Les Rêves Canadiens

Blatter, J. & Milton, S. (1981). Art of the Holocaust. New York: Rutledge.
This is a compilation of art work by the inmates of the Nazi concentration, transit, and death camps before and during World War II. Art supplies were in short supply; so most of, the work is in black and white. The text paints a dramatic and repulsive picture of the systematic plan to eradicate whole groups of peoples and cultures.
During the twelve years of the Nazi Third Reich Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, and homosexuals were rounded up for transport to labour and death camps. In these camps the prisoners were degraded beyond belief. Every effort made was to strip them of their identity and dignity. But within their art you see the success of their defiance in the tenderness, sarcasm, and humour of their works. The predominant art was to chronicle the events for posterity; but some pieces were done to escape into a respite from the horror. The victims placed great value on the art, risking their lives to produce it, for discovery could have meant certain death.
The Nazi's used the camp artists to reproduce the works of the masters and also to produce their own form of romantic manneristic paintings. This gave these artists access to materials while others used whatever they could, including rare vegetables from their rations. The amazing thing is that when discovered, even educated Nazis could not see passed their dogma to recognize the real art in these pieces. Expressionism and Abstract art were both condemned by the regime, but surely a professed art lover, although a member of the Gestapo could see the true touches of genius in the art and have wanted to squirrel it away until after the war or some future date at which time they could profit from it. All the examples in the book were smuggled out by friends, bribed guards, or buried. Anything confiscated was destroyed. Even the few commissioned portraits of officers and their families were not recognized as being sarcastic. The documentation of the Gypsies at Auschwitz ordered by Dr. Mengele during his experiments became portrayals of dignified individuals. How could these machines in skin not see the magic in the art or the spirit in the subjects? This burning question will forever sear a hole in the fabric of history and psychology.
The Nazi fascists embody the twisted extremist idea that law and order shall dominate and that structure is the highest endeavor, and so it is with smug assurance that I view a book that chronicles the truth of the cruelty within the camps and also shows the triumph of the feeling and sensitive side of humanity. With this book we need not only "never forget," but thanks to these artists never lose touch.

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