Yad Vashem conference emphasizes art in the Holocaust

Educators from countries all over the world attended the four-day conference.

Artwork by Holocaust survivor Yehuda Bacon depicting a scene from a concentration camp (photo credit: NAOMI GRANT)
Artwork by Holocaust survivor Yehuda Bacon depicting a scene from a concentration camp
(photo credit: NAOMI GRANT)
Attendees at a Yad Vashem-hosted conference saw the Holocaust through art on Wednesday.
Educators from countries all over the world attended the four-day conference to learn how to better teach the Holocaust and make it relevant for their students — art was one of the ways.
Lectures focused on topics including music that came out of the Holocaust era from those in ghettos and imprisoned in camps, films inspired by the Holocaust and art that portrayed the experience.
"The goals of the conference are to explore how schools around the world are teaching the Holocaust today, and in what way Yad Vashem can assist in the process, and the future of Holocaust studies," conference organizer Ephraim Kaye said.
Shirli Gilbert, Director of the Parkes Institute for Jewish/non-Jewish Relations at the University of Southampton, played several clips of songs written around the time of the Holocaust expressing despair, hope and everything in between.
She gave the example of Zog Nit Keynmol, one of the most popular surviving songs of this period, which was written by a 20-year-old partisan and adopted as the partisan hymn.
Although Gilbert said she was unaware of any recordings of music straight from the ghettos and camps, she emphasized the importance of music reconstructed soon after the Holocaust and sung by survivors. One clip she played was a recording of an 18-year-old Holocaust survivor singing in 1946.
"What’s so compelling about them is that they bring us closer to being able to imagine what singing inside those places sounded like," she said.
Yad Vashem Visual Center Director Liat Benhabib discussed films released shortly after the Holocaust. Film was a different sort of art during the 1930s and 1940s than music or literature because, at that time, it was a relatively new art.
In the early post-war period, or what Benhabib called the first generation, most Holocaust films portrayed stories of rebirth as part of the survivors’ acculturation process, she said. These films were widely successful in the new State of Israel as well as in Jewish communities in the Diaspora.
During what Benhabib called the second generation, which is still going on today, films tell the stories of communities, characters and historical personalities that were sometimes previously unknown to general public.
“They challenge us as viewers to figure out the whole picture from a fragment of a puzzle,” Benhabib said of the films. Moving forward, “I believe that film will be even more important in shaping Holocaust remembrance as a means of coping with continued disruption of our life.”
In the last session of the morning, Theresienstadt and Auschwitz survivor Yehuda Bacon talked about how he used art to communicate his time in both places to “so-called ‘normal people.’”
“There was the famous wall between them and us,” he said. “How can I reach them? I have done something wrong... maybe they don’t understand me or maybe I don’t have the right language for them.”
Bacon showed photos of his artwork that depicted scenes from the ghetto and the concentration camp, and finished with one portraying “the man who restored [his] belief in humanity” after the war.
“Art helped me to overcome [these] very bad times and I felt obliged to tell you this story,” he said.