Tuesday, February 25, 2020

USA: Looking for Holocaust Memorials in American Jewish Cemeteries

Conklin (Binghamton), New York. Temple Israel Cemetery. Holocaust Memorial (1952). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015.

Akron, Ohio. Workman's Circle Cemetery on Swartz Road.. Holocaust Monument, dedicated September 1961. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
USA: Looking for Holocaust Memorials in American Jewish Cemeteries
by Samuel D. Gruber

"This mound shall be witness and this pillar shall be witness…" Genesis 31:52 

Holocaust memorials have been erected in American Jewish cemeteries since the 1940s. For many decades these memorials were usually the only public markers in America memorializing Shoah victims. They are often monuments, meant to warn us, but more often they are seen as symbolic matzevot, so that the dead who have no graves will have a place to be remembered, and there will be a place where mourners can recite Kaddish. In the 1990s I was in discussion with The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum about creating a large database of all Holocaust monuments and memorials in North America, but to my knowledge nothing ever came of this effort. At the time, there was much more attention to commemorative practice in Europe, and this still remains true today.

In 2018 I was at a funeral for a favorite aunt in Akron, Ohio, and was drawn to the neighboring Workmen's Circle cemetery that had a large Holocaust monument. Seeing this lonely stone, I was reminded that there is still no list of all such memorials in the United States.

Akron, Ohio. Workman's Circle Cemetery on Swartz Road.. Holocaust Monument, dedicated Sept. 1961. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Akron, Ohio. Workman's Circle Cemetery on Swartz Road.. Holocaust Monument, dedicated Sept. 1961. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
The monument at the Workmen's Circle Cemetery on Swartz Rd in Akron, Ohio, was erected and dedicated by Workmen’s Circle Members of Branch 587 and Friends on September 17, 1961. This remains the site of the annual Service in Memory of the Six Million in early autumn (for information contact the Jewish Community Board of Akron).

The Workmen's Circle was a national Jewish Mutual Aid society with local chapters. Formed in 1900 by Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, the Circle at first helped its members to adapt to American life and provided life insurance, unemployment relief, healthcare, social interaction, burial assistance, and general education. Workmen's Circle cemeteries were founded in many cities.

In his important book The Jewish Search for a Usable Past (Indiana Univ. Press, 1999), historian David Roskies wrote about the commemoration of Yiddish writers and socialist activists at the Workman’s Circle plot at the Old Mount Carmel Jewish Cemetery in Queens, New York beginning in 1916 with the burial of Sholem Aleichem. In the 1940s this commemoration was continued in the nearby New Mount Carmel Jewish Cemetery. Many of these graves and markers  had Holocaust associations, and in the 1940s and early 1950s, before specific collective memorials were created, these monuments to individuals could be used for broader commemorative practice.

On the stone of writer Yankev Pat (d. 1966) the inscription reads “over the mighty ocean of Jewish anguish and calamity / a great light will shine,” quoting from Pat’s post-Holocaust travelogue Ashes and Fire, published in 1946. Roskies describes several similar examples and observes that “It is the heroism and tragedy of the Bund, the leading Jewish movement in interwar Poland, that is given pride of place in the new Honor Row".

Queens, NY. New Mount Carmel Cemetery. Memorial grave of Artur Zygelboim. Photo from Roskies, The Jewish Search for a Usable Past (Indiana Univ. Press, 1999).
Foremost among these memorials is the grave of Artur Zygelboim, which Roskies identifies as the first Holocaust memorial in America.
 “Separated spatially and architecturally on the extreme left is the tomb of "Artur (Shmuel Mordecai) Zygelboim 1895-1943 / Member of Central Committee of the Jewish Labor Bund in Poland / Bund Representative in Polish Parliament in Exile." Containing his ashes that were brought over from London after the war, his tomb is the first memorial to the Holocaust on American soil. Martyrdom is its operative term. The biographical side of the tomb concludes with the words: "May 11, 1943, in London Chose Martyr's Death." The liturgical side speaks of Zygelboim's "free heroic suicide," which is read as an expiation for the involuntary martyrdom of "The 6 Million Jews / Victims of Nazi Genocide." The flame atop his stone is their Eternal Light.” (Roskies, p. 138)
The late Rabbi Alvin M. Poplack published a valuable volume Carved in Granite: Holocaust Memorials in Greater New York Jewish Cemeteries (New York: Jay street Publishers) in 2003 that identifies and documents eighty-six monuments.  To my knowledge there is no similar inventory of other memorials in cemeteries elsewhere in the country, though this would be a valuable collective endeavor to ensure the protection and preservation of these memorials, and to trace the evolution of Holocaust commemoration in the United States over the past seventy years.

The study of American Jewish cemeteries is relatively new to me. I've been documenting Jewish cemeteries and Holocaust sites and memorials in Europe since 1990, but only recently began to look at the parallel situation in America. This includes the creation of new memorial sites that are surrogates for those far away and which were for a long time inaccessible behind the "Iron Curtain". As Poplack demonstrates there was also an attempt early on to bring human remains--ashes, bones and a bar of soap--for interment in America, and thus in a way to bring the immediacy of the Holocaust sites directly to American shores. A later version of this would take place in the boom of Holocaust Museum construction in the 1990s, when new American institutions strove to incorporate "original" Holocaust mementos in their exhibitions. These included boxcars, cemetery gates, suitcases, and even human hair and other remnants loaned from the Auschwitz Museum. 

Most of the early American memorials were erected by landsmanshaftn, and the process began very soon after World War II. The monuments were usually placed within the boundaries of the immigrant organizations' collective burial plots in larger cemeteries. In a few instances illustrated here, these monuments mark the burial of ashes brought from Europe, and in at least one case, a bar of soap said to be made of human ash.

One of the oldest monuments identified by Rabbi Poplack is the Zbarazer monument in the Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, Long Island, dedicated September 7, 1947. This monument was seen as a real grave marker--as it sits above the burial of a bar of soap believed to have been made of Jewish human remains. This monument is also the most detailed in its inscriptions in English and Hebrew, listing the number of Zbarazer Jews "murdered and the dates of each action and where they took place. On the back of the monument the text is inscribed in Hebrew. One verse from Scripture (the liturgy) is included: "Earth, cover not their blood." (Poplack, p 22). Unfortunately, this monument is hard to find and even then, hard to see. Poplack lists three other monuments erected in 1947 by the Litiner, Grybower, and Rypiner Societies.


Elmont, Long Island, New York. Beth David Cemetery First Zbarazer Relief Society, 1947. Poplack, Carved in Granite, 22.

Elmont, Long Island, New York. Beth David Cemetery First Zbarazer Relief Society, 1947. Poplack, Carved in Granite, 22.
The largest memorial over ashes brought from Europe to the United States is the Monument by Drobniner Benevolent Society at the United Hebrew Cemetery in Staten Island, erected in 1961. This lists many names on each side, and it gives a single collective Yahrzeit date (14 Kislev) for all the Drobniner Jews murdered in the Holocaust.


Staten Island, NY. United Hebrew Cemetery. Monument by Drobniner Benevolent Society. Poplack, Carved in Granite, 25.
Staten Island, NY. United Hebrew Cemetery. Monument by Drobniner Benevolent Society. Poplack, Carved in Granite, 25.
Staten Island, NY. United Hebrew Cemetery. Monument by Drobniner Benevolent Society. Poplack, Carved in Granite, 25.
Another monument erected in 1967 in Clifton, New Jersey, is much more prominent and is built, as the inscription informs us, over ashes brought "from the crematoria chambers in Auschwitz".

Clifton, New Jersey. King Solomon Cemetery monument by East Side Social Center of Paterson, 1967. Photo: Poplack, Carved in Granite, 23.
Clifton, New Jersey. King Solomon Cemetery monument by East Side Social Center of Paterson, 1967. Photo: Poplack, Carved in Granite, 23.
I've written about the unusual circumstances of another early monument in the Beth David Cemetery in Binghamton, NY (1952), where refugees buried the written names of their loved ones for whom there were no graves to visit.

I ask my readers to visit the Jewish cemeteries in their communities to look for Holocaust memorials and to send me their findings: inscriptions, photos, and any information about the creation of the memorials and how they are used for commemorative purpose in the communities where they are found.

I suspect that there are memorials similar to those documented by Poplack for the New York metropolitan area in Jewish cemeteries around Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, and other cities that still had large first generation Eastern European immigrant communities in the 1940s through 1960s. By the 1970s, Holocaust commemoration had become more "mainstream," at least within the Jewish communities, and we begin to see more centrally located sanctioned and publicly promoted monuments and commemorative events.

With the breakdown of Eastern European Orthodox communities and landmanshaftn, the death of first generation immigrants, and the move of Jews to cities and away from grandparents' home cities, many older cemeteries have been neglected or at least less frequently visited. Holocaust commemoration events are often moved to Jewish Community Centers and other more central locations. The first memorials are often forgotten.

Monday, February 24, 2020

USA: Holocaust Memorials in American Synagogues

Burlington, Vermont. Ohavi Zedek Synagogue. Holocaust Memorial. Chaim Suchman, artist, 2001. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013.
Burlington, Vermont. Ohavi Zedek Synagogue. Holocaust Memorial, Chaim Suchman, artist,2001. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013.
Beverly Hills. California. Temple Emanuel. Main entrance. Holocaust Memorial. Eric May, artist. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2012.
USA: Coast to Coast Holocaust Memorials in American Synagogues

by Samuel D. Gruber

I recently wrote about an impressive synagogue Holocaust memorial – the White Flame of the Six Million by Louise Nevelson at Temple Beth El in Great Neck, New York. That work was unusual in its size and location on the sanctuary bimah. It is just one of an unknown number of varied types of Holocaust monuments and memorials installed in and around American synagogues over the past 70 years.

We tend to use the terms "monument," and "memorial" interchangeably, but the two words have different origins and shades of meaning. Every monument is some kind of memorial, but not all memorials need be monuments. "Monument" comes from the Latin verb "monere;" "to warn." We all need warning of many dangers, from ritual impurity to fascist intolerance to genocidal annihilation. "Memorial" comes from the Latin "memoria" or memory and can have more benign and strengthening meaning. In Hebrew the need to memorialize is made explicit with the command "Zachor;" "Remember." In Hebrew the word "matzevah" refers to a gravestone.

There is a long tradition of including memorials in synagogue design and decoration. Memorial lamps and plaques and donor inscriptions are well known from ancient, medieval, and early modern synagogues. Remembrances of soldiers who served in the First World War were installed in synagogues in the 1920s, such as the one found in the vestibule of Manhattan's illustrious Rodeph Sholom. Additional memorials to soldiers who had served and died were added after the Second World War. The development of memorials to victims of the Holocaust, collectively labeled "The Six Million," however, surpassed all war memorials in number, size, visibility and variety of design.

New York, NY. Rodeph Sholom. Memorial plaque to Word War I soldiers in vestibule. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016

The earliest Holocaust memorials were modest. The first memorial in an American synagogue known to me is at Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn, New Jersey, dedicated in 1951. The synagogue is an early important work by architect Percival Goodman, and many of its details in design, construction and art were entirely original. The memorial is in a niche located near the rear of the sanctuary and contains two stones from synagogues of Mannheim, Germany, destroyed in Kristallancht in 1938. The inscription reads "To the heroes and martyrs, the known and the unknown who died for the sanctification of the Divine Name". This was site-appropriate, since the rabbi of Millburn had formerly been a rabbi in Mannheim.

Millburn, New Jersey. Congregation B'nai Israel Synagogue. Stones from Mannheim synagogues. Photo: Kampf, Contemporary  Synagogue Art (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1966), 82.
Beverly Hills. California. Temple Emanuel. Main entrance. Holocaust Memorial. Eric May, artist. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2012.
Another early example - and a much more public memorial - is the dramatic relief created by Eric May, an English Jewish doctor who was twice wounded in the Israeli War of Independence in 1948. The relief, made of cut, bent and welded oxidized steel, is set on the curved brick exterior wall of the former Rabbi Bernard Harrison Memorial Chapel (now Belle Chapel) to the left of the main entrance of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, California. The relief represents upraised arms, with the Hebrew word exhorting to “Remember and Never Forget.” It is surrounded by small bronze memorial plaques for individuals and communities, presumably paid for by donations and added over time. The synagogue was the first designed by noted architect Sidney Eisenshtat and completed in 1953. I think the relief was applied soon after. 

More often memorials have been constructed in vestibules or other small interior spaces, as at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and at Temple Beth Shalom Ner Tamid  in Glendale, Wisconsin, a Milwaukee suburb. These memorials--often abstract wall reliefs--exhort congregants to "Remember!". In experience, however, it is more often the case that they soon fade into the decorative background. Only programming and ceremonies can properly turn the "on switch" for their purpose.

Los Angeles, California. Sinai Temple. Holocaust Memorial "To the Six Million" (artist unidentified). Photo: Samuel Gruber 2012.
Glendale (Milwaukee), Wisconsin. Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid, Holocaust Memorial (artist unidentified). The Hebrew letters spell Zachor (Remember). Photo: Samuel Gruber, 2004.

Especially since the 1990s memorials have been placed on lawns and in courtyards and gardens which are then transformed into “gardens of the living,” a name often given to Jewish cemeteries. Sometimes the garden itself is planted or simply dedicated as a living memorial to victims of the Holocaust. 

A good example of a lawn memorial is the one designed by Chaim Suchman and dedicated in 2001 by Ben Greenblatt in memory of his parents outside of Ohavi Zedek Synagogue in Burlington, Vermont. The memorial is of two parts. First is a well-designed matzevah-like stone with an off-kilter Jewish Star in which is inscribed the Hebrew word "Zachor," below which is a map of Europe showing the location of many major killing sites and a short dedicatory inscription, "In Sacred Memory of the Six Million." The second part is a free-standing metal abstracted human figure of a fiddler with a broken violin who looks toward the stone. Even though the congregation is mostly descended from Jews of Lithuania where the Jewish communities from which they emigrated were entirely destroyed in the Holocaust, the memorial does not focus on this specific history. The inscribed map only includes the killing site of Ponary (Vilnius) to represent Lithuania, when in fact Burlington's Jews came from the Kovna (Kaunus) region in the west, where tens of thousands of Jews were also murdered at the Ninth Fort and elsewhere.

Burlington, Vermont. Ohavi Zedek Synagogue. Holocaust Memorial. Chaim Suchman, artist, 2001. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013.
As I have previously written, in recent years the congregation has rescued and moved a 1910 synagogue mural from the former Chai Adam Synagogue, and installed the mural in the 1950s synagogue vestibule. This has occasioned a much broader investigation of the community's history in Lithuania and Vermont, and the mural serves as a memorial of both the murdered Old World communities and the history of the New World immigrants. 

Burlington, Vermont. Ohavi Zedek Synagogue. Mural form Chai Adam Synagogue. Ben Zion Black, artist, 1910. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2015.
In courtyards there is, for example, the 2004 Kriah sculpture by Laurie Gross, erected in the courtyard Temple Beth Israel in San Diego, California. But also beginning around the 1980s, more communities installed Holocaust memorials at local Jewish Community Centers rather than in individual synagogues, and these became the focus of local commemorative ceremonies of Yom HaShoah and other anniversaries. While many synagogues continue to install abstract or symbolic memorials, there is an increasing number of figurative memorials, too, often representing and commemorating murdered children. I will explore these in future posts.
 
San Diego, CA. Temple Beth Israel. Kriah sculpture / Holocaust Memorial by Laurie Gross, 2004. The metal sculpture resembles a torn piece of fabric, a traditional sign of mourning. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.
There are, of course, many other examples of American synagogue memorials - probably hundreds. A catalogue of these is much needed, as well as analysis of the history, design and effectiveness of these works. The material included in The Holocaust: An Annotated Bibliography and Resource Guide edited by David M. Szony for the National Jewish Resource Center in 1985 is a good start, but the number of memorials has increased drastically in the last thirty years.

If you have notes or photos of synagogue memorials please send them to me at jewishmons@gmail.com.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Rachel and the Rabbi: In Paris's Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Two Very Different Representatives of 19th-Century French Judaism Come Together in Nearby Tombs

Paris, France. Père Lachaise Cemetery. Main entrance on Boulevard de Ménilmontant. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Paris, France. Père Lachaise Cemetery. Avenue Rachel. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Paris, France. Père Lachaise Cemetery. Tomb of Rachel Felix. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Rachel and the Rabbi: In Paris's Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Two Very Different Representatives  of 19th-Century French Judaism Come Together in Nearby Tombs

by Samuel D. Gruber

A few weeks ago I wrote about statues of Jews in Paris and mentioned in passing the Jewish section in Père Lachaise Cemetery and the tremendous 19th-century celebrity Rachel Felix (1821–1858), who is buried there beneath an impressive funerary monument.

Though there is no statue erected to her memory, in her day Rachel (as she was universally known) was one of the most famous people in the world; and perhaps the most famous Jewish person. Celebrated as an actor, she also had romantic relations with some of the most powerful men of her time, including her lover and longtime friend Louis Napoleon (1808–1873), who became Emperor Napoleon III in 1852. Rachel's  fame was eclipsed in the next generation by another Jewish actor--Sarah Bernhardt--and she is little remembered today. Unlike Bernhardt, Rachel Felix was proud and forthright about her Jewish identity, though she did have her two illegitimate sons (by Count Alexandre-Colonne Walewski, himself the illegitimate son of Napoleon I, and general Arthur Bertrand), baptized. Both became distinguished diplomats.

I do think Rachel Felix would be a great subject for a movie or mini-series. Everyone who was anyone in mid-century Europe might show up for a cameo.  You can read more about her life at the Jewish Women's Archive.

Portrait of Mlle Rachel (Eliza Rachel Felix) by William Etty, 1841-1845. Photo: York Museums Trust.
For anyone discovering Jewish Paris--or just Paris--multiple visits to Pere Lachaise Cemetery are a requirement. The 44 hectare (110 acres) site is overwhelming. Its tens of thousands of tombs comprise an intensive episodic and ad hoc design and construction project, and thousands of architects, sculptors, designers, and stone masons and others  contributed to individual tombs to create the cemetery's overall appearance.

Located in the 20th arrondissement on Boulevard de Ménilmontant, Père Lachaise is the largest cemetery in the city of Paris. It opened in 1804 and takes its name from the confessor to Louis XIV, Père François de la Chaise (1624–1709), who lived in the Jesuit house rebuilt during 1682 on the site of the chapel.

In 1804, the year he was declared emperor, Napoleon affirmed  that "every citizen has the right to be buried regardless of race or religion,”  and he put in place a new law that addressed the question of cemetery organization relating to religious beliefs. It was required that when an entire large cemetery be built, that a section should be dedicated to a specific religion (such as Judaism). Thus, the first Jewish section in Père Lachaise opened on February 18, 1810 in the 7th division. It was enclosed by a wall, and included a purification room and a pavilion for the caretaker. Subsequently, from 1865 to 1887, the 87th division also served as the Jewish section. In 1881, when formal segregation within cemeteries by religion was revoked, the walls of the Jewish enclosures were destroyed. New Jewish dead were then buried in the 96th division.

The cemetery is also the location of many memorials for soldiers of three wars, and for victims of concentration camps and other national calamities. I wrote in detail about some of these after a visit in 2018.

Paris, France. Père Lachaise Cemetery. Tomb of Rachel Felix. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Rachel Felix died on January 4, 1858 of tuberculosis. She was given a lavish state funeral where Grand Rabbi of Paris Lazare Isidor officiated. Her funeral, like her life, was a public spectacle that attracted the widest spectrum imaginable of Parisian society, including poor Jews from the Marais district (where she had lived as a child), famous journalists, actors, military leaders, and the Emperor himself. More than 100,00 people attended.

Rabbi Lazare Isidor, Rachel's contemporary, was born on July 13, 1813 in Lixheim, Lorraine. He came from a long line of rabbis, and was himself named Chief Rabbi of Paris in 1847 at the young age of 33. In 1867, he was installed as Chief Rabbi of France, a position he held until his death in
1888. But even in death, the world of Paris's Jewish elite was small, so it is not surprising to find  Rabbi Isidor's is separated by only one other grave from that of Rachel Felix. 

I can only imagine their eternal colloquy, and if it is only their physical remains that lie on the Avenue Rachel at Pere Lachaise, then we the visitors can at least imagine their conversations. In her life Rachel resisted many attempts at her conversion to Christianity. Did she discuss this with Rabbi Isidor? Did the Rabbi ever comment on Rachel's love life? Did they discuss the limits of assimilation and acculturation for Jews in France in the first half-century after emancipation, in which both had played such a major role?

What did they gain and what did they give up? Rachel rose from being the daughter of itinerant peddlers to the highest levels of politics and culture, and the rabbi was among the most celebrated religious figures of his day.

Rabbi Lazar Isidor (1813-1888)
Photo: Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme, gift of
Melle Fribourg.
Paris, France. Père Lachaise Cemetery. Tomb of Lazare Isidor (1813-1888), Chief Rabbi of France. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Paris, France. Père Lachaise Cemetery. Tomb of Lazare Isidor, Chief Rabbi of France. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Installation of Lazar Isisdor as Grant Rabbi of France, 1867. Detail of Wood engraving by Charles Maurand Le Monde illustré (March 30, 1867). Photo: Addleston Library, College of Charleston.
Information about Rabbi Isidor is found in the exhibition Life of the Synagogue, which I curated a few years for the College of Charleston. Quoting from the exhibition text:

Despite the presence of state officials and lauding of the government’s protection at this event, earlier in his rabbinical career, Rabbi Isidor had confronted the government, refusing in 1838 to take the “more Judaico” oath required of all state-appointed rabbis. Versions of this oath existed across Europe and were rooted in anti-Semitism, and Isidor considered the oath an insult to his co-religionists. He was subsequently arraigned before the court, where he was represented by French Jewish lawyer Adolph Crémieux and eventually acquitted. In 1846, the oath was declared unconstitutional in France...Rabbi Isidor was a supporter of a united Jewish religion and therefore opposed the Reform movement. During his time as Chief Rabbi, he worked on unifying the Jewish community in France and assimilating Algerian Jews and Jewish institutions into the French consistory system.
Installation of Lazare Isidor as Grant Rabbi of France at the Synagogue Nazareth, 1867. Wood engraving by Charles Maurand Le Monde illustré (March 30, 1867). Photo: Addleston Library, College of Charleston.
The shape of the rabbi's tomb recalls in a general way the arrangement of the ark wall of Paris's synagogue on the rue de Notre-Dame de Nazareth (Synagogue Nazareth), dedicated in 1852, and where Isidor was installed as chief rabbi in 1867. Rachel Felix was a member of the congregation. It remained the chief synagogue of the city until the opening of the new larger synagogue on the rue de la Victoire in 1875, construction of which also took place during Isidor's Chief Rabbinate. To a lesser extant, Rabbi Isidor's tomb also recalls the ark of the rue de la Victoire synagogue, too.

Paris, France. Synagogue on the rue de la Victoire. Photo: Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906.
In his capacity as religious leader and state functionary Isidor encouraged and oversaw the construction of a large number of new synagogues across France. This was a period in which adjustments were still being made to the acceptance of the public expression of Judaism and the recognition of synagogues as a branch of civic architecture.

Paris, France. Père Lachaise Cemetery. Tomb of Lazare Isidor (1813-1888), Chief Rabbi of France. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
One notable features of Rabbi Isidor's tomb is the inclusion of the Magen David or Jewish star.  This is a very early example of the use of the Magen David as a symbol of Judaism, though just a few years later, after Theodore's Herzl's publication of Der Judenstaat (The State of the Jews) in 1895 launched the Zionist Movement, the symbol was adopted by Zionists at their Congress in 1897. It also was soon more commonly used in Jewish religious decoration, and included more in the intricate decoration of that small number of Moorish synagogues still being built. In France and elsewhere through the late 19th-century, however, the preferred Jewish symbols were still the Menorah and the Decalogue (Tablets of the Law).


Paris, France. Père Lachaise Cemetery. Tomb of Lazare Isidor (1813-1888), Chief Rabbi of France. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.
Paris, France. Père Lachaise Cemetery. Tomb of Lazare Isidor (1813-1888), Chief Rabbi of France. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2018.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Remembering Terezin Artist Malvina Schalková (born February 18, 1906)

Malvina Schalková, Elderly Deportee, Terezin, 1943, soft pencil 11x16 in.  Ghetto Fighters' House
Malvina Schalková. Terezin scene
Malvina Schalková. Terezin scene

Remembering Terezin Artist Malvina Schalková (born February 18, 1906)

by Samuel D. Gruber
 
Today is the birthday of Czech artist Malvina Schalek, or Schalková, one of the many artists who resisted ghetto incarceration by making art. She was already an established artist long before the deportation to Terezin. Schalková was among the older Jewish prisoners, and she was certainly an elder among artists.  According to Dr. Catherine Stodolsky, she was born in Prague to a German-speaking Jewish intellectual family active in the Czech national movement. She went to school in Prague, Vrchlabi (Hohenelbe), and then studied art in Munich at the Frauenakademie in Munich (The Women’s Academy), after which she moved to Vienna and continued her art studies with the well-known woman artist Hasek-Rosenthal. She made her living as an artist, working in a studio above the Theater an der Wien, where she had many portrait commissions from Vienna's upper class. Fewer than three dozen works from this period are known to survive.

In July 1938, the Nazi annexation of Austria forced her to flee to stay with her brother, a judge and the head of the district court, in Litoměřice (Leitmoritz). She left her paintings behind but brought her aunt Emma Richter, whose son Oswald, a lawyer for the Socialist Party, was tortured and later murdered in Buchenwald for his political activities. Schalková and her brother were later deported to the Terezin (Theresienstadt) ghetto on Transport W from Prague on February 8, 1942. At Terezin she produced many drawing and watercolors portraying fellow inmates and their life there, or which more than 100 survive. she was transported to Auschwitz Transport Eb, on May 18, 1944, and died there in September 1944.
 

Malvina Schalková, Interior. 1920.

Malvina Schalková. Self-portrait. Before 1942.


Malvina Schalkova. Self-portrait, pencil, 1944. Yad Vashem.
Because of gender and age, she was not part of the group of artist-architects which included Bedrich Fritta, Leo Hass, Otto Unger, and others who worked in the technical department of the Jewish self-administration and thus had free-range through the town, and also access to drawing materials and other art supplies. Schalková spent much of her time in the barracks and connected yards among the women and elderly, and it is this life that she documented in drawings and watercolors for several years until her deportation to Auschwitz and death in 1944. She was one of several women artists who depicted these everyday scenes of women's life, suffering, and survival. These included Gisela Rottonara, who died at Terezin in January 1943; Zdenka Eismannova, who was killed at Auschwitz in 1943; and Ernestina Kleinova; Marie Weinerova; and others whose fates are uncertain but whose works are included in the permanent exhibition of the Terezin Memorial in the former Magdeburg Barracks.   

More than 100 of her drawings and watercolors survived her deportation and death, and were recovered after the liberation of Terezin on May 8, 1945. They comprise one the most comprehensive collections of victim's art from the Terezin, or an ghetto or concentration camp, and are memorable for their artistic quality and their historic value.  Today, most of Schalková artworks are in the art collection of the Ghetto Fighters' House museum at kibbutz Lohamei HaGeta'ot in Israel.
 
Malvina Schalková. Terezin scene.
Malvina Schalková. Terezin scene.
Malvina Schalková. Terezin scene.
Malvina Schalková. Terezin scene.
Malvina Schalková. Terezin scene.
Malvina Schalková. Terezin scene.
Malvina Schalková. Terezin scene.
Malvina Schalková. Terezin scene.
Malvina Schalková. Terezin scene.
Malvina Schalková. Terezin scene.
Malvina Schalková. Terezin scene.
Malvina Schalková. Terezin scene.
Malvina Schalková. Terezin scene.
Schalková has been a portraitist before the War, and at Terezin she produced a large number of portraits of her fellow inmates and many of which have survived. We do not know who most of these people were, but the survival of their images provides some avenue of memory, even for the anonymous. Her portraits were highly esteemed. She reportedly refused to paint a portrait of a known collaborator in May 1944, and was subsequently deported to Auschwitz where she perished in September 1944. 
 
Malvina Schalková. Terezin scene.
Malvina Schalková. Terezin scene.
Malvina Schalková. Terezin scene.
Malvina Schalková. Terezin scene.
Malvina Schalková.
Terezin scene.
Malvina Schalková. Terezin scene.
Malvina Schalková. Terezin scene.
Malvina> Schalková. Terezin scene.
Malvina Schalková. Terezin scene.