The Indomitable Human Spirit
Works from the Yad Vashem Collection at the German Historical Museum

A man sits all alone at a long table. In despair, he buries his face in his hands. At his feet are a bundle of possessions. On the table is a giant globe, which looks threatening and not like a sign of hope. Felix Nussbaum called the painting European Vision – The Refugee. The artist executed it in 1939 in Brussels, where he and his wife Felka Platek were hiding from the Nazis. It was the last stop of an exodus that led the couple via Italian and France to Belgium. Here friends gave them the bare essentials and even provided Felix Nussbaum with a studio, where he continued to paint despite all the adversity. His themes: flight, isolation, fear. After being denounced in June 1944, the Nussbaums were imprisoned by the German Army and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, where they were murdered.

Nussbaum’s painting is now being shown in the exhibition Art from the Holocaust – 100 Works from the Yad Vashem Collection at the German Historical Museum in Berlin. It is hitherto the most extensive presentation of artworks from the Yad Vashem collection outside of Israel, representing the culmination of events marking 50 years of German-Israeli diplomatic relations. The exhibition was made possible by Daimler AG and Deutsche Bank AG. Art from the Holocaust, opened by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on January 25, 2016, is on view until April 3, 2016.

The 100 works on exhibit were created by Jewish inmates in various concentration camps, labor camps, and ghettos. “These works, which survived the Holocaust, give us insight into art’s ability to convey the perspective of the Jewish victims,” explains Avner Shalev, the Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate. “The exhibition permits a rare encounter, here in Berlin, between today’s public and people who endured the Shoah. Each of these works is a living testimony of the Holocaust and affirmation of the indomitable human spirit.” Like Felix Nussbaum, all of the artists featured did not give up despite the horror in which they had to live.

The largely graphical works were created under inhumane conditions in secrecy. They attest to the power of the human spirit in the face of adversity and death, and to the conflict between the reality of the Holocaust and an imaginary counter-world. Thus, for example, in their watercolor A Spring, Karl Robert Bodek (1905-1942) and Kurt Conrad Löw (1914-1980) have a brimstone butterfly land on the barbed wire of Gurs internment camp. The two friends drew scenes from day-to-day life in the camp, situated in the Pyrenees, as well as comics and greeting cards. Their works were rescued by a Swiss Red Cross nurse.

“In an uncompromising act of resistance the artists drew and painted in mortal danger. Some vividly portray the atrocities and humiliations they had to endure, while others seek to counter the relentless dehumanization by highlighting the individual and the inner spiritual life,” says the curator of the exhibition, Eliad Moreh-Rosenberg from Yad Vashem.

Felix Nussbaum’s “The Refugee” and all the other works from the Yad Vashem Collection, stand for the courage to bear witness. “Art is a powerful response to suppression and terror,” stresses curator Walter Smerling from the Foundation for Art and Culture (Stiftung für Kunst und Kultur e.V.), which organized the exhibition in cooperation with Yad Vashem and the German Historical Museum. “This exhibition admonishes us to uphold people’s dignity, for it is the inviolable core of our existence.”

Art from the Holocaust –
100 Works from the Yad Vashem Collection

1/25/2016 – 4/3/2016
German Historical Museum