Monday, March 08, 1999
Survivor paints essence of Holocaust
BY JULIE IRWIN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Artist Fritz Hirschberger's views on the Holocaust aren't exactly designed to win him friends.
He can't understand why American Jews feel such a connection with the genocide. He thinks most Holocaust art misses the point. And he thinks the extermination of six million Jews has been exploited by many of the people who write and speak about it.
Everybody wants a piece of the Holocaust, says the San Francisco-based artist, whose collection of Holocaust paintings opens Wednesday at the Athenaeum of Ohio in Mount Washington. There's a saying there's no business like the Shoah business.
Mr. Hirschberger, a German Jew by birth who was deported to Poland and lost all his family in the Nazi death camps, could not paint about that portion of his past until two decades ago. Eventually, he found that he couldn't not paint about it.
IF YOU GO|
What: Indifference, an exhibit of paintings on the Holocaust by artist Fritz Hirschberger. |
When: March 10-24. The exhibit opens with a 7:30 p.m. lecture Wednesday by Stephen Feinstein, acting director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota. His presentation is titled, Between Narrative and Memory: Problems of Representation in Holocaust Art.
Where: The Athenaeum of Ohio, 6616 Beechmont Ave., Mount Washington.
A lot of survivors, we feel guilty we survived and our families perished, the artist, 87, says. But I always had it in the back of my mind. You have to come to terms with it.
When he finally sat down to paint about the slaughter, Mr. Hirschberger knew what he wanted to do and what he wanted to avoid. He did voluminous research, placing a premium on historical accuracy. He used rich, vibrant colors reds, oranges, purples and applied multiple layers of transparent paint to achieve a glazed, luminous effect.
In some paintings, he incorporates text, such as the words of Yiddish poet and Holocaust survivor Edward Yashinsky: Fear not your enemies, for they can only kill you. Fear not your friends, for they can only betray you. Fear only the indifferent, who permit the killers and betrayers to walk safely on earth.
And in all his paintings, he strives to catch the individual moments that comprise the essence of the Holocaust a mother and children shuffling off to the camps, SS doctors performing unnecessary surgery, the smugness and apathy of international officials who did nothing to save the doomed.
In most Holocaust art, You see a pile of corpses. This is not the Holocaust, Mr. Hirschberger says. I realize it is incomprehensible. Elie Weisel once said nobody could imagine Auschwitz before Auschwitz, and no one can describe Auschwitz after Auschwitz.
The paintings contain Christian and especially Roman Catholic images, and they have been criticized by some as anti-Catholic. Mr. Hirschberger denies it, saying all organized religions were guilty of indifference, and he is especially pleased that a Catholic institution like the Athenaeum is exhibiting them.
The most rewarding experience, and now I can die in peace, he says, is that the Athenaeum is showing my paintings.
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