on Sunday, 23 April 2017. Posted in Community Events
Six weeks ago, in the cold heart of a frozen Central European winter, I stood at Thereisenstadt Concentration Camp in the Czech Republic. Thereisenstadt was famous as the show-camp used by the Nazis for propaganda purposes, demonstrating to the Red Cross and other casual observers of the Shoah how wonderfully the Nazis treated the Jews. There are parts still in existence of a film called, “The Fuehrer Gives the Jews a City!” which is shown daily in the theater there, as a reminder.
That film was made by a Jewish director and actor named Kurt Gerron, a prominent filmmaker before the war whom the Nazis forced to create this early vehicle for alternative facts. As soon as the movie was done, and the Red Cross had toured the camp ever-so-gingerly, the Jewish actors and crew and Gerron himself, were sent to their deaths in Auschwitz.
But beyond propaganda, Thereisenstadt was deservedly famous because of the many artists, art dealers, musicians, composers, directors, actors, authors, editors and publishers who were imprisoned there. You could make a case that many of the great “Degenerate Artists” who helped reshape our vision in the middle of the 20th century passed through Thereisenstadt, this small camp an hour or two from Prague.
It was there in Terezin, of course, that the poems and journals that became the book and play “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” were created by the children and teens imprisoned in Thereisenstadt.
The fascinating thing about this place of great loss and ultimate destruction is that these brilliant Jews, interned by the monstrous evil that was Nazi Germany, is that they continued to create under these horrifying conditions. They painted and drew and composed and arranged and presented and designed and built stage sets and costumes and performed great art in the very heart of the destruction. And even when they died, of disease or beating or starvation or cold or in gas chambers, often their art survived them. We have paintings and operas and books and sketches, and many are featured today in wonderful displays in Terezin.
Art, like Jews, cannot truly be destroyed. It exists in the hearts and minds of people, whether they are free people or enslaved, and like life it refuses to be suppressed or annihilated. Art is more than protest, but it can be the most powerful of protests. It insists, “We survive!” It demands, “We lived, and therefore we created!” It obligates us, “Look, remember, be inspired!”
On this day dedicated to remembering all the victims of the Shoah, may we particularly remember the artists, dealers, and patrons who helped us envision a shenereh, besereh veldt, a more beautiful, better world. Who depicted the world they knew, the horror they saw, and the world as they believed it should become.
And may the vision of these courageous artists continue to inspire us to remember, to create, and to allow their memory to live again in us, in our eyes, our hearts, and our minds.
Ken Yehi Ratson