Artworks created during the Holocaust, often intimate and fragile, at times extremely personal, can be viewed as important documents, written by means of artistic expression rather than with words. They constitute a most valuable tool for understanding the inconceivable reality of the Holocaust. A discussion of the methodology for integrating the visual into research and education about the Holocaust was initiated last week at Yad Vashem. The workshop raised the question of how to implement this approach in museums, classrooms and research.
The European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI) held an international workshop, organized by the Yad Vashem Archives and the Museums Division, from February 9, 2015 to February 11, 2015 in Jerusalem. The Workshop entitled "Holocaust Art – an Essential Tool for the Methodology of Constructing a Historical Narrative” explored the role of the visual arts in an attempt to build a historical Holocaust narrative, examining the phenomenon through an array of approaches. The workshop included museum directors, curators, scholars and leading experts from all over the world such as Germany, Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, U.K., U.S.A. and Israel. Participants presented lectures on various topics within the framework of Holocaust Art, such as: the use of art as visual testimony; setting Holocaust Art in its historical context; the role of the artist as recorder of history; and, methodologies to investigate art looted by the Nazis and the Provenance Research Project.
The opening session took place on Monday, February 9, 2015 with welcoming remarks from Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate. Shalev emphasized the importance of art on two levels: first, the interweaving of art as historical testimony in Yad Vashem's Holocaust History Museum, and second, the importance of seeing art and its creation, during the harshest of circumstances, as a component that preserved the artists' human spirit.
Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett, Program Director of the Core Exhibition, POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, presented the opening keynote address, entitled "Felt Facts: The Role of Art and Culture in the Holocaust Gallery at POLIN Museum". In this presentation, she argued for a removal of focus from art specifically, to an emphasis on visual culture broadly defined.
The closing session took place on Wednesday, February 11, 2015 with a round table moderated by Haim Gertner, Director of the Yad Vashem Archives Division and member of the Executive Committee of EHRI; Yehudit Shendar, Retired Deputy Director and Senior Art Curator of the Museums Division and currently with Yad Vashem's Provenance Research Project, and Eliad Moreh-Rosenberg, Curator and Art Department Director in the Museums Division. The participants expressed enthusiasm for having had the opportunity to exchange knowledge and ideas with colleagues in the intimate atmosphere of this first of its kind workshop and concluded that there is a need to continue the collaboration between researchers and the various institutions dealing with these important issues. In addition, they stressed the necessity to acknowledge Holocaust Art as part of the mainstream in the field of Art History.