Remembering the Holocaust
During the Holocaust, the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews. Adolf Hitler ran the German Nazi regime, and he viewed Jews as an inferior race that were a threat to racial purity. After persecuting Jews for many years, Hitler began the Holocaust and built many concentration camps.
The Artist - Edith Birkin
“How many people stop to think that the six million dead were individual human beings with dreams of their own, each with a story to tell, each wanting to live? This is why the people in my paintings are depicted in different colours” -Edith Birkin.
Edith Birkin was born in 1927, and, in 1941, she moved from Prague to the Lódz Ghetto Poland, occupied by the Nazis at the time. The Lódz Ghetto was the second-largest ghetto for Jews in Poland. The ghetto became an industrial center to provide supplies for Nazis and the German Army. Within a year of moving, her parents died, and she was alone. In 1944, she was sent to Auschwitz when the ghetto was liquidated. There, she was sent to a slave labor camp in Germany. When Russia began advancing into Germany, the slave laborers had to walk to Bavaria where they were then loaded onto cattle trucks. A month later, Birkin was liberated.
After Birkin’s experience as a Holocaust survivor, she began using art to express the loneliness and isolation that she saw during the Holocaust. In her painting, The Death Cart - Lodz Ghetto, Birkin uses dark purple and blue to represent the intruding darkness. There are silent, grieving people. Fear and loss pervade the painting due to the dead bodies in carts.
The Last Goodbye
“I evolved a pictorial language that enabled me to put my visions on canvas. It wasn’t so much the cruelty or physical suffering that I wanted to record. Most of all, I wanted to show what it felt like to be a human being, in the starved, emaciated strangelooking body, forever being separated from loved ones” ~ Edith Birkin
Birkin’s inspiration for this painting came from her memories of the horrific gas chambers. In this painting, a child in a concentration camp says goodbye to a family member. Although snow is seemingly apparent, the people are not wearing any shoes or coats. The heads of the individuals present are disproportionately large - looking skeletal, undernourished, and ghostly. Birkin emphasizes the feeling of separation between the adult and the child through the fence. All in all, the painting seems to portray a gargantuan camp that continues on beyond the scope of the medium.
Account of Edith Birkin's Experience with the Gas Chambers
"Of course we soon realised that there was this big chimney, you know, out of which came a lot of smoke, and the sky was red, the sky was red all the time. And you know, when we asked what it is they told us, and we couldn't believe it. Well the Germans didn't tell us, but other prisoners told us you know. 'What's this, what's this smoke, what's this fire, you know, why is the sky so red?'...But then we were told, very soon we were told you know, and we saw these transports of people coming; they came past us because there was this Lagerstrasse, you know, this road that was going to the gas chamber, from the train, and they came past. All these transports came past us, you know, thousands and thousands of people. And they never appeared again, they just disappeared into this building, you know. Somehow you know you just got used to it; you were there. It's more terrifying thinking back on it now, in a way, than then. Again, they said you know, they're giving us bromide in the soup to keep us calm. But things were so bad, and you lost everybody, that it was just another blow, you know, you just got sort of immune to these things."
The artwork of Holocaust survivors is an important way of learning about their memories, experiences, and struggles. Art is a way that people can express and cope with their emotions to help cope. Birkin began painting to express her feelings about her struggles. It is essential that people remember the atrocities that occurred during the Holocaust so that history does not repeat itself. In today's society, the spread of hate is becoming an increasingly damaging practice, leading to divisions such as ones apparent in the United Stages of America. Artwork like Birkin’s serves as a reminder of what happens when people attack one another instead of working together.