|Haim Maor - “A Memorial Candle”: an Artist of the Holocaust "Second Generation"
"My parents met on board a ship that transported refugees, survivors of the Holocaust, from Europe to Israel. They married in Jaffa and made their home in an abandoned Arab ruin. There, in April 1951, I was born, their first child, named Haim-Benjamin after my father's father, who was murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942.
Thus, I became, unwillingly, a walking memorial - a candle, lighting the windowsill of a well-guarded house, guiding the boats of the dead nightly approaching the harbor.”
Haim Maor – 19931
The theme of the Holocaust is one of the major themes in Maor's work, alongside other issues he's concerned with. In the mid-80s, he became known as an artist who responds to the Holocaust from the view point of a child of Holocaust survivors. Since then, he is the central artist among the "Second Generation" artists in Israel, since he is the only one who deals with the theme of the Holocaust on a regular basis. His work on the subject is done with a lot of awareness, and includes expressions of both the individual dimension and the collective dimension. He employs deep sensitivity in choosing his approaches to the Holocaust by looking for new artistic idioms, while at the same time his visual expressions are clear and direct.
Maor was born in Israel in 1951 and was named Haim Binyamin Moshkovitz , for his grandfather who was murdered in Auschwitz. His father was born in Plonsk (Poland) and arrived at Auschwitz with the rest of his family in 1942, they all perished and he alone survived. On that Maor said: "I never heard from my father complete stories about the Holocaust. Only fragments, short muttered sentences... screams at night .. mutterings out of nightmares ... that was how I learned that my father was in Auschwitz in the Zonder-Commando, he was a member of a unit of Jews who took the bodies from the gas chambers to the crematoriums.”2 The father escaped, joined the partisans, and that was how he survived. In 1949 he immigrated to Israel on an immigrant boat, where he met Maor's mother. The mother was born in Lancut, Galicia. She was 9 when World War II started. She was incarcerated in a camp with her family. Her mother escaped from the camp with three small children, out of her eight, Maor's mother among them. They hid in the forests and in other hiding places. With her parents she went through the displaced persons camp Bergen-Belzen, and from there they immigrated to Israel3. She met Maor's father on the ship to Israel. As far as Maor knows, his mother's father, who was a tombstone cutter, participated in acts of sabotage against the Nazis. At some point he was caught and severely tortured by the Nazis, and during questioning he was blinded from a whip that hit his face.
Ever since Maor was three years old he served as his grandfather's eyes while accompanying him to places where the grandfather's Seeing Eye dog was forbidden to go, such as the synagogue. He also used to walk his grandfather during the afternoons so they could let the dog rest. Maor commented on this: “From age three to sixteen, I led him everywhere. I was his eyes. There were no Seeing Eye dogs back then. From him I learned everything about the Jewish town (shtetl) in Poland, about the life of the partisans and about the Holocaust.”4 Most of his mother's family perished in the Holocaust, and she remained silent about it, and spoke nothing of what she went through, and so many details of her personal story are missing and unknown to Maor.5
In many families of Holocaust survivors, one child is chosen to serve as a 'Memorial Candle' for the family members who perished in the Holocaust.6 This child also becomes a link, connecting the parents' past, the past that was destroyed, to his parents' present and future, as well as to his own. These children were given, either implicitly or explicitly, the duty of filling the tangible and emotional void that the Holocaust left in their parents' lives, moreover, it was their task to rebuild the lost family, and sustain it, and thus build the continuation of the history of the Jewish people. 7 Those 'memorial candles' live simultaneously in two realities: in the present, as young persons building their lives and their personalities, and in their parents' trauma saturated past.8 As a 'memorial candle', Maor took it upon himself to remember the Holocaust, and consequently this is one of the central themes in his work. Despite this, he doesn't use the image of the candle to describe himself, since he didn't want to use images that were too clear and direct.9
I'll start by addressing the myriad ways Maor used to cope with the Number on his father's arm. I'll continue by discussing the works in which he describes himself as a victim, to express his identification with the victims of the Holocaust. I'll conclude with the works in which he deals with the dualism and conflict between aggressor and victim.
a. 78446 – My Father's Number
For the "Second Generation" children, the Number on their parents' arm was a fact of the life they were born into, and their responses to it are varied. Some would not ask their parents to explain the meaning of the Number on their arm,10 others sought to imitate their parents' markings.11 There were "Second Generation" children who couldn't remember the Number, due to a psychological block, while for others, the Number reverberated in their heads, and it's expressed in their works, both directly and indirectly.12
Maor is a clear example of those "Second Generation" artists in Israel who could not stop thinking about their parents' Number, and he dealt with it directly and obsessively. He found the Number on his father's arm to be an endless source for exploring the theme of the Holocaust and for seeking answers to questions of personal identity. On this matter he said:”78446 is tattooed on my father's arm, an eternal and succinct reminder of other days, other places, other people, other deeds.”13 Maor's personal identity was so affected by the Number on his father's arm that it became a major feature in his art. Maor wrote:
"In the beginning was the Number. Blue digits, faded, tattooed in freckled skin, mottled by brownyellowish stains and graying hair, bowed toward crackled skin, like ears of corn in the wind. As a child, I used to look at the muscular arm of my father and, again and again, recite the numbers: "seven, eight, four, four, six" . . . at first in a hesitant whisper, like a personal incantation: "seven, eight, four, four, six," and then, uproariously with tempestuous conducting gesticulation: "seven, eight, four, four, six" . . . repeating over and over, repeating and shouting in a hacked syllabic rhythm. A few years later, I was inundated by a linguistic-kabalistic urge. The dictionary I consulted explained the word tattoo as "a drawing or symbol etched into the skin, mainly by puncturing or burning the skin and spreading into these lacerations an indelible paint. Tattoos are very popular with some savage tribes, sailors and pilots, who usually engrave tattoos on their arms or chests. 'Nor imprint any marks upon you' (Leviticus 19, 28)." But father, certainly, was not a sailor nor did he grow-up among savage tribes. "Father, is it true that you didn't want a Number at all but were forced to have one?" Father is silent, his face expressionless.”14
During 1986 Maor photographed many portraits of Suzanna, his German friend, thinking he might use them in a portrait exhibition. In the summer of the same year Maor's parents came to visit him at Kibbutz Giv'at- Haim (Meuhad) and Maor photographed them as well for the same purpose. After he photographed his father, he said to him:" Father, I want your real portrait, the Number on your arm (fig. 1)15.” He made several attempts on graph paper (fig 2) in which he practiced writing the Number in dots over a background of squirted yellow and red paint that ran all over the paper. The yellow color stands for the Yellow Badge, and the red color stands for blood and alludes to the victims. After several such experiments he painted a series of paintings with his father's Number enlarged. For example in the 1986 painting “The Number on my Father's Arm” (fig.3), there's a light background with bright colored dots in blue, yellow, and ochre, and on its lower part, brown lines in different directions are drawn. The Number 78446 is written in the center in blue dots. Maor intended to blur the direct connection to the real Number from Auschwitz, the one on his father's arm, and that's why he stylized the depiction of the skin and hair of the arm, and they appear to be a collection of colored dots in the lower half that gradually disperses in lines as we follow it upwards. Yet it seems to me that he does not succeed in blurring the power of the number and its context due to its size, its location in the center of the painting, and due to the fact that it's blue, like the ink that was used in Auschwitz, and also since the dotted background evokes associations of smoking ashes.
On that same year Maor was asked to put together a solo exhibition in the Jerusalem Theatre, he took all the portraits he made of Suzanna and all the paintings of his father's Number, and combined them in the exhibition. For example in “Untitled” (fig. 4) where the Number is written on a background of colored dots, with two portraits of Suzanna on its right. In the portrait adjoining the Number, Suzanna figure is drawn on a dark blue background, like cloudy skies, she looks at the Number and her neck and face are dotted like the background of the Number. While in the second portrait, where Suzanna looks away from the Number, the dots on her neck are erased, and an outline and black background overshadow her and serve as a reminder to the harsh past of the Holocaust. Maor says: "Whoever looks at the Number is “infected” by it, and whoever turns away, the Number is “erased” from them.”16 In the works in that exhibition Maor showed the two contrasting elements that existed at that time in his life: The first, the Number on his father's arm, and the second, Suzanna, a pretty German girl he was drawn to, who was born after the Holocaust and tries to atone for the Holocaust. For Maor she represents the aggressor's side. “From the moment I met her, I realized that there was a Pandora's Box of Nazis in her family. She denied it. While peeling away the outer defenses she admitted that her grandfather was a Wermacht officer. She told no more than that.”17 Maor handling of these two components combined with one another was a way for him to cope with their influence on his life.
Additional portraits with his father's Number from that same period, which were never shown, are described in a 1986 triptych (fig. 5). On the left, there is a form of his mother's portrait with his father's Number looming above her head, not letting go. This form depicts her hardships of living with a man who went through the horrors of Auschwitz. The center is a form of his father with the Number over his eyes, his ears and his nose. The Number, representing his Holocaust trauma, mainly from Auschwitz, affects his senses and the way he has experienced the world since. On the right, there is a form of Maor himself with the Number over his shoulders, symbolizing the burden and the responsibility he carries on his shoulders as the son of an Auschwitz survivor. The color of the Number is different in each portrait, and in none of them is it blue. On the mother's form it's a light green number, emphasizing that the Number isn't hers, on the father's form the Number is yellow, symbolizing the Yellow Badge that symbolized the essence of the humiliation that was the beginning of the path that led to the extermination at Auschwitz, and on Maor's form the Number is red, a symbol of the death in the Holocaust, the memory he took it upon himself to carry. Maor is depicted facing his parents, and the feeling it evokes is a feeling of a conflict, of looking at the origins of his situation. Despite this, the way the three portraits are shown in profile triggers an immediate association to the photographs of the prisoners wearing striped garb with the number sewn on it. The meaning derived from it is that all three of them, including Maor himself, appear as the victims, and it seems that Maor identifies with them in this manner. The background behind all the forms is a shade of blue, where behind the mother it's a light blue, behind the father it darkens, and behind Maor it's very dark. This way it strengthens the expression of the feeling of the burden he carries on his shoulders.18 Additionally, Maor's figure, unlike his parents', fills almost the entire space of the board, especially on the top and bottom ends and his figure looks trapped, and it feels like there is no way out of his circumstances.
His father's Number can be found next to a group of portraits in the 1986 work “Untitled” (fig. 6), another piece that has never been exhibited, where the portraits of his father, his mother, his own, and Suzanna's are seen, while on the left side, behind the father's portrait, stands his Number from the camp. The way the number is depicted is evocative of the depiction in “The Number on my Father's Arm” (fig. 3), however, there's a difference. In this work there's a clear distinction between the blue colored Number in the center and between the dots and lines drawn in brown, red, and yellow, lines that look like flames underneath. In this depiction, Maor doesn't try to blur the clear connection to the Number on his father's arm, quite the contrary; he brings it out and strengthens the depiction by using harsher colors and with a direct description of the flames that symbolize the extermination. All the figures are shown turning their backs on the Number as if they're unaware of its influence on them. However the location of the Number in relation to the figures creates a sense that it overshadows all the portraits, while at the same time it's also the link bringing them together.
Another work that includes the Number is the "Shaking Head" from 1986-1987 (fig.7), where four portraits are shown on a uniform blue background: The father's, the mother's, Maor's, and Suzanna's, with the Number pushing at the backs of their necks, deforming them. This work is based on an earlier piece, shown in fig. 6, but not included in this exhibition, in which Maor did not dare yet show in such a direct a way the influence of the Number on the lives of all the figures. On this work Maor wrote: “The wooden plates were flailing around, as tectonic plates during an earthquake, while the number was pushing at the heads of my father, my mother, mine and at Suzanna's Aryan head, who was fleeing her family's past. We became unstable in a man-quake, whose magnitude exceeds the Richter scale, and its symbol is set in blue digits.”19
In this case, the father's Number stands for the trauma of the Holocaust and the deformations and the shifting of the heads emphasize the traces and the effect this trauma had on the parents' lives, the Holocaust generation, and on the lives of Haim and Suzanna, of the "Second Generation" of both sides, the German and the Jewish sides. The uniform background of all the portraits strengthens the fact that the Number disrupts all of their lives equally. Maor was born a free person to parents whose personal freedom was taken from them, and the Number on his father's arm is a constant reminder of that. Consequently Maor is forced, like other members of the "Second Generation", to face that conflict in his own identity.
This work was shown in the 1988 exhibition “The Faces of Race and Memory” (fig. 8). In that exhibition's catalog Maor wrote, among other things:
"78466, the Number which appears among the portraits, is the Number tatooed on the arm of my father, David Moshkovitz , since he arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau at 1942. For me this Number symbolizes all numbers, the loss of the human identity of a person enslaved by or to a well-oiled, technocratic machine and of the schools of racism that go on to become the factories of death.”20
It is no wonder then, that the Number is a prominent element in the exhibition and through the Number Maor attempts to bring forth the place it holds in his identity, and its immense influence on his parents, on himself and on Suzanna. The "Shaking Head" hung in the exhibition on a wall between two cross shaped works from 1986-1987: on the right, "A Self-Portrait With Father's Face", where Maor shows in the center his own nude self-portrait and on both side his father's portrait21. On the left, “A Woman's Portrait with Mother's Face” where in the center a young woman is shown nude, and the mother's portrait on both sides. Maor creates in "The Shaking Head" a link between the depictions of his identification with the victims by depicting the portraits on the cross, and the description of the continued effect of the Auschwitz Number, in a sense of an inter-generational transference of the Holocaust trauma that affects the children of the Holocaust survivors, and the children of the Holocaust perpetrators.
An additional work from 1990 (fig. 9) where his father's Number appears is a black&white photo, done in a photocopy machine, of a Van-Gogh 1888 Self Portrait (fig. 10) and over it a pointillist image of his father's Number from Auschwitz. Maor said:”That is what my father looked like in the photos taken right after his liberation from Auschwitz.”22 And indeed, the thin-face and the bald head of the portrait evoke images of the photos of the prisoners in the camps. Since childhood Maor identified with Van Gogh, and said:”Van-Gogh was the essence of the lonely “I”, the outsider, the different one, aware of the inner 'other' and craving understanding.. I feel like Van Gogh...23” He chose to describe his identification with his father's circumstances in the Holocaust by way of Van Gogh's portrait, with whom he also identifies, because the indirect way made it easier for him to cope with the issue. Despite the apparent similarity Maor sees between Van Gogh's self portrait and his father's image, he emphasizes the difference between them using the Number from Auschwitz, which for Maor, is his father's real identity. Maor uses the black&white photo to bring across the somber atmosphere and the depression that was characteristic of the circumstances of the Jews in general, and those who were in the camps in particular, during the Holocaust.
His father's Number also stands out as a major element in the 1993-1994 exhibition "The Forbidden Library", and can be found in several stations24 throughout the exhibition. In the Prologue station (fig. 11) hang two pieces of cloth: on the right is one made of a dark fabric, the words I AM A JEW written on it in a dark color, which makes them difficult to discern. The other one is on the left, it's light colored, and on it there are dots of various colors, intertwined and camouflaged among them in the father's Number 78446, made up of blue colored dots of fabric. Both cloths carry highly charged images associated with the Holocaust, images representing the mystery surrounding this subject, and the atmosphere of taboo and shame often associated with it. The cloths stand as a prologue to the subsequent stations of the installation – their description will uncover the meaning of the images and shed light on them. Among the words in the “Forbidden Words” station (fig. 12), the word “Number” appears at the bottom of the middle column. It replaces the visual representation of the Number and stands for it. The 'Number' is not emphasized here, but rather it's part of a group of words that represent the trauma of the Holocaust, the words it was forbidden to mention in Maor's home and in the homes of many survivors. In the "Mortuary" station "The Shaking Head" (fig. 13), discussed earlier, was shown, hanging on the wall. Across from it, along entire length of the room, lay coffins, in two columns, some of them lying on floor, others standing with portraits of Maor, Suzanna and their families on their lids. Maor links in "The Shaking Head" the effect of the Holocaust, represented as the Number, on himself, on his parents, and on Suzanna, with the Holocaust victims represented by the coffins that have portraits on them. In the "Light Number" station (fig. 14), the room is dark and the only light comes through the 5 digits 78446, his father's Number from Auschwitz, pierced through a brass plate that hangs on the wall across from the entrance. The light spreads all around the number and looks like a halo, creating an air of holiness. Since the light shines from behind the copper plate, the digits reflect on the face of the beholder and make him part of the depiction. The message here is that every one is potentially a victim.25
In the installation Anime Animus Anonymous, from early 2000, that was shown in Givat Haim Kibbutz (Ihud) Art Gallery, one no longer sees Maor concerned with the theme of 'other' or with examining his Israeli-Jewish identity as the son of Holocaust survivors and as someone whose life, being, and consciousness existed under the shadow of the Holocaust, rather it deals with questions pertaining to situations of control and assimilation, sexual identities, and victim-aggressor relations between men and women. Thus the name of the exhibition representing the dualism of the sub-conscious where the Anime is the feminine part of the male sub-conscious and the Animus is the male part of the female sub-conscious, and Anonymous describes a state with no identity. According to Maor this is a turning point in his work,26 however in my opinion, it only appears to be a change of direction, since at the center of the exhibition Maor places a table with images: a photograph of his grandparents, photos of Suzanna, his own self-portrait as a victim, images that accompanied his Holocaust related works along with new images, like a way station (fig. 15). Including Holocaust images in this installation creates an ambiguous message: A conclusion of a long period of making art relating to the subject of the Holocaust, and reluctance to part with them, leaving himself an opening to go back and confront them again. Among the Holocaust images on the table one stands out in particular, a Number imprisoned inside a green bubble27, carrying across an ambiguous message of closure and perpetuation on the one hand, and of freezing on the other hand. In conversations I had with Maor after that exhibition he claimed that it was a change of direction for him, I, however, felt that he was not done yet in dealing with questions of the influence of the Holocaust on his identity and on humanity, and that he was yet to come back to them and hence the Number in the green bubble was only imprisoned temporarily.
Not many months have passed, and the Number showed up again in “My Father's Number” (fig.17) from 2000, shown in the exhibition “Where's Dubnow?” that took place in 2001, in Seamgallery, Megadim (Israel). The exhibition was a tribute to the historian Shimon Dubnow who wrote the series of books “The History of the Jews”, that we all grew up on. That series was a household item in almost every home in Israel in the 50s and 60s next to the Cassuto annotated Bible, Even-Shoshan Hebrew Dictionary, and the complete writing of Bialik(national poet of Israel). “So what happened to us? Why do we no longer teach Dubnow, why do we no longer read and browse Dubnow? W h e r e is D u b n o w? “ asked the curator Mirjam Bruck-Cohen.28 She arbitrarily gave one volume out of the 10 volume series to each of 10 artists. Maor got the 8th volume, "The End of the 18th century and the Beginning of the 19th", and from it he created “My Father's Number” (fig.17). The book is open, and his father's Number is made up of holes running through both sides. On the right hand side the holes are about 2/3 of the width of the book, and on the left hand side the Number is shown in mirror image and runs through the pages of the book, including the cover. As a result the Number on the right is dark, and the Number on the left is bright, due to the light coming through the holes. On the left side there is a highlighted section that says:”But even during the year of the terrible war, and the hardships of the people, the government of Warsaw did not refrain from tasking the Jews with new edicts and restrictions.” Even though the text is about a period that predated the Holocaust, the words: terrible war, Warsaw, restriction on the Jews, immediately evoke an association to the Holocaust. The Number cast into the book as holes running through it, creates a feeling that it's not only a reminder left by the prisoners of Auschwitz, but also a reminder to the deeds of the Nazis, that cut a deep and painful wound in the History of the Jews represented by the book.
The obsessive and recurrent theme of the five blue digits on his father's arm, that floated as a black cloud over Maor's childhood, always brings all the meaning together to the same cross-road of the confrontation of his personal “I” with the his parents experiences in the Holocaust. Furthermore, there is a therapeutic component is his examination of the personal meaning and the influence of the Holocaust on himself, his family and his friends.
b. Identification with the Victims
Many "Second Generation" artists, and Maor among them, identify with the Holocaust victims in their art by imagining it's happening to them, and by doing this they try to figure out what they would have done, had they been 'There'.29 This is a result of lack of details of their parents' past, which is a mystery for them to solve, and also because they can't discuss it with their parents directly. The artists among them depict their identification with the Holocaust victims using their self-portrait, in situations from the Holocaust.
This can already be seen in Maor's early work where he shows his self-portrait in some of his works. The first time Maor makes a reference to the Holocaust victims, he uses a hidden reference, for example in a 1975 work (fig. 18) from a series of body works, a photograph of his nude self-portrait is shown, while he uses his right hand to cover his chest, with his left he covers his genitals. This description is deeply influenced from the figure of Adam in Hubert and Jan Van Eyck's Ghent Altar from 1432 (fig. 19).30 Maor chose the figure of Adam because he sees him as a victim to Eve's plot. “I wasn't thinking then in terms of the Holocaust. What interested me in this series was body positions, and some of them were positions of shame, coercion, violence, and the association with Jews entering the gas chambers and death pits may have been in my sub-conscious.”31 Even though it was not done consciously, one can see the influence of the documentary photographs from the Holocaust showing the victims who were forced to undress and were then executed (fig. 20).32
In 1986 Maor met Suzanna Birgit-Willeh who came on that year from Germany to his Kibbutz, Givat Haim (Meuhad) as a volunteer and stayed there for eight months. Maor and Suzanna met while working across from each other in the Kibbutz's Prigat juice factory. They befriended and through their conversations they each determined their own identity. As part of the process that brought them closer, Suzanna could start talking of the existence of a Nazi past in her family, while Maor was confronting his parents' trauma on the one hand, and his new experience of meeting a German woman, on the other hand.33 Following his meeting with Suzanna, Maor again started depicting himself as a victim in several of his works. In the first one from 1986 (fig. 21) he confronts the phantom figures of the relatives that perished in the Holocaust, the figures that inhabit his imagination as a result of his father's fragmented stories about what he went through in the Holocaust and his mother's oppressive silence. On this he wrote: “Over the house hovered a deep silence that was oppressive and somber, a silence imprisoning forbidden stories. But - here and there - almost stealthily, the words escaped their prison. ..Words have turned into ghostly images
And the questions remain unanswered. ..I sit in a black chair, Looking at reflections - Is it I Or the others?”34
To identify with the fate of the dead that inhabit his inner world, he depicted his nude self-portrait as a Holocaust victim, and the dead as a yellow stain that implies a group of obscure figures, with no hands, and no facial features, covering part of his own figure. This way he suggests that his figure is about to be “swallowed” among the shadows, and he will become “one of them” as he wrote in the poem:”Looking at reflections - Is it I Or the others?” The intentional selection of colors in this work strengthens the identification with the victims: The shadows of the figures are yellow, alluding to the Yellow Badge, the badge of shame for Jews in the Holocaust, and the outline of his figure is drawn with a blue-purple stamping ink, similar to the ink that was used to imprint the Number on the arm of the prisoners in Auschwitz. For his self-portrait he consciously copies the figure of the naked man from the photograph of the Jews being executed (fig.20).
In a “Self Portrait With Father's Face” from1986-1987 (Fig.22) that was shown in "The Faces of Race and Memory", Maor returns to the depiction of his nude self-portrait, to express his identification with the Holocaust victims, this time in a symbolic way. On a cross shaped format he placed his own figure at the center, on both sides he showed his father's portrait, in profile on the right, a frontal image on the left. In this work Maor refers to himself as a victim on two levels: On the first personal level, he depicts himself nude, covering his nudity in the same way the victims who were led to the gas chambers or the death pits hid their nudity (fig. 20) and this way he depicts himself as one of them. Furthermore, the link between the father's portrait, once in profile, and once a frontal one, in a way that reminds one of the prisoners' photos from the concentration camps,35 which his father was, and the portrait of the artist suggests a continuity of being 'the victim'. Maor said on this matter:
"I resemble my father. By displaying my own portrait as a young man I display my father as a young man, as he looked during the time of the Holocaust. Placing my self-portrait at the center suggests the continuity of 'the victim'. Because I might just as well be the next victim. During the 1973 war (aka “The Yom Kippur War”), I was a reserve soldier, waiting in the Tzrifin military base, the news came of the fall of the Bar-Lev defensive line. Then I thought that there was going to be another Holocaust and I was afraid that I wouldn't pull through, like my father did, and that I'll become a victim.”36
This apocalyptic feeling Maor felt is further emphasized by the fact that he failed to complete the painting of the blue background behind his self-portrait, emphasizing the coming calamity. On the other level, putting his own portrait and his father's portrait on a cross raises the image to a universal level and depicts the Jews as the ultimate victims. Maor does not use in this piece the familiar scheme of the Crucifixion, however he alludes to the concept of the crucifixion by using the shape of the cross and by placing his father's and his own figures on it. He uses the descriptive scheme of the crucifixion like many other artists, as a symbol describing the suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust and as a symbol of the murder of the Jews by the Nazis.37
Maor returns yet again to his nude self-portrait in the 1993 work Disqualified Scrolls (fig.23) made up of four pieces of parchment hanging from the ceiling. On the outer two the photos of Maor and Suzanna are shown (from slides) Maor on the right, Suzanna on the left. On top they are shown in profile, facing one another, and on the bottom they face the viewer, looking directly at the viewer. These pictures also are evocative of the photos of the prisoners in the camps, and suggest that these are victims. On the two center parchments, Maor's nude body is shown on the right, and Suzanna's on the left, and they both cover their nudity in a way similar to the Holocaust victims. For his own figure, Maor repeats the self-depiction we saw in previous works (fig. 21-22) and for Suzanna's nude figure, he was influenced by photos of women who were forcibly undressed and shot to death in the death pits (fig. 24). Depicting Suzanna as a Holocaust victim seems an odd thing to do, and raises questions, her being German. The answers to that may be found in Maor's own words, after he returned from a visit to the concentration and death camps in Poland, in 1983, on the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, as part of a group of Israeli artists and writers:”
"What happened to me there was that I suddenly realized that the Holocaust was perpetrated by civilized people. As a child in the 50s and 60s, the Holocaust was discussed in Israel in mythical terms. The Nazis were monsters, the Jews went like flock to the slaughter, the camps were like another planet. . . If ordinary people had done this, it could happen to you too, on either side of the fence.”38
Only after he met his German friend in 1986, he could express that feeling. Showing his photo and Suzanna's on parchment that usually intended for writing the Torah Scroll, he disqualified them and one of the things Maor wishes to suggest with this is that the disqualifying of the Jews – represented as the Torah Scroll – as people by the Nazi Race Theory and that's why this work is called "Disqualified Scrolls".39
Between Victim and Aggressor
While some of the victims' children identified with the weak and vulnerable victim, others were angry at the oppressions and the humiliation their parents were forced to suffer at the hands of the Nazis, without having the slightest chance to react to it, or to fight against it.40 This anger led "Second Generation" children to want to identify with the “aggressor” to enable them to redeem their parents' circumstances from a position of power. Others tried to get closer to the children of the Holocaust perpetrators to try to understand how they deal with their own parents past, and to try to reconciliate with them. Looking at the visual reactions of "Second Generation" artists we find that some of them confronted their empathy and identification towards the victim with a self-depiction as the “aggressors” in positions of power, and they reacted from that direction. Others showed the victim-aggressor duality to alert that in any place where there are violent aggressions there also exists the same level of vulnerability.
Maor addresses the victim-aggressor relationship in several stations in the 1988 exhibition “The Faces of Race and Memory” which was built as a participatory experience where the viewer went from station to station on a path with no way out. The exhibition examines the process of memory and forgetfulness, and puts the viewer's personal and collective set of associations with regard to the stereotypes and prejudice that were part of the Nazi Race Theory which was directed against Jews in the Holocaust.41
One of the components of the "Prologue" stations is "The Chamber Doors "(fig. 25) in which two portraits in profile are facing each other: On the right hand Suzanna's portrait, with her name Sanne-Birgit, written in Gothic letters, and on the left Maor's portrait, with his name, Haim-Binyamin, written in Hebrew. A black velvet cloth hangs between them.
Maor suggests that he's “The Jewish Victim” by using the style of Hebrew lettering often found in the Siddur, the prayer book, and that Suzanna being the representative of the “Nazi Aggressor” by using the Gothic lettering used on the signs in Auschwitz, the kind he saw when he visited there. The black velvet separating them is a reminder of the Holocaust and created a feeling of conflict. Only if they can “overcome” this barrier, can they get closer and communicate. By using soft cloth, Maor suggests that the gap between them can be bridged.
In the station “Faces of Race” (fig. 26) the viewer comes upon photos of Maor, his family, his friends and neighbors, among them Suzanna and her family, arranged on two walls across from one another in columns made up of three photographs each. The right hand side has men's photos; the left hand side wall has women's photos. Maor discusses the process the viewer goes through:
"My works confront human portraits by placing side by side and facing one another, by “cataloging” them in the viewer's mind as “Jewish” or “Aryan”. The drawings and photos serve as a catalyst for bringing the viewer's prejudices to the surface, and thus the viewer himself becomes a 'potential racist'.42
Maor references the Nazi Race Theory that brought on the Holocaust and at the same time warns the viewers of the phenomenon of racism, which they can easily become a part of. Additionally, by segregating the men and women, men on the right, women on the left, he makes a reference to the selection process the Nazis performed on the Jews in the camps. Maor is telling us here that every person is a potential victim as well as a potential aggressor.
Due to the difficulty of coping with the emotional burden that was passed on to him, Maor sought out means and ways that could help him to address the theme of the Holocaust both directly and indirectly. He chose intermediary means through which he could express his feelings, ask questions that bore their weight on him, and get his messages through, the messages about the Holocaust trauma that was transferred to him. Maor used citations from the history of art, leveraging the viewer's familiarity with the art works, ensuring an immediate association with the image, even when it depicts hard scenes and images. In addition to citations from the history of art, he used well known descriptive schemes from the history of art, such as the crucifixion, to approach the Holocaust from a universal viewpoint that casts the Jews as the ultimate victim. In addition, his work also relies on photographs from the Holocaust, for example of naked men and women being executed.
Batya Brutin Short Biography:
Dr. Batya Brutin is a researcher of Holocaust monuments and visual arts. She is the director of the Holocaust Teaching Program at Beit Berl College, Israel. Her M.A. thesis was published by Beit Lohamei Hagetaot under the name: Living with the Memory: Monuments in Israel Commemorating the Holocaust (2005). Her next book named “O earth, cover not their blood”: Holocaust monuments in Poland will be soon published by Beit Lohamei Hagetaot. She has also published various articles on Holocaust commemoration and art in Israel and abroad. Her doctoral dissertation is: The Inheritance: Responses to the Holocaust by “Second Generation” Israeli artists. Dr. Brutin together with Dr. Esther Hertzog has established the bi-annual international conference on Women and the Holocaust in cooperation with Beit Terezin and Beit Lochamei Hagetaot. In these conferences Dr. Brutin has presented her contribution to the subject of the Holocaust and Gender from artistic points of view. Her papers discussed the following topics: "Depiction of Women by Women Artists during the Holocaust", "Responses to the Holocaust by 'Second Generation' Israeli Female artists", and "Victim/Aggressor Relations in the art of 'Second Generation' Israeli Female Artists".
Her current research is: Faces of the Holocaust: Anne Frank and the boy from the Warsaw Ghetto as Holocaust Icons in Art. The photographs of Anne Frank and the boy from Warsaw became worldwide famous documents representing the Holocaust and were adopted by many artists as a source of inspiration to express their feelings and ideas about the Holocaust events in general and to deal with the faith of these two victims in particular. By using images of children of the Holocaust, the artists could evoke our sympathy and at the same time our anger against the Nazi's crime of killing one and a half million children in the Holocaust. Beside the fact that both of them are children, Anne Frank represents the Western Jewry's experience in the Holocaust while the Boy from Warsaw represents the Eastern Jewry's fate, and so creating a complete picture of what happened to the Jews in the Holocaust.