Arie Galles – “GNADENDOD” 29
½” X 22” – 2017 – Charcoal and Conté on Arches BFK
I was asked to contribute a work of art to the exhibition, "Mastering
Death: Artistic Perspectives," at the Josephinium at the Medical University of
Vienna, Austria. The show opens on March 2, 2017 and will run through, April 1,
2017. My contribution to the exhibition is the charcoal drawing, “Gnadentod,”
presented on this page.
Open evil, visible to all, lurked in the darkness behind the blinding light of
euphemisms. Gnadentod, “Merciful Death,” was one of the first such word
substitutions used by the Nazis to cover their efforts to murder those they
deemed a burden to society due to mental and physical handicaps. Some phrases,
like “Die Endlösung der Judenfrage,” “The Final Solution to the Jewish
Question,” or “Arbeit Macht Frei,” “Work Sets You Free,” remain well known to
the general public. The word, “Gnadentod” triggers no instant recognition, yet
it was the precursor of others that followed.
When considering creating
this drawing I had to walk a thin mental edge between empathy and propaganda.
The base is the image of a gas vehicle used at “Schloss Hartheim,” “Hartheim
Castle,” upon whose brilliantly lit form rests a cattle-car, one of the myriad
used to deliver victims to Auschwitz. Behind the cattle-car is a secretly
photographed view of the castle, its chimney spewing dark smoke from its
crematorium. The smoke eventually blankets most of the upper area of the drawing
with its erased-out/smudged-out view of a concentration camp crematorium.
I tried to express a “Past/Future” and a “Future/Past” in my drawing. Both
the word “Gnadentod” and the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” are entwined in the
darkness between the gas van and the cattle car. I focused on the words “MACHT”
“Makes” and part of the Gnadentod word, “TOD” “Death.” Thus “MACHT TOD” “Makes
Death” became a focal point. The viewers are being asked to make their own
connections with the image.
The drawing was made on a sheet of paper that
Martha Schneider, a friend and Holocaust survivor, gave to me after being
diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Although still alert, Martha said, “Soon I won’t
know what to do with my art supplies, but you will.”
1: Arie Galles – “GNADENDOD” 29 ½” X 22” – 2017
– Charcoal and Conté on Arches BFK