Logo: Photographer, Mixed Media Artist Helene Fischman

Art from the Ashes (continued)

"As first-hand memories of the Holocaust recede into history and the generation most intimately affected by its horrors grows older, new generations struggle for a poignant way of evoking the memory of the lost world of European Jewish life.  Toward this end, painter and photographer Helene Fischman, a highly respected Bay area artist and educator, created "artist residencies" for herself in former Nazi territory.  In Terezín/Terezinstadt, Czech Republic, she created an artist studio in a crumbling, former Nazi Barrack.  In Oświęcim/Auschwitz, Poland, she spent two months painting in an old storage room formerly used for munitions at the Auschwitz Jewish Center/Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot, the town's only surviving synagogue.

Helene is perhaps the only Jewish artist to have pioneered such an effort: making former concentration camps her studio.  Formerly a synagogue school director and teacher of the Holocaust, she found the content of her artwork highly influenced by her cultural history.  Her journey began in Terezín, exploring the link between art and cultural survival.  Because the arts were permissible in Terezín as propaganda for International Red Cross, they became a life-force -- a reason to live for many prisoners.  Helene's intention was to create contemporary art in tribute to those who created art under unimaginably trying circumstances.

In Oświęcim/Auschwitz, the epitome of darkness, Helene sought to make artwork to create light and rekindle Jewish spirit in memory of those who died at Auschwitz/Birkenau, and living memory of the thriving Jewish community which lived in the town prior to the construction of the camp.  The horrors of the concentration camp have overshadowed 500 years of Jewish history in the town.  Over fifty percent of Oświęcim's population was Jewish, it was a burgeoning center of Hasidism, vital with Zionism, Haskalah and traditionalism.  She photodocumented the still standing home of Shimshon Klieger, the last Jewish resident of Oświęcim, and she collaborated with poet Jehanne Dubrow to create a series of poems and paintings about the region's history.

In "Art from the Ashes," Helene's artwork is an homage to those lives lost in the Shoah, to the towns and shtetls that disappeared, and also a tribute to an undying optimism inherent in those who held on to life in the face of unfathomable horrors.  Helene's work from these two residencies has been exhibited and is in permanent collection in the Czech Republic and Poland."

Text excerpted from The Diller Fund Grant Proposal, written by the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center, and granted in 2006