Recently, Holocaust survivor and artist Ernest (Ernie) Meyer donated 17 artworks to Yad Vashem. He created the pieces during his youth in Nazi Germany and abroad during the Holocaust. Among the works is a portrait of his teacher, the renowned Jewish-German artist Ludwig Meidner, and depictions of the separation from his family during the Kindertransport and the detention camp in Canada where he was interned. The artwork donated by Ernest will become part of Yad Vashem’s art collection where it will be safeguarded for future generations. Yad Vashem’s Holocaust Art collection contains some 10,000 pieces.
Ernest (Ernie) Meyer was born in Cologne, Germany in 1923 to Gustav and Johanna Meyer. Gustav was a butcher and Johanna was a housewife. A teenager during the Nazi regime in Germany, in 1935 he began to study art privately under the instruction of Otto Salomon. That same year, as a consequence of Nazi German racial laws, Ernest was expelled from the public school he was attending and began to study at the Jawne (Yavne) Jewish school in Cologne. There he continued to study art under Ludwig Meidner, one of the most important Jewish-German artists of the era, whose work was denounced by the Nazi regime as “degenerate”, forbidden to be sold or displayed. As a result, Ludwig Meidner had moved from Berlin to Cologne and began teaching at the Yavne school.
In 1937, Ernest's older brother Paul moved to England to continue his studies. After Kirstallnacht in November 1938, Dr. Erich Klibansky, the school’s director, worked tirelessly to arrange for his students to immigrate to England through the opportunity provided by the Kindertransport. He managed to send several of his classes together, and in them, separately, both Ernest and his sister Eva. Thus, all three Meyer children were able to survive the Holocaust. In 1941, following Britain’s decision to intern all “enemy aliens” – ironically including Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany whose German citizenship had been stripped from them – Ernest was shipped to Canada aboard the MS Ettrick. Upon arrival, he was interned in Camp I, at Ilse-aux-Noix near the Quebec-Ontario border, until his release in 1944 after the Jewish community in Toronto petitioned the government on behalf of detained Jews. Ernest's parents and maternal grandmother, Ida van Blijdenstein, fled Germany to the Netherlands in 1939, and settled in Zaltbommel, Johanna’s hometown. Gustav and Johanna were arrested and deported to Westerbork transit camp and from there to Auschwitz on July 12, 1942 where they were murdered. Ida was deported to Sobibor on May 14, 1943, where she too was murdered.
Ernest later married, immigrated to Israel, and raised a family, working for the Jerusalem Post newspaper where among other things, he covered ceremonies honoring the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem for many years.
Speaking at the donation ceremony, attended by over 30 members and three generations of Meyer’s family, were Yehudit Shendar, Deputy Director of Yad Vashem’s Museums Division and Senior Art Curator; Niv Goldberg, Art Collection Manager; Ernest Meyer himself; his son Effi Meyer and granddaughter Michal Gillis. Meyer’s grandson, Ronny Gillis, an officer in the IDF, presented his grandfather with a “Witnesses in Uniform” pin issued by the IDF to officers who take part in the IDF’s educational trips to Auschwitz.
“Yad Vashem is pleased to be able to honor Ernest Meyer for his donation of these artworks, which provide important visual testimony to Jewish family life in Nazi Germany, the Kindertransport and enemy-alien internment camps in Canada”
Niv Goldberg, Art Collection Manager at Yad Vashem