Author Archives: Monica Petzal

Here Lived a film by Monica Petzal

In September 2022, we gathered in Berlin to lay Stolpersteine for six of our immediate family who died in the Shoah. The ceremony was filmed by Maria Aguilar, and I have worked with editor Eileen Haring Woods to create this film. Email to contact me about this film and the issues it raises.

European Judaism from the Leicester Conference

In 2021 I made a presentation in Leicester about the making of the prints for my exhibition Dissent and Displacement which was in the New Walk Museum from February 2020 until lockdown.

As a result the organisers of the conference were asked by European Judaism if they could publish the papers, to which I gladly agreed. It has taken a long time to get into the correct form for publication but I am delighted that I am now allowed to publish it on my website.

From Archive to Print: The Diarist Victor Klemperer and the Isakowitz Family

In the spring of 1995, my London phone rang. It was my cousin Ruth Levy Berlowitz from Tel Aviv in Israel. She told me a diary had been published in Germany with entries about my family who had been friends of the diarist, and that I had to read it. The writer’s name was Victor Klemperer, and the diaries were called Ich will Zeugnis ablegen bis zum letzten – Tagebücher 1933–1945 (1995).[i]

[i]Victor Klemperer, Ich will Zeugnis ablegen bis zum letzten – Tagebücher 1933–1945 (2 vols) (Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 1995).

Margate , “To a Death in Sweating Wakefulness’

This is the exhibition text for Margate:

My parents were German Jewish refugees. My mother Lore Isakowitz (born 1915) and her family fled Dresden for London in 1936. My father Harry Petzal (born 1908) fled Berlin in August 1939. He left behind the rest of his family, who only escaped as far as Holland. Harry’s mother, his brother and sister-in-law, and their three small children, were then held in the Westebork camp and eventually all died in Auschwitz.

My father escaped to Britain on false papers. Arriving with ‘nothing but the clothes he stood up in’ he turned himself in to the authorities. Shortly after the outbreak of the war he volunteered for the Pioneer Corps, serving until 1943. As a trained metallurgist he was then seconded to work in the aircraft industry.

After the war, now married to my mother and with a small child, he rebuilt his career as a metal dealer. A fluent English speaker, he had travelled to the United States in 1936, and had good business contacts. In 1946 he and a group of associates travelled all over Germany, identifying the detritus of war, and organising its sale to American steel producers for recycling.

Although I knew about this visit, I only recently located his archive, with these extraordinary photographs of both of the rusting and decaying machinery of war, and of Germany itself. My father and his colleagues evidently traversed Northern Germany, with my father photographing Hamburg, Bremen and Berlin as well as Luneburg Heath, the scene of the German surrender to Field Marshall Montgomery on the 4th May 1945.

Whilst the ‘business’ photographs were commercially processed and taped down to typed cards with identifying text, all the other photographs were processed by my father, a keen amateur photographer, in his darkroom at home. Ever meticulous, all the photographs have identifying details on the back, so I know where he stayed in Berlin and much of what he saw, including Hitler’s Bunker which was blown up in 1947. He would have known of the fate of his family, and of many other friends and colleagues, since the end of the war. There is no evidence of his returning to see his family home, which was still standing.

This work continues my exploration of family history, and its links to my present life. I work in a studio which was formerly a billet hut at Parham Air Base, a local American WWII airfield, probably removed to our farm during the 1950’s, to become an animal shed. Having found large pieces of rusting metal on our land, I have brought these together this with my father’s archive and miniature models in an exploratory narrative about the machinery of war.

I have also included lithographs from ‘The Dresden Project’, which refer to film and photographic images from the destruction of Dresden by the allies in February 1945. I know little about my father’s work in the aircraft industry during WWII and I often wonder if he contributed in some small way to the allied destruction of his wife’s beloved home town.

I am the child of refugees, a first generation Brit, a non-practicing but culturally identified Jew, and now I also have German citizenship. I understand my constant reexamination of my parent’s life as an ongoing search for meaning, to not only unravel and attempt to process the past, but also to consider its relationship to my life and to contemporary events.

I often contemplate how much more privileged I am than my father’s family.  Poignantly and ironically, my German passport would allow me to escape there from the UK should I need to, and my religious heritage, rather than condemning me, would afford me the right to live in the State of Israel.



Dismantling the Coventry Dresden Towers

IMG_1810Well the towers are no more and the lovingly (and expensively) made construction has been consigned to the scrap yard of art though much of the wood has been salvaged for re-use on another project. The prints however are safe and sound.
None of this take down would have been possible without the intervention of Roger Medwell Chair of Culture Coventry , see above, who came to the rescue when the cathedral would not assist. Roger, his son in law Gary and assistant James came to the cathedral and spent 5 hours painstakingly dismantling the towers, allowing me to take down the framed prints and change the fixings so they can be shown elsewhere in a conventional form. Coventry has an extraordinary champion in Roger Medwell, the most can- do calm, good natured and helpful of men. Whilst we were doing this work, Bishop Christopher came by and in his usual generous way told me how valued the piece had been and also commented on how if Roger was in charge, the job would be well done. It was and a massive vote of thanks and relief from me……

Herbert School Project

What a great time I had working in December and January with pupils from Whitley Academy in Coventry. The girls were enthusiastic, full of ideas and worked liked crazy after hours at school to complete their archival Coventry Monopoly Board. I set them the idea based on the thought that this could combine research in the Herbert Archive, History Centre and Galleries with practical work in the classroom. Led by their teacher Danielle Noble they took it on with gusto combining old and new technologies, using their smart phones and school cameras to snap images of old maps etc and then combining computer generated images with stamping, silk screen, stencilling and painting to make this fabulous image. They discovered so much about their city, referencing their family homes, school and other familiar places, giving each street ‘block’ a map,a colour,  a name and a date. They also put together this Powerpoint.



Indelible Marks visitors’ book 2015-16

A New Year

I greeted the New Year in Suffolk but shortly after went to Berlin which was suitably wintry, snowy and freezing.As well as visiting my family I was able to see some excellent exhibitions, Max Beckmann at the Berlinisches Galerie was an absolute treat with more self portraits grouped together than I had ever seen. There were also many paintings I had never seen, brought in from private collections. A terrific catalogue in English was a bonus. On to the Hamburger Bahnhof where much of the collection from the National Galerie is taking refuge to an exhibition called ‘The Black Years.Histories of a Collection. 1933–1945.’ Visitors will have the opportunity to see major works by Pablo Picasso, Lyonel Feininger, Otto Dix, Käthe Kollwitz, Rudolf Belling and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. The exhibition also includes objects recently acquired by the collection, as well as other works not seen by the public in over 75 years. Each of the objects has its own individual story to tell, and offers valuable insights into the art, politics and museum history of the Nazi period.The objects selected for the exhibition are as diverse as the lives of the artists who created them. Some works enjoyed the regime’s approval and were held up as examples of ‘national’ art, whereas others met with derision and were considered ‘degenerate’. Many artists were persecuted by the regime and forced into exile, some were denied the right to exhibit their works, while others could count on state commissions to further their careers. Nevertheless the boundaries between approval and censure were often fluid, and official decisions regarding art were not always consistent. Fascinating show, with a lot of political and historical detail. Another trip to the Neues Museum to see Chipperfield’s  masterful engagement with damage and destruction in a building which I find far more interesting than its contents. Food as ever terrific in Berlin and infinitely cheaper than London and public transport mostly unfazed by the weather.