NEW YORK (Reuters) – Michael Morris, curator of the Jewish Heritage Museum of New York, was trying to fulfill a common request when he discovered a treasure trove of Holocaust eyewitness images, drawn in pencil, ink and wax GIS.
"It was a moment of light," said Morris, who set up an art exhibition created by some of the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazi regime.
Rendering Witness: Holocaust Era Art as Testimony, which opens this week at the Manhattan Museum, comes at a time when US anti-Semitic hate crimes have soared and memories of Holocaust horrors are fading.
"This exhibition opposes and educates about the dangers of anti-Semitism, racism, fanaticism of any kind," said Morris, describing the 21 powerful Holocaust representations, mainly by Jewish prisoners.
It all started with the request of another institution to lend some of the museum's collection pieces. Upon analyzing the dozens of works in his vaults, Morris knew immediately that it was time for the museum to set up its own exhibition.
"Behind the statistics, and behind the numbers and behind the scenes, where we see hundreds of thousands of people in concentration camps, are real people who have had multifaceted lives," said Morris.
Among them is a 12-year-old girl, Helga Weissova, who brought art supplies when she was sent to the Terezin ghetto and concentration camp, about 30 miles north of Prague, in the Czech Republic, in October 1944. Before from Weissova being deported from Terezin to Auschwitz, the infamous slave labor camp in southern Poland, she handed her drawings to her uncle, a fellow prisoner who hid them behind a wall. The show shows his 1943 work on colored pencil on paper, "Transport Leaving Terezin," which shows armed guards leading a huddled group of prisoners carrying suitcases.
Weissova is now 90 years old and living in Prague, but many of the artists never made it out of mortal fields.
Before Peter Loewenstein of Czechoslovakia was deported in 1941 to Terezin and then in 1944 to the notorious Auschwitz camp, he gave his mother 70 drawings. Her mother and sister would soon be deported to Auschwitz as well, but not before handing the art over to a family friend. His sister, the only family member who survived the camp, recovered his portfolio after the war, including "Eight Star Jacket Men," a 1944 ink on the role of Jews depicting forced to wear ID badges.
Equally powerful is a watercolor by Marvin Halye, a member of the 104th US Army Infantry Division, who liberated the Nordhausen concentration camp in Germany in 1945. After seeing the few surviving prisoners taking care of thousands of bodies, he rushed to paint. “Liberation of Nordhausen, civilians covering corpses. "
Slide show (6 Images)
The show, which runs from January 16 to July 5, begins amid a surge in anti-Semitic hate crimes in the United States and particularly in New York City, home to the largest Jewish community outside Israel. Anti-Jewish hate crimes in New York in 2019 peaked at 28, according to Professor Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino.
In the most recent attack, a machete man injured five people gathered last month for a Hanukkah celebration at a rabbi's house in New York's Monsey suburb. Just a few weeks earlier, a shooting at a kosher supermarket in nearby Jersey City, New Jersey, left two Hasidic Jews dead.
Hate crimes are on the rise at a time when many American adults lack basic knowledge of the Holocaust. The biggest gaps in understanding are among U.S. millennials – people in their 20s and 30s. Two-thirds of them do not know what Auschwitz is, according to a recent survey by the Jewish Material Claims Conference against Germany.
Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Edition by Lisa Shumaker
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