Let Us Not Forget

by Irene Teger

“My Dear Son…..”

“She didn’t look at me with sympathy any more. She began to scream: “Do you want to bring death to the whole nursery? If the Nazis find you here, they will kill all of us….Please go away.”
“I went to a Gentile nursery. The leading sister told me that she would keep you from nine till five. She told me to give her your birth certificate….I began to cry. When she saw that I couldn’t stop crying, she put her arms around me with sympathy. “Sister,” I said, “I can’t give you my child’s birth certificate….We are Jewish.”

“Slowly I went to the door, but she called me back. She told me to sit down and began to speak slowly and quietly: “My poor, poor woman. I am over seventy. I hope they won’t touch the innocent children, and if they kill me, I will sooner see Our Father in Heaven….Leave your baby here.”

“It wasn’t possible for me to thank her. In a dream I turned to the door and walked out……”


Teger, Irene. Let us not Forget: A Mother’s Letter to a Son. New York: Pyramid Books, 1974. RES, 1st floor Durr Book #1.  Available online courtesy of  the Teger family.

Let Us Not Forget (PDF)

Library of Congress Sheet (PDF)

Deaf Victims of the Atomic Bomb

Takeshi, Mamezuka. Don ga Kikoenakatta Hitobito: The Deaf and the Atomic Bomb. Kyoto, Japan: Bunrikaku, 1991. In Japanese. 4th floor D767.25.N3 M36 1991.

Introduction

It has been 45 long years since an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, and the scars it left have been sealed deep inside the beautiful city once called the Naples of the Orient.

Even now, though, there are still people suffering from the effects of radiation sickness and struggling with the fear of death, as they continue on with their lives and with relating their story to others.

In Nagasaki, there is one time period that ended at two minutes past eleven, and another moving ahead in a present progressive tense that began at two minutes past eleven, August 9, 1945. Forty some years after the shift, people were made aware that part of the present progressive tense is the Nagasaki of people who were unable to hear the bomb’s bang. Much has been told and written of the experiences of the bombing victims with normal hearing. They have come to be well known. Deaf and dumb victims, though, were passed by, a forgotten existence sunk in an abyss of silence.

Through the camera’s finder, I was touched by the glances of the deaf and dumb, inspired by the optimism in their smiles, shaken by the view of their lives that showed, without their willing it, through their backs. There is a drama in each of them. Each made me feel he has had the strength it took to make it through, even as he shouldered everything that comes with being both handicapped and a victim of an atomic bomb.

“Silent Thunder”, an article by the Nagasaki branch of the Japanese Study Group of Sign Language Problems: p. 149-162 (PDF)

Don ga Kikoenakatta Hitobito: The Deaf and the Atomic Bomb, available online courtesy of Bunrikaku.

A Beginner’s Introduction to Deaf History

A Beginner’s Introduction to Deaf History. Ed. Raymond Lee. Feltham: BDHS  Publications, 2004. OVER 4th and ETRR, HV2367 .B43 2004. Section on WW II online courtesy of Raymond Lee. 93-101.

Read the chapter “World War II”, reproduced as a PDF document with permission.

Deaf Esprit

Inspiration, Humor and Wisdom from the Deaf Community

edited by Damara Goff Paris & Mark Drolsbaugh.
Salem, OR: AGO Gifts and Publications, 1999.

with a Foreword from Marvin Miller, Editor-in-Chief of DeafNation Newspaper

World War II in Norway by Henning Irgens

Post-War Experiences of Henning Irgens by Henning Irgens

Frieda and Me by Ira J. Rothenberg

Deaf Heritage in Canada

Carbin, Clifton F. Deaf Heritage in Canada : A Distinctive, Diverse, and Enduring Culture. Ed. Dorothy L. Smith. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1996. OVER 4th floor and ETRR HV2576 .C38 1996.

Deaf People in the Holocaust

Lexington School and Center for the Deaf & Jewish Heritage Project

A Mission in Art: Recent Holocaust Works in America

by Vivian Alpert Thompson

Excerpt about survivor David Bloch.

Thompson, Vivian Alpert. “David Bloch.” A Mission in Art : Recent Holocaust Works in America . Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1988. 20-27.

Reproduced by permission of David Bloch’s estate and Mercer University Press, Macon, GA

David Bloch

by Vivian Alpert Thompson

David Ludwig Bloch is a German-Jewish artist who was interned at Dachau and presently lives in Mount Vernon, New York. He began producing works about the Holocaust after his retirement in 1975, first creating sketches, motifs, writing many catch words, and reading. He then got the idea for a format of 13″ x 48″ rec­tangular paintings that would be made in the shape of boxcars. From 1977 to 1980 he produced sixty paintings from the compositions formulated earlier. There were, of course, years in which the memories of the Holocaust dwelt in Bloch’s mind be­fore finally emerging in this body of work. The ensuing paintings are acrylic on masonite and mostly blue in tone-a color usually linked with melancholy and death.

Bloch was born in 1905 in Floss, Bavaria, in Germany. He was raised by his grandmother, having been orphaned soon after his birth, and he has been deaf since the age of one. He began his studies at a school for the deaf in Munich in 1915 and continued in Jena from 1923 to 1925, when he apprenticed as a porcelain decorator at a factory in Planken Hammer, near Floss. From 1927 to 1930 Bloch attended a technical school for porcelain industries in Selb and was employed as a porcelain de­signer at Bauscher-Hotel porcelain factory in Weiden, Bavaria. In 1934 Bloch was awarded an art scholarship to attend the State Academy of Applied Arts, but was expelled with the Nazi rise to power.- While trying to leave Germany, he worked as a freelance graphic artist. He was arrested and incarcerated at Dachau in 1938, on Kristallnacht. Through the miraculous help of an American cousin, Bloch was re­leased from Dachau and left Germany in April 1940, fleeing to Shanghai.

He remained in Shanghai from May 1940 until 1949 when he came to the United States. While in Shanghai he produced woodcuts, some oils and graphics, and had several exhibits. Here he was employed as a lithographer for twenty-six years and worked on the White House china for President Johnson that depicted the state flowers. Nothing in Bloch’s past seemed to presage the veritable flood of Ho­locaust works that he has produced since 1977. His earlier works have included pas­toral water colors of Martha’s Vineyard and Chinese scenes.

Most of Bloch’s works, both his paintings and his many woodcuts, document Da­chau in various ways. The opening of Dachau-the first Nazi concentration camp-on 20 March 1933, only fifty days after Hitler and the National Socialists had seized ab­solute power, marked the beginning of the Jewish nightmare under the Nazis. What Bloch depicts in his art is what he witnessed, read, or was told to him later. Bloch’s Holocaust works are every bit a chilling indictment of the Nazi system.

Bloch’s paintings are all 13″ x 48″-a unique and demanding size, but one meant to be symbolic of the boxcars that transported the Jews to the death camps. A com­mentary written for an exhibition of David Bloch’s work at the Mount Vernon YMHA stated: “These caustic, symbolic Holocaust paintings are extracted from an­guished experience. Scapegoated and outcast, Dachau inmate and escape to Shanghai wartime privation, Japanese occupation and a final wrenching to freedom and a new life here, artist Bloch remembers the Holocaust and gives us the only stalwart an­swer to Hitler’s `Jewish Question’; NEVER AGAIN.

The Paintings

Knock at Midnight is about Bloch’s own arrest. Seized on Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass when stores and synagogues were smashed and burned, Bloch was one of thousands of Jews who were removed from their own homes and taken off to a concentration camp. The painting is almost entirely a solid, deep, dark blue, bro­ken only by the arrest scene that takes place in the extreme corner. The only light source comes from within the home, where the inhabitants have been jarred awake by the intrusion. Two black-coated guards with red Nazi armbands oversee the ar­rest. One Nazi holds a gun to the back of one victim’s head, while a second victim, also barefoot and in pajamas, is shown from the chest down as he is forced down the stairs. Two other residents of the home look on in horror. We see the work from the outside, looking in, catching only a glimpse of the scene from the doorway of the residence. We are onlookers from a distance, witness to the scene in a general sense. Although this scene may be about Bloch’s own arrest, nothing in the work indicates a specific place or person. It is generalized enough to represent the story for thou­sands, as the painting is meant to do. One of the invariable characteristics of Ho­locaust art is that it is not only highly autobiographical, but it also tends to tell the group story rather than that of one individual.

The transport was a nightmare that is a major theme in diaries and documen­taries. In Transport Bloch shows us the loading of the trains juxtaposed against a lovely winter scene with snow-capped mountains in the distance. At first glance it is a beau­tiful scene, until one becomes aware of the miserable masses of people of all ages being herded into the cattle cars, their meager belongings being stripped from them. The church is a silent onlooker in the background, a reminder similar to Bernbaum’s indictment of the passivity and complacency of the church.

A sharp perspective funnels the eye back into the only opening: the entrance to the camp in The Last Stop. There is no other exit. The left side is flanked by barbed wire; the rest of the scene depicts railroad tracks that recede into the distance, de­positing the victims at the camp.

Reception Deception is a chilling work-brittle and crisp in its shades of blue against the stark whiteness of the snow-and haunting in its meaning. Three emo­tionless skeletal figures are playing music to accompany the newly arrived transportees being led to their deaths. The death march, with musical accompaniment, comes across as a Danse Macabre, only here the scene is played for real as the skeletons (probably human, but more dead than alive) play for the newly arrived (and soon­to-be-dead) masses. As the lines move slowly, they form the shape of a huge swas­tika. A few faces, blue with cold and suffering, look up at the musicians in puzzle­ment, at a world gone mad. The landscape is stark, bare, and flat, except for some camp barracks and the now-empty boxcars off to the side.

The deception also encompassed language, for the Nazis were masters at trans­forming seemingly innocuous words into words connoting great horror. Brausebad, meaning showers, was a euphemism for the gas chambers used to confuse the victims and to destroy even the language. The light is through the doorway, which is blocked by a Nazi guard whose face is the only natural, flesh-colored one. The victims-all ages, all sizes-are many shades of blue, their faces already numb to the horror about to occur.

The perversion of language appeared vividly at Auschwitz where the entrance­way was marked by a tall gate labeled “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Makes Free”). In his work by that name, Bloch superimposes the gateway over a space filled with skulls and death masks. The pathetic irony is made clear by the death masks: only through death was there freedom, for the people were murdered by overwork. The tones are a pale, whitish-blue, cold and deathly in their hues. In the lower portion of the painting is a second gateway-only this one has been barricaded with a red and white barrier so that no one can ever enter. It is Bloch’s way of saying “never again.”

The chilling imagery of Arbeit Macht Frei is repeated in Gasps and Or Who Else Will Mourn. Gasps is a horrifying work that shows the Angel of Death choking at the death surrounding him. It is “the angel’s job to take us singly and in our time.” Mass death goes against the natural order and is a travesty. The painting is filled with gruesome death masks, skeletal remains, and skulls with black cavernous pits for what were once eyes and mouths. Or Who Else Will Mourn is another haunting work. The Angel of Death is shown with a gas mask, shuddering in the midst of skeletons and skulls, even horrific scenes of skeletons embracing and comforting one another, covering their faces, cowering and shrieking.

Three dominant belching smokestacks are outlined against the sky in the fore­ground of Death Factory. The flames from two of them visible at the top of the can­vas are evidence of the intense heat beneath. Dark smoke issues forth from both the crematoria in the background, lightening as it spreads throughout the sky, which takes up almost the top two-thirds of the painting. The sky is the focal point of the painting, for the smoke contains the faces of victims, faces that merge and emerge from the smoke that carries their remains. There have been artists before who hid faces or figures in clouds (for example, Mantegna and Raphael); such an artistic de­vice is not new. But nowhere else in art do we have the faces of hundreds of cremated victims peering at as from their death. The faces that Bloch depicts are not portraits, nor are there portraits in his other works. He is telling us not of the suffering and deaths of particular individuals, but of the endless numbers of victims of the Nazis. A barbed wire fence through which we see the darkly outlined barracks is in the foreground. The barbed wire is not merely a barrier to those inside; it is also a bar­rier to us as viewers. Much of the Holocaust art attempts to reinforce the inner-outer dichotomy, the sense that this was truly another world, or what David Rousset has called “l’univers concentrationnaire.”

From A to Z is 13″ by 96″ and Bloch’s most involved work. It is both a docu­mentary and a visual exploration of the destruction and reconstruction of language. A to Z symbolizes a range from Adolf Hitler to Zyklon B. The painting moves from left to right, beginning with vignettes of Hitler’s rise to power: an announcement for a speech, a tree covered with swastikas, German beer mugs and toppled chairs (perhaps the aftermath of a meeting). Scores of arms stretch out in the “Sieg Hell” gesture, not attached to any bodies, but furthering the action and direction of the painting. The same is also true of the stomping, black-booted marching legs, which are detached from any body, thus adding to their anonymity. The symmetry and order of the rhythmic marching legs gives way to the chaos and mayhem of the next scene as the arm-banded, brown-shirted Nazis loot, burn books, and set fire to buildings and synagogues. Victims lie sprawled on the ground as others are beaten and tortured.

The last half of the painting is a landscape of death. Many different concen­tration-camp scenes cover the work. Like Bernbaum’s works, much is happening and each small vignette has a story to tell. The colors have changed slightly from the first half where there were occasional bright colors, particularly the reds of the arm- bands and the speech announcement. The tonalities in the final half of the painting are all blue: somber, flat blues, not a pastel, but a washed-out, cold, deadly grey­blue. An occasional touch of black from a Nazi uniform accents the work, as do the harsh black lines of the Zyklon B label. Several images that have appeared in other Bloch works reappear. The skeleton playing the violin is in the center of this panel; to the left is a swastika formed by the line of hundreds of victims; smoke issues from the crematoria; a roll call of emaciated inmates is to the far left. The Angel of Death hovers in the sky above the scenes of mass murder and torture. A gallows with six men hanging, perhaps symbolic of the six million, is in the background. A group of pale-blue wraithlike victims, already more like ghosts than live people, is herded into the showers; they move from shadow into light-the light to be their final end, their only escape. The final right section of the painting (the “Z” that marks the end of the new alphabet) is a large can of Zyklon B, taking up most of the height of the painting, superimposed over scenes of destruction and desolation. Piles of human clothing, remnants, and books are mingled with the skeletons of victims. A dark, shadowy, demonic face of Hitler looking like a madman looms large above a group of skeletal remains; their empty eye sockets and faces appear to be pleading with us. Bloch’s message concerns the Nazi desecration of language that occurred when a simple term like shower, or Brausebad, assumes an ominous and horrific meaning.

Why shows the legs of a hanged man from the knees down facing us in the fore­ground as a silent mass of blue inmates is forced to stand at attention to watch the spectacle. It is a stark, severe work, emphasized by Bloch’s strong horizontals and verticals. The canvas’s horizontal is reiterated by the horizontal mass of observers and then broken by the strong vertical of the two legs, the stripes of the uniform, and the vertical pole of the gallows. A few guards are positioned randomly to keep order. The bare feet and tattered pants legs make the scene more pathetic as we are forced to look at this totally undignified scene of death.

No Place to Go shows shadowy figures. Both male and female, adult and child wander through a glow of light and move toward the darkness to an unknown void. The simplicity of the work enhances its impact. There is no ground line; all we see are shadows of human figures in a surreal setting. The awesome void in which they are placed is defined only by light and darkness and is all the more terrifying because of its emptiness and uncertainty.

Left: Death-Right: Slavery refers to the selection that occurred on arrival and that continued with terrifying regularity. Those selected for hard labor received a temporary reprieve. Those picked out to die were sent to the gas chambers. Bloch shows those chosen for labor in a deeper blue; those fated to die are light blue, thin figures that diminish and recede off to the left. On the far left a sinister depiction of the showers is painted a very deep blue to make it quite clear to viewers that there can be no uncertainty about what happened to the victims.

Dachau is where David Bloch was held captive until he was miraculously freed. As viewers we witness a roll call with the inmates’ backs to us. Bloch constructs the work so that we become part of the group; we look where they look, seeing the same endless line of victims and the black-uniformed oppressors. To erase any doubt about what this scene is, the word DACHAU, in German Gothic printing, blares out at us with the immediacy of a newspaper headline. Five folded uniforms lie on the ground; even the dead had to be accounted for and recorded.

Another work describing the daily roll call is Roll Call for All. Three neatly folded uniforms of recently deceased inhabitants rest on the ground. It is essentially a portrait of three dead men, their numbers of identification and now empty clothing being all that we know of them. The rest of the work consists of legs-legs of those who can still stand at attention, in contrast to the casual stance of an SS man. The ground is white with strong shadows being cast by the legs and by the guard.

Ten Commandments Imagery

Bloch uses the image of the Ten Commandments frequently in his works as an indictment of those who ignored the laws of God. In The Powers That Be a large tablet of the Ten Commandments faces us. Men with different kinds of headdresses representing the academic world (mortarboard), religious powers (miter), and political and economic powers (crown and top hat) have their backs to us, to the Ten Commandments, and to the fragments of Jewish civilization scattered in the foreground. Books are shown in disarray; not only has man turned his back on the laws that can help us to live decently, but also on the great literature of the world-literature that for centuries has sought answers for the great problems of life.

The mockery and desecration of the Ten Commandments is the blunt and dis­turbing message of The Churches. The tablets are again in the center of the work; a burned-out fragment of a building is outlined against the large tablets. Among the debris littering the foreground of the painting are a menorah, Torah scroll, and rimmon, the pomegranate-shaped decorative tops of the Torah. The skyline is a visual history of European church architecture, including Russian Orthodox, the twin spires of a Gothic cathedral, a dome similar to Saint Peter’s (Renaissance), German towers, and a neoclassical church. They form a vast panorama of the churches of Christen­dom. The churches stand silent and distant behind the Ten Commandments, ignor­ing the destruction and havoc, removed and detached from the great suffering. Although erect and imposing, these buildings are a mockery when viewed against the Ten Commandments.

While sharing Bloch’s concern about the indifference of the churches, Bernbaum also confronted the shameful passivity and complicity of the rest of the world in several of his works, particularly On Both Sides of the Warsaw Ghetto Wall. Each artist has approached this problem uniquely, but both extend the same message: that the rest of the world either actively looked on or it chose to turn its back on the suffering.

The Ten Commandments themselves have turned to rubble in The Black Corps. The Black Corps was a term for the SS who wore black uniforms with the skull and crossbones on their caps and jackets. The tablets have shattered; a red swastika is slashed across them like graffiti on a wall. It is a death march: the guards black, the victims pale, the architectural landscape of Germany mute and distant in the background.

The Ten Commandments are finally destroyed in The Empty Box, where the fragmented tablets lie on the ground near an empty coffin. The Angel of Death again mourns for the deaths that were not his to take. A coffin is empty; the body is not where it should be, not having been buried or mourned in the usual way. The script on the tablet in this painting is in Hebrew; in earlier works, it is in Roman and Ar­abic numerals. Bloch intentionally shows the laws in different letters and numbers to stress the international and historical acceptance of the Ten Commandments as an appropriate and essential code of conduct.

Woodcuts

Much of the visual imagery that appears in Bloch’s paintings reappears in his woodcuts. These woodcuts demonstrate some connection to Bloch’s German back­ground and his likely acquaintance with German Expressionism. The bold, harsh lines that give further emotional impact to the works, and the exaggerated, gouged lines of the faces hint at the influence of the German Expressionists, who would have been familiar to Bloch as a young man.

Several of the works superimpose a very large foreground figure or image against a detailed backdrop with a great deal of activity. One example is Reception Deception (essentially a detail of the painting of the same name), which has a skeletonlike figure with black sockets for eyes in a camp uniform (no. 1938) playing the violin on a platform. Behind him is a reception scene with the boxcars being un­loaded, dead bodies piled up, and the remainder of the people herded into long lines forming the shape of a swastika. In the background, boxcars are lined up at least three tracks deep, as if to infinity.

Another image that Bloch uses is that of a hanged man, shown only from the back and from the knees down, superimposed against a lineup of faceless, anonymous inmates who were most likely forced to witness the hanging at a roll call. The man’s pants legs are tattered, the ankles gaunt and emaciated, anti the feet hang lifelessly. The black on white emphasizes the starkness of the work.

In Crying Hands a large image of a hand stretches from the lower left to upper right of the work. The hand is composed of many hands, all stretching, all plain­tively seeking some help. The background is a mass of camp inmates, already look­ing like death heads, with sockets for eyes, emaciated bodies, and skull-like heads. Brutal Steps shows the dark figure of a Nazi, mostly in black, crushing a skeleton on the ground. In the background are the anonymous inmates and the smokestacks of the crematoria.

Remnants of family life are scattered in My Family History, a work that fea­tures a shattered family picture, a broken, open violin case, a doll, and in the center a broken baby buggy-all mournful reminders of the individuals whose lives were lost. In the background an arm rises up imploringly from out of the ground.

The motif of the Ten Commandments also appears in Bloch’s woodcuts. The Empty Box shows the Angel of Death sitting on the edge of an empty casket, surrounded by debris, and the Ten Commandments again loom in the shadows of the background. Images of faces emanate from the ground like rays, becoming more indistinct as they reach the heavens. The Ten Commandments is a sardonic work that bitterly parodies the Ten Commandments by depicting ten scenes of destruction (from a pogrom to the ovens) on the tablets.

The Message

“Never again” is the main message of most of Bloch’s works, and he has em­blazoned it against a backdrop of camp atrocities in a woodcut and in a painting en­titled Never Again. In the painting the words appear across the fence of a camp that stands between us and the horrors depicted within it. On the far left are two figures being tortured, tied by their hands and feet to trees. One man has already died of that torment and is sprawled on the ground. A fragment of a burned-out synagogue is far in the distance. The glow of the crematoria and the red armbands of the SS are the only bright spots in the painting. All other scenes are indistinct and in fading shades of blue to black. Five figures hang on the gallows; one body is draped across the fence, electrocuted. To the right is a massive roll call; a beating in the midst of the crowd; a hanging in the distance; and the far-off smoke of the crematoria. An­other train arrives in the distance, bringing more victims. Two dead bodies lay in the foreground, their bodies forming a swastika.

The message “never again” is crucial to the entire meaning and purpose of what he is doing artistically. Nailed onto a wall in his studio is a simple piece of metal, a fragment of barbed wire from the concentration camp at Dachau where Bloch had been imprisoned. For me, it was a chilling sight, and clearly for Bloch, it is a con­stant, painful reminder of what he must do in his art.

Bloch and Bernbaum represent survivors who want and need their art to be didactic and to serve as a reminder to the rest of the world. But other works of Ho­locaust art exist, sometimes far more indirect and circuitous.

Crying Hands

Biesold, Horst. Crying Hands: Eugenics and Deaf People in Nazi Germany. Washington, DC: Gallaudet UP, 1999. 4th floor and ETRR HV2748 .B5413 1999. 

Reproduced with permission of Gallaudet University Press,  (c) Gallaudet University All Rights Reserved. This material may not be duplicated by others without contacting Gallaudet University Press for permission

Illusions of Equality

Buchanan, Robert M. Illusions of Equality. Washington, DC: Gallaudet UP, 1999. 4th floor and ETRR HV2530 .B83 1999.

Deaf History International Conference Proceedings

Overcoming the Past, Determining its Consequences and Finding Solutions for the Present