A heart-rending display

San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum responds to Mein Kampf.

By DAVID ALEX NAHMOD
February 16, 2010 02:19
2 minute read.
Linda Ellia's 'Our Struggle.'

our struggle mein kampf 311. (photo credit: Linda Ellia)

 
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The images sear themselves into your memory. The pain, heartbreak, and unimaginable evil that was the Holocaust, are now on display at the Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) in San Francisco.

Paris-based artist Linda Ellia, a Sephardic Jew who emigrated from Tunisia to escape the anti-Semitic violence of the 1960s, took center stage at the February 11 opening of the exhibition, entitled Our Struggle: Responding to Mein Kampf.

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The concept was simple: a variety of artists from all walks of life, including Ellia herself, took pages of a French language edition of Hitler's manifesto and responded to the words on the page by presenting a work of art on the page itself. 600 such images are now on display at CJM's downtown San Francisco home, as well as in a corresponding book.

Through an interpreter, Ellia spoke in French from the stage of the CJM auditorium, eloquently describing how it made her feel when she actually sat down to read Mein Kampf. "I'm going to have the last word. I'm going to respond to him," she said.

"I wanted others to be a part of it. I wanted them to feel what I felt. Not all the contributors are Jewish because I wanted everyone: gypsies, the handicapped, LGBT people, and of course, Jews."

Few of the artists are identified; not by name, gender, religion or ethnicity. This was a well thought out choice on Ellia's part.

"Hitler killed people anonymously, and so it's a communal project. I'm not singling out any one individual," she said.



But as one walks through the exhibition hall, the pieces sometimes suggests who's who. One shows a swastika-shaped building being crushed by a huge stone Magen David. Another displays a pink triangle.

Some of the pieces might induce tears: a skeletal, bald head with a smoke stack where hair should be; conjoined twins with amputated limbs, a horrifying "tribute" to Dr. Mengele; a sad eyed woman, her heart exposed, the words "I Want Peace" written across her body.

Ellia reveals that thirty of the participants were Germans, and that they were eager to take part. Other artists included her father, her daughter and her son.

"A recent survey revealed that 30 percent of today's youth don't know about 9/11, much less so the Holocaust," Gregory Ellia stated when he joined his mother on the podium. "We have a responsibility to teach history so this never happens again."

Our Struggle: Responding to Mein Kampf will remain on display at the Contemporary Jewish Museum until June 8. After that, Ellia hopes to bring the show to New York and Germany.

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