Berlin Museum Launches Unprecedented Showcase of Yad Vashem's Holocaust Art

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Survivor-artist Nelly Toll, right, talks to German Chancellor Angela Merkel as Merkel inaugurates the exhibition "Art from the Holocaust" in the German Historical Museum in Berlin, on January 25, 2016.
Chancellor Merkel, left, talking with survivor-artist Nelly Toll at the opening of "Art from the Holocaust" at the German Historical Museum, on January 25, 2016.Credit: AP

In advance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday, Berlin's German History Museum has opened an exhibition of works entitled “Art from the Holocaust."

“They convey to the viewer a feeling of authenticity and originality that broadcasts great suffering, and at the same time the power and pride of the Jewish victims who painted them,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking at the opening on Monday. “We in Germany," she added, "must not forget that friendship with Israel is not a given, but borders on a miracle.”

The 100 works on display were selected from a collection of nearly 10,000 that are housed at the Jerusalem-based Yad Vashem Holocaust authority. The exhibition in Berlin is the biggest and most comprehensive exhibition of works from Yad Vashem ever displayed outside Israel. Among the artists whose work is being featured are well-known names like Felix Nussbaum and Ludwig Meidner.

The only living survivor whose works are on show is Jewish-American artist Nelly Toll, who also attended the opening.

Born in 1935 in Lvov, Toll was expelled in 1941 to the ghetto, where her brother was murdered in a Nazi roundup. Her father then arranged a hiding place for her and her mother with Christian friends in the city. Toll drew, wrote stories and kept a diary to pass the time while she was confined. She only discovered after the city’s liberation that she and her mother were the soul survivors in their family.

“These rare drawings and paintings, the work of 50 artists, some half of whom were murdered in the Holocaust, reflect the tension between the need to document and the artists’ desire to escape into the realms of imagination, art and beauty,” said Eliad Moreh-Rosenberg, the exhibition’s curator and director of Yad Vashem’s art department.

“This exhibition allows for a rare encounter, specifically in Berlin, between contemporary spectators and those that lived through the events of the Shoah,” said Avner Shalev, the Yad Vashem chairman. “Each work of art from our unique collection constitutes a living testimony from the Holocaust, as well as a declaration of the indomitable human spirit that refuses to surrender.”

The impetus for organizing the exhibition came from the popular German newspaper Bild. In 2009, the paper donated to Yad Vashem 30 drawings of the Auschwitz concentration camp, which had been found a year earlier in an abandoned apartment in Berlin and were purchased by Bild.

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