Last Portrait: Art from the maw of hell and the soul of a Jew.

Works of art from the exhibition “Last Portrait” from the Yad Vashem Art Collection in Israel. The exhibit consist of nearly 200 portraits, all of them created by 21 artists

2artistssignaturesA compelling collection of portraiture from the Holocaust — but much more. They are a meditation by each artist, on the physiognomy of a human face and soul, a meditation of love for line, texture, shade, color, a meditation of a profound interpretation and esthetic, a meditation of artist and subject bound together for the moment to still the clamor of madmen, to postpone crazed citizens wielding hate and death bullets, to put on hold the creeping gallows of lethal gas.
That is their moment, each pleased with the other, subject and artist live, and will live-on, a union held there for us by what is expressed on paper in spite of and because of a random call to death in wait. There are survivors among both the artists and their subjects; there are those from each who did not. Included in this post are two of the 21 artists, both their art and their history. Meet and get to know Max Plaček and Arnold Daghani. If you appreciate art, if you’re moved by life’s commonplace heroes, their courage, their epic lives, except the invitation.

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Born in Kyjov, Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1902.
Murdered in Sachsenhausen in 1944.

While he was still a boy, Plaček loved to draw and paint, as well as playing the violin. He studied law for a number of semesters, but left his studies to start working as an insurance agent, first in Banská Bystrica and later in Prague, where he married Trude Pollak. Following the German occupation in 1939, he was drafted for clerical work at the Central Office for Jewish Emigration in Bohemia and Moravia. In 1942, after a short period working as a forced laborer on the farm of the widow of Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Gestapo, he was, in September 1942, deported to the Theresienstadt Ghetto. On December 18, 1943, he was transported to the “family camp” in Auschwitz. In July 1944, he was transported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he was murdered.

During his internment in Theresienstadt, Plaček drew almost uninterrupted. He drew hundreds of caricatures portraits in profile in a humorous style – figures of literary and cultural background from Czechoslovakia and other central European countries. Plaček added attributes to the portraits, such as books they had written and music they had composed. He made sure to note the date on each portrait, and had the sitter sign it. Some of the individuals portrayed also added a comment or a dedication to the artist. The large body of portraits reflects the human and cultural wealth of the inmate population in Theresienstadt; scientists, artists, musicians, actors, and intellectuals from a variety of fields.

The Yad Vashem collection holds more than 500 portraits by Plaček, drawn during the eight month period between May to December, 1943. The last portrait he drew was finished about a week before he was transported to Auschwitz.

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Born in Suceava, Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1909.
Died in Hove, England, in 1985.

 In the late 1920s, he went to Munich and Paris, apparently to continue his art studies. He moved to Bucharest at the beginning of the 1930s and, due to his mastery of several languages, he worked as a clerk in an export firm. It was there that he changed his name from Korn to Daghani. In June 1940, he married Anişoara Rabinovici. A few months later, their home was damaged in an earthquake and they moved to Czernowitz. Following the German occupation in July 1941, Daghani was forced to work as a street cleaner. In October the couple were deported to the Czernowitz Ghetto, and in June 1942, they were conscripted for forced labor in Ladizhin. In August the couple were sent to the Mikhailowka Labor Camp in Transnistria, where the prisoners were compelled to repair the main road from Gaisin to Uman.

 In June 1943, Daghani was ordered to create a mosaic in the shape of the German eagle, for the headquarters of the August Dohrmann Company in the nearby town of Gaisin. About a month later Daghani and his wife escaped, and managed to reach the Bershad Ghetto. With the intervention of the Red Cross, they were released on December 31, 1943 and went to Tiraspol. In March 1944, they made their way to Bucharest, where they remained until the end of the war. In 1958, they immigrated to Israel. The Daghanis returned to Europe in 1961, eventually settling in England.

 When Daghani was deported to the Czernowitz Ghetto, a policeman ordered him to take his sketchbook and paints with him, suggesting that they might help him to survive. At Mikhailowka, Daghani used these art supplies to portray life in the camp and to paint portraits of the camp’s prisoners, officers and guards. He continued in the Bershad Ghetto, painting portraits of the internees, as well as scenes from the ghetto. After his liberation, Daghani dedicated his life to art and to writing his memoirs. Daghani’s portraits, their seemingly esthetic quality notwithstanding, constitute rare color testimony to the cruel and harsh reality of the prisoners’ lives.

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For the entire online Yad Vashem exhibit with
examples of the 21 artists click here.

For an exhibition catalogue, with nearly 200 portraits from the Yad Vashem Art collection, created by 21 artists click here.  

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