Mar 8, 2004 12:00 AM - Jun 13, 2004 12:00 AM
Alfred Kantor: An Artist’s Diary of the Holocaust
The Center for Jewish History presents an exhibition of works by Alfred Kantor to coincide with the introduction of the Project Hagibor, which was established by the Prague Jewish Community to provide a senior residence in Prague for Holocaust survivors who live in the Czech Republic. The project is organized by the Prague Jewish Community. press materials and images
The watercolors and sketches of Alfred Kantor (1923–2003) recreating daily life in Terezín (Theresienstadt), Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Schwarzheide constitute one of the few visual records of existence in a Nazi concentration camp. His 127 paintings and sketches of concentration camp life were published in 1971 as The Book of Alfred Kantor. In it, Kantor writes: “My commitment to drawing came out of a deep instinct of self-preservation and undoubtedly helped me to deny the unimaginable horrors of that time.”
Alfred Kantor was born on November 7, 1923, in Prague. Before his deportation to Terezín at the age of 18, he had taken a commercial art course at the Prague Rotter School of Advertising. After two years in Terezín, he was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and later to Schwarzheide, a Sachsenhausen auxiliary camp. He used his art and extraordinary photographic memory to produce hundreds of sketches and drawings depicting the everyday reality of the camps. “It was difficult for me to grasp those terrible contrasts,” Kantor wrote later of his time in Terezín, the so-called model ghetto. “One evening, I saw a wonderful cabaret in a basement; the next, a transport to the East leaving the train station. I began to feel the need to document these bizarre scenes, I wanted to make a record of that unbelievable place so that I could show it to the world once I became free.”
Before he left for Auschwitz, he entrusted his Terezín drawings to a friend who remained in the ghetto and returned them to him after the war. Most of the Auschwitz and Schwarzheide sketches, however, had been destroyed. After liberation, in the summer of 1945, over a period of mere two months, Kantor recreated the lost sketches that he had committed to memory and wrote captions for each of the 127 images. When he immigrated the same year to the United States, he took the memoir with him and later published it.
For many years, Kantor lived in New York. In 1980 he moved to Maine, where he became known for his depictions of the local landscape. After the fall of communism, he visited Czechoslovakia, and since 1989 several exhibitions of Kantor’s work have been mounted in Terezín and Prague. Alfred Kantor died on January 16, 2003, in Yarmouth, ME, at the age of 79.
During the 40 years of Communist rule, Czech Jews were often subjected to government-sponsored anti-Semitism, including the Stalinist show trials of the 1950s. In contrast to Jews living in the West, Czech survivors received almost no monetary compensation for the years they spent in the camps. Currently, few aging Czech survivors have the financial means to afford private care, and those who rely on state health care do not receive appropriate services, as the system is adjusting very slowly to the needs of senior citizens.
Today there are some 1,500 Holocaust survivors over the age of 60 (most are over 75) in the Czech Republic, of which about 800 live in Prague. Given the inadequacy of the two existing facilities for them, the Prague Jewish Community has plans for a new facility, called Hagibor, offering 70 residential rooms and a day care center, as well as an advanced system of counseling and medical care. The plan calls for Hagibor to be placed in an existing building whose renovation will cost approximately $6 million.
Project Hagibor is supported by the Terezín Initiative, an umbrella organization of Holocaust survivors in the Czech Republic, and by the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). The JDC has approved Project Hagibor and will serve as the tax-exempt vehicle through which contributions will be transmitted to Hagibor in Prague. Our goal now is to raise $2 million dollars toward the total of $6 million needed for reconstruction. To contribute, please visit the website www.kehilaprag.cz. Additional information will also be available at the Alfred Kantor exhibit at the Center of Jewish History.
321 East 73rd Street
NY 10021 New York
From: Mar 8, 2004 12:00 AM
To: Jun 13, 2004 12:00 AM
Center for Jewish History