Holocaust memorial, Victory Park Moscow

Holocaust memorial, Victory Park Moscow

Holocaust memorial, Victory Park Moscow

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There is a sharp divergence between the official Russian historical narrative of World War II and collective Russian-Jewish memory. Russian history tends to include the Holocaust within a generalised narrative of the destruction of the Russian nation in a war in which 27 million Soviet Russians died, including Jews. Thus, inscriptions on Russian memorials of the war simply proclaim that all Russians were ‘victims of Fascism and the Hitlerites[1]. No reference is made to the fact that before the war the majority of the vast and vibrant Russian Jewish community had been confined by discriminatory Russian laws to live in the so-called ‘Jewish Pale of Settlement’; and that during the war this entire Jewish community was effectively destroyed, dispersed and annihilated by the Nazis and many Russian collaborators in a genocide specifically aimed at ethnically cleansing the world of Jews.

Typical of the official Russian narrative is the massive sculptural composition “Tragedy of Peoples” by the sculptor Zurab Tsereteli that was installed in 1977 in Victory Park on Poklonnaya Hill outside Moscow in memory of the victims of the ‘fascist genocide’, the eastern European term for the Holocaust. It depicts a procession of human figures progressively leaning over like dominos in motion, with those at the end eventually falling down like a breaking wave of the ocean. It is a seemingly endless procession of doomed naked men, women and children with emaciated bodies and shaven heads who are being led by three figures whose moment of death has just arrived: a woman, a man, and a teenage boy. The woman closes the boy’s eyes with her hand to spare him the horror of death and the man clasps at the boy’s chest in a futile attempt to protect him. Each of those following is silent and alone, awaiting their inexorable turn for death with unseeing eyes, rigid faces and lowered hands.

Abigail’s painting of Tsetereli’s memorial is one of darkness and is free from her usual mystical reflections or visions of an afterlife. It is divided into two fields, the top field contains images of three Russian orthodox churches, rendered with their characteristic onion domes; while the lower field is tripartite. The red church of St Basil at the top is connected by a braid to the lower field of death, thereby linking the Russian church with the dark events portrayed below. The plate figures of the memorial are reminiscent of tombstones.

Abigail is again seated below at her easel facing the viewer, where she has painted her name in Hebrew on a canvas to emphasise her Jewish presence. Her message appreciates and records the artistic force of the memorial, but points to the fact that the destruction of Russian Jewry was also connected to the anti-Semitic ideology inherent in mainstream Russian culture and propagated by the Russian church and state.

[1] Huyssens op.cit in Young (ed.), 1994, p.13; Zvi Gitelman. The Soviet Politics of the Holocaust. Young ibid p.139. By kind attention of Richard Freedman.

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A4 Print (approx 21 x 30 cm), A3 Print (approx 30 x 42 cm), A2 Print (approx 42 x 60 cm), A1 Print (approx 60 x 84 cm)

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There is a sharp divergence between the official Russian historical narrative of World War II and collective Russian-Jewish memory. Russian history tends to include the Holocaust within a generalised narrative of the destruction of the Russian nation in a war in which 27 million Soviet Russians died, including Jews. Thus, inscriptions on Russian memorials of the war simply proclaim that all Russians were ‘victims of Fascism and the Hitlerites[1]. No reference is made to the fact that before the war the majority of the vast and vibrant Russian Jewish community had been confined by discriminatory Russian laws to live in the so-called ‘Jewish Pale of Settlement’; and that during the war this entire Jewish community was effectively destroyed, dispersed and annihilated by the Nazis and many Russian collaborators in a genocide specifically aimed at ethnically cleansing the world of Jews.

Typical of the official Russian narrative is the massive sculptural composition “Tragedy of Peoples” by the sculptor Zurab Tsereteli that was installed in 1977 in Victory Park on Poklonnaya Hill outside Moscow in memory of the victims of the ‘fascist genocide’, the eastern European term for the Holocaust. It depicts a procession of human figures progressively leaning over like dominos in motion, with those at the end eventually falling down like a breaking wave of the ocean. It is a seemingly endless procession of doomed naked men, women and children with emaciated bodies and shaven heads who are being led by three figures whose moment of death has just arrived: a woman, a man, and a teenage boy. The woman closes the boy’s eyes with her hand to spare him the horror of death and the man clasps at the boy’s chest in a futile attempt to protect him. Each of those following is silent and alone, awaiting their inexorable turn for death with unseeing eyes, rigid faces and lowered hands.

Abigail’s painting of Tsetereli’s memorial is one of darkness and is free from her usual mystical reflections or visions of an afterlife. It is divided into two fields, the top field contains images of three Russian orthodox churches, rendered with their characteristic onion domes; while the lower field is tripartite. The red church of St Basil at the top is connected by a braid to the lower field of death, thereby linking the Russian church with the dark events portrayed below. The plate figures of the memorial are reminiscent of tombstones.

Abigail is again seated below at her easel facing the viewer, where she has painted her name in Hebrew on a canvas to emphasise her Jewish presence. Her message appreciates and records the artistic force of the memorial, but points to the fact that the destruction of Russian Jewry was also connected to the anti-Semitic ideology inherent in mainstream Russian culture and propagated by the Russian church and state.

[1] Huyssens op.cit in Young (ed.), 1994, p.13; Zvi Gitelman. The Soviet Politics of the Holocaust. Young ibid p.139. By kind attention of Richard Freedman.

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