Exhibit Shows How Holocaust Survivors Helped Shape Israel's Identity

New exhibit breaks tradition, opens before Holocaust Remembrance Day because it is too 'happy and colorful.'

Anshel Pfeffer
Haaretz Correspondent

"I recently asked a friend of mine what she was working on and she told me that she was the curator of a new exhibit of works by young Israeli artists at the Israel Museum, and that all the artwork deals with catastrophes and apocalypse," said Michal Broshi, the adviser to the curator of the "My Homeland: Holocaust Survivors in Israel" exhibit that opened Sunday at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.

"So I told her that I was working on a colorful and happy exhibit at Yad Vashem," Broshi explained.

Logically, the exhibit at Yad Vashem was supposed to open on Holocaust Remembrance day, this Thursday, but instead it opened three days ahead of time because the Holocaust museum decided that the artwork, which documents 60 years of contributions made by Holocaust survivors in Israel, was simply too happy to coincide with the somber day.

The exhibit, in the works for over a year, displays contributions of Holocaust survivors in various aspects of Israeli life, including literature, economics, security, and more. The central focus, however, was given to the visual arts such as graphic art, industrial design, fashion, cartoon art and drawing. Broshi explained that this variety achieved to goals: underlining the fact that a large portion of the leaders in these fields over the last 60 years have been in fact Holocaust survivors, and making the exhibit vibrant and alive.

The exhibit includes a steel helmet owned by a soldier who fought in Israel's War of Independence alongside a version of the oath of allegiance to the Israel Defense Forces written in Yiddish.

The prominent items in the exhibit are logos designed by Dan Reisinger for some of Israel's leading companies, Gottex bathing suits designed by Lea Gottlieb, the quintessential Israeli caricature "Srulik" drawn by Dosh (Kariel Gardosh) and a giant poster of the mushroom shaped sugar substitute "Sucrazit" bottle designed by Israel Alfred Glick.

Some of the items displayed in the exhibit, which will run for a year, are connected by blue scaffolding, to represent the fact that "survivors have integrated in the building project" said the curator, Yehudit Shendar.

"Over the last year, we were all concerned with the survivors' justified battle to improve their welfare conditions," said Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev, in reference to the battle waged by survivors, many of whom are living below the poverty line, to increase the stipend given to them by the government.

"This created the illusion that they [survivors] are a group of defeated, despondent and miserable people. The struggle was, of course, justified, but they apparently went one step too far with it and lost their grasp on the reality that half a million people arrived in Israel and established themselves without any help from anyone, not the government and not the Jewish Agency. With their own hands they built the country and took part in fashioning it into what we know today."

Shalev added that though this exhibit should have been thought of a long time ago, he is not familiar with the feeling expressed by some survivors' groups that Yad Vashem is not attentive to their needs. "I actually hear from hundreds of survivors that they view Yad Vashem as a home," he said.

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