30 Jan-5 Feb 2015 #743

Sharing tolerance

Holocaust survivor documents her harrowing experiences through paintings
Stéphane Huët

Sara Atzmon was sent to the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp in Germany during the Nazi regime when she was 10. Atzmon survived the Holocaust but 60 of her family members did not.

It was only forty five years later, aged 55, that Atzmon started documenting her harrowing experiences through paintings.

She has never looked back since.

On Tuesday the 82-year-old launched her exhibition, When words fail, at Alliance Française of Kathmandu (AfK) in line with the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

Describing the dozen paintings on display at AfK’s auditorium, she said they aren’t paintings. “This is an outcry,” she told Nepali Times.

Some of these paintings do not exactly have an aesthetic appeal. You can feel the pain in Atzmon’s brushstrokes. The confused forms remind you of a child’s fuzzy and traumatic souvenirs.

Rails and chimneys, sinister factors that ring in memories of the Holocaust, are a recurrent theme in Atzmon’s work. In the powerful From the red carpet to the chimneys, the rail directly leads to an open flame that rises in the form of a Hanukkah menorah.

Hair is an upsetting piece where black dots represent prisoners agglutinated near a house with a high chimney. The only colour is a red cross in the front that probably represents blood. “Some people saw Hitler’s face on the chimney,” said the painter, “but that wasn’t my intention.”

During the weeklong exhibition, documentaries will be screened and Atzmon will share her memories of the Holocaust with various groups of students.

For the past 20 years, she has been travelling around the world talking about her experience. She decided to stop in Nepal after visiting India, Burma and Hong Kong. “Back home, some friends wondered if Nepalis would care about the Holocaust,” adding, “but I was sure they would be receptive.”

Atzmon has always received positive feedback in Asian countries. “It’s unbelievable how the young people in Asia know a lot about the Holocaust,” she said, “and they are eager to learn more.”

Though the holocaust is not a common topic of discussion in Nepal, Yehonathan Lebel, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Israel, stated that this event is a protest against any kind of hatred.

Sara Atzmon said that the lessons of the Holocaust are universal. “It’s sad to know that there have been conflicts in Nepal,” she said. “We need to know where hatred can lead human beings.”

When words fail is the first major event organised in Nepal to commemorate the Holocaust. The event was a joint collaboration between the Israeli, German, French and American embassies, and the United Nations.

When words fail

Alliance française of Kathmandu

Till 4 February

10am to 5pm



Read also:

Memories of a holocaust, Kunda Dixit