Inauguration of the permanent collection “ Holocaust and Genocide Art “of the Hilo Art Museum to remember the victims of prejudice and their culture.

    The “Holocaust and Genocide Art” collection springs from a cultural, memorial and educational project aimed at new generations, a project to which the Hilo Art Museum of the Hawaiian Islands (USA) has shown itself to be particularly sensitive. Ted Coombs, the museum’s director, is convinced that art can be the basis of cultural and educational projects linked to human rights. The public display of Holocaust art means bringing to light fragments of a fundamental part of human thought which we have lost as a result of prejudice, intolerance and war. The collection which the writer, historian and artist Roberto Malini, president of the cultural association “Watching the sky” of Milan, donated to the Hilo Art Museum, constitutes a first step towards realizing a dream, the dream of establishing a memorial to human rights on an island that seems like a paradise, with the aim that art might bring to the young the inheritance that the victims and the survivors left to the world. Malini and his association have spent years researching and archiving artworks created by the inhabitants of the ghettoes and the prisoners in the Nazi death camps. The first European Holocaust Art Gallery will open in 2010 in Carpi, in Italy, thanks to their gift. The Yad Vashem Museum of Jerusalem, the United States Holocaust Museum, Beit Lohamei Haghetaot and other research institutes have marked out an important road, creating impressive archives of historical documents relating to the Holocaust, and they have performed the valuable task of gathering testimony from the ghettoes and concentration and death camps. But it’s still necessary to take new steps, paying particular attention to the art and literature produced from 1933 onwards (the year the Nazis came to power in Germany) through the years of the deportations and gas chambers, up to the period following Liberation. Art is a powerful instrument for education and keeping memory alive, because it reaches the public conscience and speaks to the heart of the young. The research carried out by Janet Blatter and Sybil Milton, along with the work that Malini is carrying out with Dario Picciau and Carol Morganti are, in this sense, fundamental. Art and culture are keys that enable us to enter a forgotten world, to follow the traces of a culture that was about to change Europe, where, despite anti-Semitism, pogroms and the Nazi genocide, from 1907 to 1970, 20% of the Nobel prizes for physics and 26% of those for medicine were awarded to Jews, who, in the period referred to, represented only 0.4% of the population of the West. Remaining in the scientific field, the European Jews contributed to the progress of society with figures such as Einstein, Marx and Freud. Even more significant was their contribution to the arts and humanities, with Kafka, Wittgenstein, Panovski, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Schoenberg, Halevy, Thomas Mann, Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, Walter Benjamin, Claude Levi-Strauss and Shalom Alechen. And what can we say about their contribution to pictorial art, of Modigliani, Eric Mendelssohn, Chagall, Soutine or Ben Shahn? And let’s not overlook the contribution to culture and art of the American Jews: Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Oldenburg… Jewish culture of the early 20th century seemed, effectively, destined to change in a substantial way not only the history of European literature and philosophy, but also art. The anti-Semitic persecution that was already underway in many European countries, and that was transformed by the Germans and their allies into a plan for total extermination, gave birth not only to the most monstrous genocide in human history, but also brought to an end a tradition of deeply rooted art and thought and an extraordinary expressive value, which was contributing to the moral progress of the whole of humanity. If it’s true that the work of Jewish artists like Pissarro, Lipchitz, Modigliani, Struck, Soutine, Chagall or Band – not to mention of the popular schools like the Chassidic one – offered to the world in the 19th and 20th centuries a part of the legacy of a culture, it’s also true that we’re talking about a contribution that wasn’t able, except in isolated instances, to pass on its knowledge, because the basis of this extraordinary academy was buried in blood, humiliated and annihilated in the ashes of the ovens. Nor was the school of Bezalel, in Erez Israel, founded by great artists like Boris Schatz and welcoming artists and sculptors from all over Europe, fleeing from persecution and the Holocaust, able to give back to the world a heritage that had been irredeemably and bloodily destroyed. In the same way, the escape to the Holy Land of literary figures like Else Laske-Schuler, perhaps the greatest European poetess of the 20th century, didn’t in any way mean the survival of a living and deep stream of thought, but only the almost accidental recovery of a few marvelous survivors, who escaped, like Noah, from the spiritual and historical flood of the whole human race. We can ask: in the 20th century of Picasso, Mondrian and Francis Bacon, what would have been the influence of all the Jewish artists streaming from Poland, Lithuania, Russia and Hungary, to the art capitals of the world? The pain of the memory has even suffocated the critical approach to the work of the victims and survivors of the death camps. Felix Nussbaum and Fishl Zylberberg: what could they have brought to European culture with their formidable virtuosity? What can they still bring, saved from the dust of Auschwitz? And Jacob Vassover, Tamara Deuel, Simon Karczmar, Yehuda Bacon: what can their moving, imposing iconographies to Memory teach the new humanity?

The collection that’s been donated to the Hilo Art Museum comes from the European ghettoes – Lodz, Warsaw, Vilna, but also Rome which witnessed a tragic deportation in 1943 – and from the places of death, whose terrible symbol is the death factory of Auschwitz. It includes painting, drawings, and original graphics and photography that recall a world destroyed by hate. They are the work of artists who bore witness through their talent and courage to the darkest episode of human history, and they are portraits of witnesses who struggled, and are still struggling, to stop the millions of innocents massacred by the Nazis being forgotten. To these works can be added those of the artists who have taken on the task of warning humanity that was begun by the victims and survivors so that the martyrdom of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled, Jehovah’s Witnesses, foreigners and dissidents may not have been in vain.

                                                                               Alfred Breitman

The artworks of the "Holocaust and Genocide Art" permanet collection  are under the patronage of: Yad Vashem, Beit Lohamei Hagetaot, Opera Nomadi, GLBT Historical Society.

Download the catalogue (29MB)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Holocaust and Genocide Art

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Anonymous photographer,
“Jews into a polish ghetto”, 1940.

The “Holocaust and Genocide Art” collection springs from a cultural, memorial and educational project aimed at new generations, a project to which the Hilo Art Museum of the Hawaiian Islands (USA) has shown itself to be particularly sensitive. Ted Coombs, the museum’s director...


Places and faces of memory. Erwin Piscator's High Tech Revolutionary Cabaret. The music theatre of Brecht and Weill, enhanced by the sinuous voice of Lotte Lenya. The innocent...


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