Sheila Millward

Holocaust

 

 

An Emotional Response to Terezin

Terezin was the model ghetto set up by Hitler in 1941 to show the world how he cared for the Jews. That it was not a good model is now common knowledge - the 'ante-room to Hell' according to Norbert Fried. A town built for 8,000 now held 50, 000 Jews, numbers constantly replenished as thousands were sent east (O) to Auschwitz and immediate death.

I chose this subject (or maybe the subject chose me) after an unexpected visit to this place 60km north of Prague in the summer of 1994. After visiting synagogues and graveyards in the Jewish Quarter; seeing the children's art from Terezin and realising this place was the Theresienstadt I had read of in so many accounts of Jewish suffering - I had to go.

What I experienced as I walked through the Gestapo prison and the seemingly 'normal' town became of over-riding importance and the focus of my Master of Arts degree. But who was I to tackle this subject? By what means, as a painter, was I to express this emotion, pain and suffenng? How can one 'transform the tragedy without trivialising it?' Or, indeed, as Henry Moore asked, 'Is it in fact possible to create a work of art that can express emotions engendered by....Auschwitz?' Two very serious questions.

My experiences were greatly enhanced by interviewing survivors and making a second visit to Terezin. To look into the darkness, to ask their forgiveness as a Christian and Gentile, to walk with their voices and eyes around this memorial to the cold, calculated, inmaculately rehearsed performance of man's inhumanity to man, was only possible holding tightly to the hand of my God. But we can only touch the 'shadow of Shoah', and it is clear that all the memorialising and moralising of the Holocaust means nothing at all if it does not change and inform our present.

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