A heart-rending display

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

our struggle mein kampf 311 (photo credit: Linda Ellia)
our struggle mein kampf 311
(photo credit: Linda Ellia)
The images sear themselves into your memory. The pain, heartbreak, andunimaginable evil that was the Holocaust, are now on display at theContemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) in San Francisco.
Paris-based artist Linda Ellia, a Sephardic Jew who emigrated fromTunisia to escape the anti-Semitic violence of the 1960s, took centerstage at the February 11 opening of the exhibition, entitled Our Struggle: Responding to Mein Kampf.
The concept was simple: a variety of artists from all walks of life,including Ellia herself, took pages of a French language edition ofHitler's manifesto and responded to the words on the page by presentinga work of art on the page itself. 600 such images are now on display atCJM's downtown San Francisco home, as well as in a corresponding book.
Through an interpreter, Ellia spoke in French from the stage of the CJMauditorium, eloquently describing how it made her feel when sheactually 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 orethnicity. 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 sometimessuggests who's who. One shows a swastika-shaped building being crushedby a huge stone Magen David. Another displays a pink triangle.
Some of the pieces might induce tears: a skeletal, bald head with asmoke stack where hair should be; conjoined twins with amputated limbs,a horrifying "tribute" to Dr. Mengele; a sad eyed woman, her heartexposed, the words "I Want Peace" written across her body.
Ellia reveals that thirty of the participants were Germans, and thatthey were eager to take part. Other artists included her father, herdaughter and her son.
"A recent survey revealed that 30 percent of today's youth don't knowabout 9/11, much less so the Holocaust," Gregory Ellia stated when hejoined his mother on the podium. "We have a responsibility to teachhistory so this never happens again."
Our Struggle: Responding to MeinKampf will remain on display at the Contemporary Jewish Museum untilJune 8. After that, Ellia hopes to bring the show to New York andGermany.