Photographs of Death Camp Inmates Shouldn’t Be Called “Poignant”

Last week, the Metropolitan Museum of Art issued a press release about a new exhibit featuring works by the widely acclaimed German artist Gerhard Richter. Lee Rosenbaum comments on the wording:

“Horrific,” “profoundly disturbing,” “jolting,” . . . but surely not “poignant.”

That mild adjective was used by the Metropolitan Museum’s communications office in its. . . for the press release announcing the display (to January 18) of Gerhard Richter‘s four paintings from his “landmark Birkenau series” of 2014, in which black-and-white photographic images of inmates who had been killed by the Nazis in the Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chamber were colorfully overlaid and obliterated, using Richter’s signature “squeegee” technique.

“Poignant” is a word that I’ve never before seen (and hope never to see again) in connection with the Holocaust. These paintings soft-pedal and aestheticize photos that were taken of gas-chamber victims while their remains were being burned and disposed of. That stark visual evidence of what might otherwise have been disbelieved and denied was surreptitiously captured on camera by the Sonderkommandos—concentration camp prisoners who were forced to “burn the hundreds of thousands of people that were gassed—some of whom they recognized as family members, friends, or acquaintances,” in the words of . . . the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

I can only hope that the next time the Birkenau series surfaces, it won’t be at an auction house or an art dealer’s gallery.

Read more at Arts Journal

More about: Art, Holocaust, Metropolitan Museum of Art

An Israeli Buffer Zone in the Gaza Strip Doesn’t Violate International Law

 The IDF announced on Thursday that it is safe for residents to return to some of the towns and villages near the Gaza Strip that have been abandoned since October 7. Yet on the same day, rocket sirens sounded in one of those communities, Kibbutz Mefalsim. To help ensure security in the area, Israel is considering the creation of a buffer zone within the Strip that would be closed to Palestinian civilians and buildings. The U.S. has indicated, however, that it would not look favorably on such a step.

Avraham Shalev explains why it’s necessary:

The creation of a security buffer along the Gaza-Israel border serves the purpose of destroying Hamas’s infrastructure and eliminating the threat to Israel. . . . Some Palestinian structures are practically on the border, and only several hundred yards away from Israeli communities such as Kfar Aza, Kerem Shalom, and Sderot. The Palestinian terrorists that carried out the murderous October 7 attacks crossed into Israel from many of these border-adjacent areas. Hamas officials have already vowed that “we will do this again and again. The al-Aqsa Flood [the October 7th massacre] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth.”

In 2018 and 2019, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad organized mass marches towards the Israeli border with the goal of breaking into Israel. Billed by Palestinians as “the Great March of Return,” its name reveals its purpose—invasion. Although the marches were supposedly non-violent, they featured largescale attacks on Israeli forces as well as arson and damage to Israeli agriculture and civilian communities. Moreover, the October 7 massacre was made possible by Hamas’s prepositioning military hardware along the border under false cover of civilian activity. The security perimeter is intended to prevent a reprise of these events.

Shalev goes on to dismantle the arguments put forth about why international law prohibits Israel from creating the buffer zone. He notes:

By way of comparison, following the defeat of Nazi Germany, France occupied the Saar [River Valley] directly until 1947 and then indirectly until reintegration with Germany in 1957, and the Allied occupation of Berlin continued until the reunification of Germany in 1990. The Allies maintained their occupation long after the fall of the Nazi regime, due to the threat of Soviet invasion and conquest of West Berlin, and by extension Western Europe.

Read more at Kohelet

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, International Law, Israeli Security