30 August 2006

Holocaust Art

Living in an era where Iran's President can spew his lies and Mel's dad still gets a soapbox, it's more important than ever that we never forget. For that reason, I not only think we need Holocaust memorials, but believe we should force the Huttons and Ahmadinejads of the world to visit and confront the harsh realities of our past, lest we repeat over and over again.

While I believe these museums and memorials need "rare artifacts and important evidence of the Nazi genocide", this should not come at continued pain to survivors. Those who survived - a rapidly aging and diminishing pool of brave, lucky souls - should be honored.

Dina Gottliebova Babbitt is a survivor. She just wants her paintings back.

The Auschwitz museum, which considers the watercolors to be its property, has argued that they are rare artifacts and important evidence of the Nazi genocide, part of the cultural heritage of the world. Teresa Swiebocka, the museum’s deputy director, wrote by e-mail that the portraits “serve important documentary and educational functions as a part of the permanent exhibition” about the murder of thousands of Gypsy, or Roma, victims. The portraits, she added, “are on permanent exhibition, although they have to be rotated to preserve them, since they are watercolors on paper.”

She added that “we do not regard these as personal artistic creations but as documentary work done under direct orders from Dr. Mengele and carried out by the artist to ensure her survival.”

The fact that the paintings were created by slave labor does not lessen the artist's ownership claims. If we are to learn anything from this horrific period of our history, we must recognize that Babbit's claims of ownership are strengthened by the dual facts of her confinement and duress.

The museum serves a noble and necessary purpose; however, it should not emulate those it villifies by denying victims their basic humanity. Nothing is more central to humanity than the act of creation.