Holocaust, Memory, and the Visual Arts

HolocaustStudents in Professor Samuel D. Gruber’s Holocaust, Memory and the Visual Arts class (JSP 300 / ETS 410) have installed a small but compelling exhibition on the fourth floor of Bird Library to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (April 19 – May 8, 1943) and to remember more generally the millions of victims of the Holocaust. The exhibit explicitly pays tribute to the many artists who were imprisoned, enslaved, tortured and murdered in ghettos, concentrations camps and death camps by the Nazi regimes between 1939 and 1945.

As part of class assignment students chose artwork created by victims of the Holocaust – many of whom subsequently were killed – to represent different types of spiritual and creative resistance to the Nazi oppression. The students discovered through the study of the work of imprisoned artists that besides armed uprising, there were many ways in which Jews and other victims confronted and resisted their systematic brutalization and dehumanization.

The display features reproductions of art created by Holocaust victims (mostly Jews) inside camps or in hiding. The paintings and drawings represent different reasons prisoners made art when inspiration was as elusive as hope. Each work is categorized according to themes introduced by art historian Ziva Amishai-Maisels including official art, art as spiritual resistance, art for the affirmation of life, art as witness, and art as catharsis.

We remember these artists as victims as well as witnesses. They produced much of their work in secret, knowing that if caught, they would likely lose their lives. Most of them were murdered, and only a few survived to personally bear witness to their experiences.

Artists remembered include Dinah Gottliebova/Babbit, Bedrich Fritta, Karel Fleischmann, Malvina Schalkova, Felix Nussbaum, Leo Haas, and Henri Pieck.

The exhibition was created by Colleen Bidwill, Ellen Fitzpatrick, Alise Fisher, David Kay, Mattie Kramer, Kaitlyn Martin, under the supervision of Professor Samuel D. Gruber.

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