passively complicit outrage

There are a number of near non-resolvable dilemmas that artists face in representing the holocaust in their creations. It addition to contributing a broader and profound understanding of the complexities of this tragedy, there are other considerations such as whether these works contribute to reinforcing the structure and thought processes which lead to it, and an acknowledgement of acceptance and even submission to these forces. At the extreme, it is even part of industrial/market society’s entertainment complex as gravity inevitably hauls down the critical content towards kitsch as Adorno saw with the corporatizing of art within a culture industry.

Adorno posed the ethical question that holds a certain significance when aesthetics collide with ethics. Do the hundreds of Hitler parodies based on Bruno Ganz in the Downfall banalize and normalize Hitler and all he stood for. Does a certain perversity in the art of a Helnwein, the messianic overtones of The Magi  connect itself with The Fuheur being urinated on as a kind of ecstasy in opposition to an uplifting sense of art with regard to dignity and beauty, or is it part of “the joke” inherent in good art that Freud spoke of.

Margaret Bourke White. 1945. Read More:

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote regarding painters of Holocaust art, “they could betray painting [by denying it an intrinsic part, beauty] without contributing much to morals or, if their work looked beautiful regardless, they could betray the anger or grief of man for Beauty. Either way the result was treason” . Similar to this, in her essay “The Iconic and the Allusive: The Case for Beauty in Post-Holocaust Art,” Janet Wolff cites as one major objection the argument that viewers derive pleasure from viewing art, which can lead to the dulling of the event in viewers’ minds . Other scholars and artists, however, refute these limitations of art. Carol Zemel addresses this fear by claiming that juxtaposing the horrific with the beautiful magnifies its horror instead of lessening it , and Pablo Picasso asserts that art has the ability to appeal to all senses – to pain as well as to pleasure - therefore making it possible for art to address more than just frivolous subjects. He is recorded as saying, “No, painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of offensive and defensive war against the enemy” Read More:

Read More: Henryk Ross. ---For four years—1940 to 1944—Henryk Ross documented events that are almost beyond comprehension. In those four years, more than 200,000 Jews were interned in the ghetto of Lódź. Of those, only around 10,000 survived. How can a person photograph a faux sort of 'normality' in circumstances that are as far from normal as humanly possible, and still retain a sense of what 'normal' means? How can a person bear up under the guilt of collaborating with his oppressors, even if that collaboration was mitigated by his efforts to record that oppression? How can we look at these photographs and not ask ourselves how we might behave under the same circumstances? Looking at these photographs, we must remind ourselves that each one…each individual image…is evidence of a unique life.---


In a certain sense, visual pleasure tends to paralyze and negate the horrific aspects, leading us down the slope to everyone can achieve redemption. Or, somehow, despite the carnage, ” things will work out in the end, its all a part of a larger plan” as if messianism has to predicated on immense suffering, a cleaning of the slate, or like nature, can be looked at as inevitable consequence of life much as the occasional devastation by earthquake or volcano. The is a tendency to numb the senses, fake piety and let consolation invade us with an encounter with beauty. Its ironic that corporatism today totally dominates the art world as Donald Kuspit asserts, the artists are brands much in the same way as Auschwitz is a brand, with concentration camps more of the tourist cycle normalized like a trip to a Wren cathedral.

Read More:'t_pay ---The dead daughter of the Leipzig burgomaster, after she and the rest of her Nazi family committed suicide together by taking potassium cyanide pills. Photo by Lee Miller, ‘Nazi Suicide, Leipzig, April 1945’.---

Somewhat ironic that the Bauhaus and its proto-fascist underpinning, saw its architects design these same death camps, showing that aestheticizing violence and atrocity is part of a larger and extensive sequence of thought and activity. Although much gripy ink has been shed over the Holocaust industry by the likes of Norman Finkelstein, the Nazi industry makes it look trivial in its parasitical adhesion to almost all aspects of social organization and the basis of modern economics and social theory with its built in sense of comparative differences, invidious judgements and maintenance of the packing order guiding the wheel of consumerism as the individual tries to attain their ideal “identity” like Sisyphus carrying this grotesque “thing” up a hill, only to see the sacred offering crumble in their hands so they have to buy more and build a better one. New and improved. Is Yahweh laughing somewhere?

Read More: looking at selected images sent to him by e-mail, Dr. Uziel said, “Although some photos are clearly propagandistic and shot according to official guidelines, most of the photos are typical ‘battlefield tourism’ in nature.” He explained that the vertically cropped pictures of individual prisoners were standard “PK portraits of Soviet P.O.W.s, made along specific regulations and requests by the Wehrmacht and the Propaganda Ministry.” “I would say that only those clearly marked with the yellow badge are Jewish,” Dr. Uziel wrote. “There are not many photos of marked Jewish P.O.W.’s because usually they were handed over to the S.S. within a very short time of their marking and were duly executed.”---

Carol Zemel, in her article, “Emblems of Atrocity: Holocaust Liberation Photographs,” argues that in concentration camp liberation photographs, “the transcendent force of the Sublime combines with familiar forms of Christian iconography (i.e. Christian martyrdom) to provide moral rescue of the images’ horrors and fascinations”

For Zemel, the numbing, distancing effect of the photographss is not the most problematic issue, nor is the fascination we experience when viewing them. What is most disturbing is the transformation of Jews into Christian martyrs, remaking Holocaust victims into something they were not.Read More:

Lee Miller in Hitler's Bathtub. 1945. Read More:



Read More: II (Adoration of the Shepherds) 1998 210 cm x 310 cm mixed media (oil and acrylic on canvas) Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco ---

However, that does not mean that art always fulfills its potential. Many critics lament the pitfalls of Holocaust art. One major issue is commercialization and kitsch, or more specifically that some can profit from the Holocaust  and that the images available to the public of the Holocaust art are largely determined by the market . Another issue is voyeurism, a state in which the viewer can show interest in the image while distancing him-/herself from the actual event, resulting in a “disinterested contemplation of human suffering” and a failure to consider the moral implications of the Holocaust….

Alan Schechner. Read More:/2011/06/alchemy-of-art-jangling-the-keys-of-solomon/

…Other concerns revolve around the sacredness given to the images of the Holocaust.First, there is the problem of what artistic liberty one can take with these symbols . Second, there is the matter of whether the iconographic images of the Holocaust hold such a weight that they can distract from the Holocaust itself by presenting a narrow view of the event and whether they can be used in the service of political and social manipulation, issues addressed in the art of Alan Schechner . In addition, if Holocaust images come to be seen as sacred and in need of the level of protection that some commentators such as Elie Wiesel would impress, then Holocaust art is not held to the same level of aesthetic criticism as other kinds of art, which causes it to not be integrated into the wider art world. Read More:

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