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The Museum Complex

Exhibitions Pavilion

Last Portrait: Painting for Posterity

The exhibition "Last Portrait" testifies to the tremendous creative drive that moved Jewish artists from different backgrounds to execute entire series of portraits, despite appalling living conditions and lacking crucial tools of the trade. With just a few lines of pencil or charcoal on paper, the artists managed to breathe life into the images of people in the shadow of death. By reproducing each individual's facial features, the artists gave him back his soul - the very quality the Nazis sought to eliminate. This did not happen in one isolated case, nor was it incidental: the phenomenon occurred simultaneously in dozens of ghettos and concentration camps throughout those terrible years.

On display are nearly 200 portraits from the Yad Vashem Art collection, all of them created by 21 artists who strove to immortalize their friends in the ghettos and camps.

Regardless whether the artist perished or survived, the artworks that remained enable us to contemplate the faces of men, women, and children recorded in the heat of events. The result is a rare and fascinating human mosaic of individuals from different origins and backgrounds who shared the Jewish people's common fate at the darkest moment in its history.

Each portrait in the exhibition binds together three stories: that of the subject, the artist, and the work itself. Museum staff used Yad Vashem's databases, including the Hall of Names and Archives, to learn as much as possible about the individuals behind the faces, and to present their stories faithfully. The artists' biographies describe the special circumstances in which the portraits were created, and explain how they managed to procure art supplies despite lacking even the most basic of life's necessities. It is our hope that public exposure to the portraits will result in additional information about the people whose faces appear in the exhibition and, perhaps, enable us to put names to those faces whose identity still remains unknown.

Curator of Exhibition: Eliad Moreh-Rosenberg