Wednesday, 29 February 2012



I was walking through college about a week before Holocaust Memorial Day, which is on the 27th January every year (it marks the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp), and I spotted some images of the Holocaust. As I walked through the corridor and looked in the display cases which were filled with photocopying's of newspaper cuttings about the Holocaust and various survivors, photocopies of perpetrators and also images of the victims inside the concentration camps. This book, 

Art of the Holocaust
by Janet Blatter and Sybil Milton

was in one of the cabinets. After asking to borrow it for this project a few weeks later, I looked through and it's basically the most extensive collection of sketches by Survivors, POW's, various Camp inmates, people who were in hiding etc. that I have seen while I have been researching this project. I took some photocopies of many of the images in this book because they really had an effect on me. 

Each individual picture is different yet they all seem to be telling the same story, the same suffering, the same hunger and sadness and the same desperation to be freed from the Nazi grip. 

While I was looking through the book, I came across this image:

"The Liquidation of Dr. Korczak's Orphanage."
Halina Olomuck.
Pencil on yellowed paper
(Warsaw, 1941 - 43.)

This image, tells the true story of Dr. Janusz Korczak, a Polish Jew, who ran the orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto. When the ghetto was liquidated, he was given the option to stay behind and work in the hospitals but he refused and followed his orphans into the Gas Chambers at Treblinka Death Camp.

So, here is where the answer to my argument really begins. This image is telling the story of these orphans who were sent to their death. But it is also documenting the heroic act of Dr... who refused to let the children die alone. 

However, I was already aware of this story. After my visit to Auschwitz in 2010, I got involved in the preparations for Plymouth's Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27th 2011. During this time, I met a man who works with the Plymouth Muti-Faith and Cultural Diversity Centre who told me the story of this Dr...

So this leads to another question...Does knowing the story behind an images like this one, make the experience of it any stronger? 
Does the fact that this document (the image of this event) is explained more clearly and therefore we can understand it more?

My point is that the story was very moving when I first heard it, maybe it was reinforced by my visit and own experience of Auschwitz during which I stood in the place where this man and the said children were murdered. But would someone who didn't know this story before hand react differently to the image once they were told?

Maybe this is something that I need to experiment? 



After my tutorial, I got to thinking about the difference between documentation and story telling. Is there a difference? 

Documentation, to me, is the recording of events, of facts, of things that have really happened.

Story telling, on the other hand, can be lies. The bending of the truth. A fiction - a novel etc. 

However, when I look at the artwork of the Holocaust and put it up against the stories told by survivors and the facts and statistics that have been gathered over the years since the atrocities committed under the Nazi regime, the sketches and watercolours and inks etc are basically documenting what they saw, what they heard and what they thought and what they knew. But, they are also telling their own true stories. 

Does knowing a survivor's story effect the way that we look at an artwork by them?

Thoughts towards the aim of this project.


I want to look at how different artists portrayed their experiences of the Holocaust and the time that they spent in the camps. Then I want to talk about what we, as the viewer, understand from them. 


I've always been interested in the way people interpret works differently as in what stories we get out of them and what memories and experiences they may remind us of. I like that sometimes, they stay with us forever. 
Also, I want to understand the link between out right link between art and story telling and also the boundary between story telling and fact. 

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Story Telling...through Art.

After talking to one of my classmates about my project she told me about Vladimir Propp and his ideas about stories and how we subconsciously turn them into fairytale scenarios.
So I decided to do a little bit of research into Propp in the library and I found a book called:

'Critical and Cultural Theory' by Dani Cavallaro
Published 2001 by The Athlone Press [p.19-20]

In this book, I found a piece of text on Vladimir Propp's 'Morphology of the Folk Tale' (1928). 
Here is the text:

"Propp maintains that the traditional tale, as a prototype of all narrative forms, is based on a fixed number of components. There are 7 spheres of action, associated with the characters and roles of the 'Villain', the 'Donor', the 'Helper', the 'Princess and her Father', the 'Dispatcher', the 'Hero', and the 'False Hero', and thirty-one functions, associated with key moments in the action e.g, 'Preparation', 'Complication', 'Struggle', 'Return and Recognition'. No tale contains all 31 functions. However, the ones it does contain occur in the same order in all tales. What is most intriguing about the folk tale is its duplicity: its basic form is repetitive, yet it is capable of producing a limitless number of the imaginative and colourful variations. For Propp, what makes a tale ultimately appealing is not its unchanging skeleton but the changing features of its characters and settings."

My thoughts on this piece of text:

I think that this theory is relevant to my research for this project. I hadn't thought about our life scenarios in this way before but in every circumstance we relay to others, there seems to be a fairy tale like theme to them. The characters and the themes are always there. Not always at the same time and not all of them in the same situation like Propp says. But when I relate back to the Holocaust and all the different people who were involved and the millions of different stories that came out of it...well, surely all 31 of those actions and all of those different people e.g the Hero, the Villain, the Donor etc were all involved and therefore can be found?
It's hard for me to look at the Holocaust as a story because it was REAL. It happened and therefore it is FACT. And a horrific one at that. So to apply Propp's theory to this huge historical event and to find that it makes sense, to me it shows, that sometimes we can subconsciously apply a story like quality to certain situations in order to protect ourselves and somehow make hearing about it more bareable. 

So by seeing the photo's and the sketches of the prisoners - does that make it easier to take on board what happened because we are somehow separated and therefore sheltered from the true reality?

Mapping out ideas.

Here is just a mini mind map of the themes I want to cover throughout my project.