfeld and I couldn't be more different – not least because of our age difference. And yet, something essential connects us: we are Jews. One commonality sharpens our awareness in a way which shakes the core of our Jewish being unlike anything else: the Holocaust. Horror, darkness, empty souls – the greatest of all crimes. Kurt Sonnenfeld did not wish to be silent about it. He wished to share his experiences of humiliation, persecution, dehumanization, disappropriation, and displacement. And I, being the same age as his grandchildren, wanted to process what he told me. That is how the project "heim.at.home" came about.
Sonnenfeld has been living in New York for more than sixty years. He eats American food, dreams in English, and is a New York Mets fan. And still, this enthusiastic conversationalist with an eternally positive attitude has remained an Austrian. Not only according to his recently reissued document of citizenship, but in the core of his heart.
"I'm Kurt from Brigittenau." When he introduced himself to me with these words in 2010, one thing was clear: here is a real Viennese man in New York. The more stories and anecdotes he told me about his former home, the greater his treasure trove of memories seemed to become. No bitterness there. These were simply words of love, of dedication, and of goodwill, with which Kurt Sonnenfeld reminisces.
The German storyteller Jean Paul once said, "Memory is the only Paradise we cannot be displaced from." Kurt Sonnenfeld's retrospection is proof of the truth that underlies this thought.
Without the love for his home, Sonnenfeld would not be at home anywhere. He never closed the door to his origin; he left it wide open. He took them with him, all these images and childhood experiences – wrapped up tightly. In order to fill them – gently unfurled – with new life and passion from afar.
Apart from Kurt Sonnenfeld, "heim.at.home" introduces nine other Austrian Holocaust survivors who live in New York. But this project was not only about preserving memories. "heim.at.home" is a project which for the first time uses a variety of media to cover this topic using the entire range of modern communication. As mobile apps are the most attractive media format today and the subject of the Holocaust has never before been approached in this way, this digital tool provides an ideal opportunity to raise awareness. This is why the project offers apps for iOS and Android devices, available for free download through the respective online portals. The app, developed in English and German and in close collaboration with the agency NOUS, includes essays, short videos and interviews as well as interactive maps to retrace the journeys of the Holocaust survivors. In addition, "heim.at.home" has been released as a book that portrays the protagonists with words and with the help of tender images by New York-based photographer David Plakke. The book was published in September 2012 by Metroverlag and is also available in German and English. (Diana Gregor)
More information is available at heimathome.com