about modern martyrs
There hasn’t been a time in my memory when I was not aware of being a Jew, and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware of the Holocaust. There is an emptiness which has replaced the millions of murdered Jews, Roma, and other victims of the Nazis. Families are missing, not just those who were murdered, but also the offspring they would have brought into the world. How many cousins would I have today if not for the murder of my family in Europe? As a child I was told the story of an unsuccessful attempt to rescue my father’s family in Romania. At the very beginning of the Holocaust my immigrant grandfather and American born, grandmother brought my dad to Romania from New York. They told him that they were taking the journey so that my father’s grandfather could witness his Bar Mitzvah. To get to Romania, they traveled through Nazi Germany by train, protected by their American passports, with a plan to bring my grandfather’s family to safety in the US. They were prepared with visas and sponsors, but they failed to convince his family to leave their homes and flee to safety in the US. After the war none of his seven siblings or his father who remained behind survived in Romania. When I was a child the stories left me bewildered. I asked why they had stayed, but there was never an answer that satisfied me. I was told that no one could have imagined what was to come. It was an inconceivable horror, and yet it happened.
This body of work references the sacred iconography of Eastern Europe, where many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were perpetrated. I have a deep love and admiration for iconography which began with childhood visits to museums. I have used the language of iconography to honor those whose lives were taken from them. I would like this work to remind us of the sacred quality of life and to acknowledge that the taking of the lives of the millions murdered was the largest scale desecration of God’s creation the world has ever known. Through the use of traditional materials such as gold leaf and egg tempera and employing an iconographic style I hope to memorialize the lives of those I am attempting to represent.
This series merges aspects of my life and my family history with more general world history and art history and faith. Some of the work is based on photographs taken by the Nazis during the holocaust, some of the pieces are based on photographs taken inside Ghettos by the Jewish residents themselves, and some pieces are based on photographs taken at the camps at the time of their liberation. Part of the idea behind the work is to isolate moments and individuals so that they can be seen apart from the mass suffering inflicted by the Nazis on entire peoples. When we see one suffering person or isolated atrocity we’re less likely to shut down than we are when we see overwhelming numbers of dead or suffering people. The Nazis understood that to enable people to commit mass murder they needed first to dehumanize their victims. When one views the victim without compassion or empathy it becomes easier to justify following the order to kill them. It’s harder to kill one known individual person than to exterminate a race of people if one believes that the race presents a threat or is seen as inhuman and beneath contempt. The anonymity of the victims was used to shield the perpetrators from their own emotions. I believe that the same is true when we view the millions of murdered as millions rather than each one as a single suffering person whose life was made unbearable and then ended; it is my sincere hope that these pieces will make the viewer uncomfortably aware of their suffering.