I grew up in Poland among the ruins of World War II listening to accounts by our
neighbors, both Jews and Christians, of those dark times. Although their tales
of cruelty and hatred evoked imagery of a distant, monstrous nearly
inconceivable land, the stories were recent local history. The land on which
such suffering took place, where members of my family became ashes in the
slaughterhouse of Belzec, was also the flowered field where my friends and I ran
Years passed, and on January 19, 1993, I entered the Holocaust Memorial Room at
the local Jewish Community Center: an empty octagonal space, seven walls divided
into fourteen sections. In an instant the "Fourteen Stations/Hey Yud Dalet”
suite crystallized in my mind as I recalled Elie Wiesel’s references to the
countless Calvaries in Nazi concentration camps. Auschwitz-Birkenau, Babi Yar,
Buchenwald, Belzec, Bergen-Belsen, Gross-Rosen, Dachau, Chelmno, Treblinka,
Mauthausen, Maidanek, Sobibor, Ravensbrück and Stutthof, those infamous names
emerged from my memory as the first fourteen “stations.” In a blinding heat I
ran to the office of Sara, my wife, who worked in the same building and sketched
the entire concept for the drawings on a sheet of paper. That evening I
telephoned my friend, poet Jerome Rothenberg, and he proposed writing Gematria
poems based on the Yiddish names of the camps.
Although the project began by serendipity, years of research and drawing
followed as the undertaking took possession of my life in an exhausting and
humbling process. Over time, amid countless rolls of Luftwaffe and Allied aerial
reconnaissance photographs, I discovered negatives to serve as source images for
These photographs bear witness to the death camps, and are documents by
accident. Neither Nazis nor Allies were concerned with photographic recordings
of these sites. They were non consequential locations in the path of strategic
targets, merely areas amid a landscape of changing fronts and dueling armies.
The photons bouncing off the camps, fixed forever in crystals of photographic
emulsion, went unnoticed by the world and the silent heavens. The abstraction of
these images, the recording of the massive industrial scale of the Nazis' "Final
Solution to the Jewish Problem," locks the horror into calm banality.
Considering the vacuum of expanding malevolent lethargy, I often created in an
effort to keep the expansion in check. I spent uncounted days peering into
geographic Hades, mapping humanity's darkest undertaking. I drew a Midrash, an
exegesis, a different way of thinking about the Holocaust. There, among mundane
views of occupied Europe grew embedded cancers. The cancer consumed glorious
landscape and barely concealed its rapacious appetite for devouring my people.
All within a rational, geometric layout. As I drew I concentrated on what things
looked like, not what they represented. This distancing enabled me to
contemplate the dichotomy of the intrinsically fascinating aerial views apart
from their horrifying truth. However, the two were not easily separated. When my
consciousness insisted that the shapes represented crematoria, freight trains,
ash pits, barracks, barbed wire fences, my posture of distance-equals-security
proved false and emotion overwhelmed me. Harmless as the landscapes themselves
appeared, the images bore lethal radiation. Cumulatively and without warning,
the debilitating effects would strike my heart and my intellect. Nine years of
hovering above these hells changed me. I marked paper with charcoal, literally
drawing with ashes. And, sometimes, it felt to me that the physical act of
drawing gave voice to the unheard screams of the murdered.
The English title of the project refers to the "Fourteen Stations of the Cross"
and to the fact that each concentration camp was established near a railroad
station. The Hebrew title "Hey Yud Dalet," the acronym of "Hashem Yinkom Damam,"
“May God avenge their blood,” has been carved into the gravestones of Jewish
martyrs throughout the centuries. Within each drawing I have hand lettered and
embedded one fourteenth of the Kaddish. Interwoven into the texture of each
drawing, these Aramaic and Hebrew phrases are invisible. The full suite of
drawings completes the Kaddish, offering the prayer for those who perished and
had no family to recite it for them. This Kaddish is also for those to whom the
prayer was foreign, whose lives were extinguished in the same braid of horror
and smoke that devoured Europe's Jews. I offer the "Fourteen Stations"/"Hey Yud
Dalet" suite of drawings as icons for compassion and remembrance.
Under no condition can art express the Holocaust. To withdraw art from
confronting this horror, however, would assign victory to its perpetrators. That
must not be. Each survivor, individually, must affirm his or her humanity and
existence. As an artist, and a child of survivors, I can do no less.