Jewish Journal

Remembrance Through Art

Czech children's paintings and long-gone synagogues featured in new Holocaust exhibits.

by Tom Tugend

Posted on Dec. 14, 2000 at 7:00 pm

The Holocaust, impossible to grasp in its entirety, has been depicted, in part, through every conceivable format and medium. Two joint exhibitions, now at The Jewish Federation's Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, surprise with new and affecting insights into the measureless catastrophe.

"The Holocaust Through Czech Children's Eyes" is a collection of 26 drawings and paintings by 11- to 17-year-old non-Jewish Czech children, created after a visit to the Ghetto Museum at the former "model" concentration camp at Theresienstadt.

The paintings are remarkable, both for their sensitivity and craftsmanship. They range from a defiant "We Are Alive" by 11-year-old Veronika Machova, showing three girls at play, to an almost surrealistic "What the Future Holds for Us" by 17-year-old Jaromir Slaby.

What is even more impressive is that all the paintings were completed in a single day during the Ghetto Museum visit, after the children had learned about the Holocaust in their schools.

The story behind the annual Czech visual arts competition, which last year drew 2,000 entries, illustrates what can be done by one determined woman.

She is Hana Greenfield, a native of the Czech city of Kolin, who was deported to Theresienstadt as a 16-year-old girl. She survived Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen and came to Israel, where she met and married Murray Greenfield, one of the American volunteers who ferried "illegal" immigrants to Palestine after World War II.

In the early 1990s, struck by the fact that after 40 years of Communism hardly a single Czech child knew anything about the Holocaust and a once-thriving Jewish community, she organized and largely funded an essay competition on the Shoah for Czech students.

The competition drew an unexpectedly heavy response, and the following year she persuaded the Czech education ministry to allow her to organize the painting competition.

Greenfield's book "Fragment of Memory" (Gefen Publishing House) has recently been translated into English and four other languages.

The second exhibit at the museum, "Recollection: Lost Synagogues of Poland and Russia," recreates another fragment of the Diaspora at another time.

Susan Cooper, a Los Angeles-born artist now living in Denver, has resurrected the memory of the 16th- to 19th-century wooden synagogues of Eastern Europe through a wall sculpture representing 74 synagogues destroyed during World War II.

Integrating architecture, sculpture and painting, the relief frieze measures seven feet high and 100 feet long. Between the buildings, Cooper has "planted" trees as a metaphor for the tenacity and complexity of humanity and life.

"Each building represents a synagogue, each synagogue symbolizes a community, the spiritual centers of Eastern Europe," Cooper writes in a catalog of her work.

The two exhibits will continue through Jan. 18 at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, 6006 Wilshire Blvd. Museum hours are Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Tuesday evenings until 8 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Sunday, 12 noon-4 p.m. There is no admission charge, but reservations are required. Phone (323) 761-8170.

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