Remembering the Holocaust

by Lori Holcomb
Battle Creek Enquirer, September 11, 2008

The images themselves are not as disturbing as the stories that lie behind them. Although Miriam Brysk has seen these photographs thousands of times, the Ann Arbor woman still is moved when she talks about her newest art exhibit, “Children of the Holocaust”.

“What I wanted to capture was their innocence, their plight, and that they were just pawns in a killing machine they had no control over” Brysk said with an air of sadness, gradually building into antipathy.

The exhibit is on display, through Oct. 24 at the Kellogg Community College and is part of a reading and discussion series titled, “Let’s Talk About It: Jewish Literature—Identity and Imagination. It is in collaboration with Lakeview High School Library, Miller College and Temple Beth El.

She had two dreams in life she said—one to be a scientist and the other an artist. At this stage in her life, it’s the latter that’s helping her heal the painful memories.

“I have no art training she said, mind you, but I have a good eye and I have a mission”, she said. “I want even at this stage of my life…to have meaning. This is my last gift of time, I’m 73 now and I want to leave behind bodies of work that will remember the Holocaust because there’s a part of me in every picture.”

Brysk went to painstaking efforts to learn about each child she used, how they died and to keep the exhibit as authentic as possible—traveling as far as Israel for historical information and to Quebec to attain prayer cloth and clasps molded into the Hebrew word for “remember”. The concept was based on the idea that many of the children died before reaching the age to have a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah, where they typically receive a prayer cloth.

“They never had the chance to wear one and they never had the chance to go through this ancient rite of passage” “So I wanted to give a gift of remembrance to them in the form of the prayer shawl they never had.”

It’s a somber exhibit by design—the children are arranged by means of their deaths. The first of the children who died by gunshot, including one of her husband’s relatives, Tsirele.

There also are sections broken down by the concentration camps where they died. The former professor speaks about the horrific scenes as if giving a lecture in a university hall, but there is a slight shake in her voice.

“Miriam Brysk’s art teaches us more about the Holocaust from a previously untouched perspective—the children of the Holocaust. Her art is humanized with powerful meaning as well as personal significance for the artist. Each generation learns from the previous. It is important to make art that teaches current generations about the past, Specifically with her work, in order to educate in an effort to avoid such atrocities in the future.”

Although she used creative layouts with the images, she did not alter the children’s pictures. As a survivor, Brysk said she feels it her duty to present their stories in the most authentic ways possible and to educate those who deny the Holocaust or know little about the Holocaust, and to remember those who weren’t as fortunate as she.