Jewish Political Studies Review 23:1-2 (Spring 2011)
The exhibition held at the National Museum of Art of Romania in Bucharest is another milestone in the ongoing efforts to chronicle what happened during the Holocaust in that country. In the turbulent Romanian artistic scene on the eve of World War II, dozens of Jewish painters were busy establishing themselves at the forefront. War and pogroms put an end to their endeavor.
“Only those who have been forgotten have truly died”: this Hasidic saying is quoted by Roxanne Theodorescu, director-general of the museum, in her powerful and moving introduction. “Hundreds of thousands of Jews perished during events in Romania in the 1940s; among them many artists. A dynamic art world…thus came to a halt.”
The exhibition showcases not only Marcel Janco and other greats, but a number of lesser-known artists such as “…Alex Leon, Aurel Marculescu, Erno Tibor and Iosif Klein who died in the Nazi camps.” Many of those who managed to survive pogroms and deportations left the country after the war; others gave up painting. Altogether, sixteen detailed biographies and more than a hundred pictures tell a poignant tale of hope and despair, triumph and tragedy.
“Works in the exhibition reveal the important contribution of Jewish artists to the development of Romanian and European culture,” says Theodorescu in her closing remarks. “Meanwhile they bring to the fore issues of anti-Semitism….”
Romania has yet to come to terms with its past – both the anti-Semitism that was rampant before World War II and is still very much alive today and its shameful treatment of the Jews during the war. One can therefore only commend the National Museum of Art and its director for their courageous initiative, and hope that the exhibition will have the success it deserves – not only in Romania but also in other museums throughout the world.
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MICHELLE MAZEL, a graduate of Sciences Po (the Institute for Political Science) and the Paris Faculté de Droit, is a writer of both fictional and nonfictional works and currently resides in Jerusalem.