Through photographs and essays, author Ilan Stavans explores Jewish immigration to America, Jewish individual and collective memory, and mental illness.
In the late 19th century, a poor Yiddish-speaking immigrant from Russia was institutionalized at Willard, the famous psychiatric hospital in Upstate New York, from which he never came out. Charles F. spoke Yiddish with his doctors, he talked to ghosts in Yiddish, etc. Like thousands of other patients, he arrived at Willard, abandoned by his family, with only a few items in three suitcases. The suitcases were taken away from him by the staff and stored in an attic. They stayed there after he died in 1950.
When Willard closed in the late 1990s, after almost 125 uninterrupted years, someone remembered the suitcases. Instead of having them destroyed, they were shipped to a museum storage house. Activists and others found out about them and the suitcases became very famous. Articles were published in multiple publications, starting with The New York Times. In fact, those suitcases have become a battle cry for mental health patients’ rights.
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