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Moultrie County History Center to Host Holocaust Art Exhibition May 2-27

“The Auschwitz Experience in the Art of Prisoners” art exhibit will be on display at the Moultrie County History Center in Sullivan from May 2 through 27, 2023. A Grand Opening for the exhibit will be held on Thursday, May 4, from 7 to 9 p.m. Doors will open at 6 p.m.

“The Moultrie County Historical & Genealogical Society is honored to be partnering with the Champaign –Urbana Jewish Federation to bring this special exhibit to our county,” said History Center Museum Director Pam Wood.

“We hope seeing this exhibit will start important conversations about the Holocaust, antisemitism, the Moultrie County veterans who served during World War II and their experiences, and what was happening here during World War II and the Holocaust,” Wood added.

Created by the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland, this exhibition features artwork by 12 survivors who documented their experiences in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp and present their fate as victims of the largest German concentration and extermination camp. Visitors will have the opportunity to view these profound pieces of art, which include 60 paintings and drawings, in docent-led small groups or independently.

According to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, “The artists who survived tried to convey on canvas or paper the magnitude of the tragedy and the horrifying reality of camp life. They produced works, and sometimes whole cycles, in which we can see the conditions under which the prisoners existed, standing at roll call, the appalling sanitation, the hunger, the punishments, the humiliation, and emotions like dread, despair, and helplessness.”

“We hope that the people who come see the exhibit will leave with a better understanding of what prisoners endured at Auschwitz-Birkenau and of the Holocaust in general,” noted Rebecca Lawson, the local coordinator of the exhibit which is on loan to the History Center from the Holocaust Education Center of the Champaign-Urbana Jewish Federation.

“The art created by survivors is very powerful,” she added, “and seeing a single topic presented by different artists with vastly different styles is very thought provoking.”

One highlight of the Grand Opening will be the showing of two award-winning films created by Sullivan High School senior Natalee Hunter.

Quiet Resistance, Hunter’s 2023 entry in Chapman University and The 1939 Society’s international Holocaust Art and Writing Contest, received 2nd place in the high school film division. Brushstrokes of Resilience, her 2022 entry in the same contest, was a finalist.

Hunter will share how making these films impacted her and her thoughts on Holocaust education.

Robert Lehmann, co-director of the Holocaust Education Center of CUJF, will also give a presentation on Auschwitz-Birkenau, and docents will be available to guide visitors through the exhibit and help answer questions.

Dr. Brett Ashley Kaplan, University of Illinois Professor of Comparative Literature and Jewish Studies and Director of the Initiative in Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies, stated, “The poignant beauty of much Holocaust art deepens yet also complicates the process of Holocaust memory. Even when this art forged in trauma makes viewers uncomfortable, it also teaches. The unwanted beauty found in these works insist that we continue to examine how the Shoah (the Holocaust) resides in our thoughts; because this art is beautiful, it entices our reflection, our attention, and our questioning.”

Additionally, Holocaust survivor William Gingold is scheduled to speak on Thursday, May 18, at 7 p.m.

“This year we commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. We are honored to present William Gingold, a child survivor of the ghetto, as he shares his family’s experiences both during and after the war,” noted Dr. Brian Kahn, co-director of the Champaign-Urbana Jewish Federation’s Holocaust Education Center.

He added, “Bill has been sharing his story these past three years in schools and public settings across Illinois. We hope many others can join us at the Moultrie County Historical Society on May 18 as we listen to Bill’s harrowing testimony of bravery, resistance, and survival,”

There is no charge to visit the exhibit or the Moultrie County History Center.

Teachers and other group leaders are encouraged to contact Pam Wood to set up field trips or visits. She may be reached at 217-728-4085 or mocohgs@gmail.com.

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