Posts Tagged ‘Holocaust’

Holodomor (1)

The Holodomor Memorial

During this bike ride I picked up some take-out in Chinatown and then rode over to a Lower Senate Park across from Union Station to watch the travelers coming and going while I ate my General Tso’s chicken. But on the way to the park I happened upon a memorial I had not seen before.  I would come to find out that it is The Holodomor Memorial, and it is located at the intersection of North Capitol Street, Massachusetts Avenue, and F Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s NoMa neighborhood.

The Holodomor Memorial was designed by Larysa Kurylas, a local architect.  Her design, “Field of Wheat,” was chosen for the memorial through an open competition.  It built by the National Park Service and the Ukrainian government, and opened on November 7, 2015.  Formally known as The Holodomor Memorial to Victims of the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932–1933, it was built to honor the victims of a brutal artificial famine imposed by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet regime on the Ukraine and primarily ethnically Ukrainian areas in the Northern Caucasus in 1932 and 1933 that killed an officially estimated 7 million to 10 million people.  Also known as the Terror-Famine and Famine-Genocide in Ukraine, it was part of the wider Soviet famine of 1932–33, which affected the major grain-producing areas of the country.

The word Holodomor is from the Ukrainian word Голодомо́р, which is derived from морити голодом and is translated as, “to kill by starvation”.   Using Holodomor in reference to the famine emphasizes its man-made aspects, arguing that actions such as rejection of outside aid, confiscation of all household foodstuffs, and restriction of population movement confer intent and, therefore, define the famine as genocide.

Despite a targeted loss of life comparable to that of the Holocaust, many people remain unaware of the genocide.  So in addition to honoring the victims, another purpose of the memorial is to educate the American public about the genocide.  And today it achieved its purpose by educating one more.

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Loss and Regeneration

Loss and Regeneration

In a city predominated by memorials and statues, it is worthwhile to remember that D.C. is also home to a large number of public works of outdoor art.  From the formal pieces in the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Art, to the informal murals whose canvas may be the side of a building or the wall of a bridge overpass, the quality and quantity of public outdoor artwork in our nation’s capital is often overlooked by visitors and locals alike.

On this bike ride I stopped to appreciate the two part sculpture entitled “Loss and Regeneration”, which is situated on the plaza along Raoul Wallenberg Place, which is adjacent to the United States Holocaust Museum in downtown D.C. (MAP).  The 1993 bronze sculpture by Joel Shapiro addresses the disintegration of families and the tragedy of lives interrupted by the Holocaust, and memorializes the children who perished.

The work consists of two bronze elements that engage in symbolic dialogue.  The larger piece is a towering, abstract, tree-like form that suggests a figure.  Approximately 100 feet away, a smaller, house-like structure is precariously tipped upside down on its roof.  The artist likens the overturned house to the subversion of the universal symbol of security, comfort, and continuity.  The larger figure is conceived as an emblem of renewal, a metaphor for cycles of life and death, the experience and the overcoming of anguish, the possibility of a future even after all has been lost.

The work is accompanied by an excerpt of a poem written by a child in the Terezin ghetto in Czechoslovakia, which reads,

“Until, after a long, long time,
I’d be well again.
Then I’d like to live
And go back home again.”

Aristotle once said, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”  If this statement is true, then “Loss and Regeneration” is worth not only taking the time to go see, but it is worth a little extra time to contemplate its meaning and significance as well.

LossAndRegeneration01        LossAndRegeneration03     LossRegeneration01a

Statue of Jan Karski

Statue of Jan Karski

There is a wide variety of different statuary throughtout D.C.   From Presidents and foreign leaders, to historic figures and other prominent people, most of the statues tend to be very formal in nature, with the subject overtly posed in a manner to invoke power, authority and significance.  It is for this reason that I took particular notice of the informal yet distinguished nature of the statue of Jan Karski located next to White-Gravenor Hall on the campus of Georgetown University, at 37th and P Streets in northwest D.C. (MAP).

Born Jan Kozielewski in Łódź, Poland in 1914, he grew up in a multi-cultural neighbourhood, where the majority of the population was then Jewish.   He was raised a Catholic and remained so throughout his life.  In 1942 and 1943, Karski was a Polish World War II resistance movement fighter.  He became a liaison officer of the Polish underground who infiltrated both the Warsaw Ghetto and a German concentration camp and then, risking death many times, reported the first eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust to the Polish government in exile and the Western Allies.

It seems particularly relevant to be writing today about one of the first and most important people to bring forward information about the Holocaust, because today is Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah, or Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day.  Also known colloquially as Yom HaShoah, it is a national memorial holiday in Israel for commemoration for the approximately six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust as a result of the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany, as well as to honor the Jewish resistance during that period.

After the war Karski entered the United States and began his studies at Georgetown University, where he earned a Ph.D in 1952.  In 1954, Karski became a naturalized citizen of the U.S.  He taught at Georgetown University for 40 years in the areas of East European affairs, comparative government and international affairs, rising to become one of the most celebrated and notable members of its faculty.

He occasionally but infrequently would share his wartime experiences and efforts to warn the world of the Holocaust with students, but Karski said little publicly about his efforts due to the haunting memories of what he had witnessed and thoughts that he had been a failure for not being able to stop it.   Decades later, however, he began to speak about it in interviews and documentaries, and as a result returned to public consciousness.  He subsequently received long-overdue honors, including honorary citizenship in Israel and Poland’s highest civilian honor, the Order of the White Eagle.  He was also nominated for the Nobel Prize and formally recognized by the United Nations General Assembly shortly before his death.  And posthumously, he was awarded the U.S.’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Despite all of the awards and recognition he received, he remained uncomfortable with public attention for the remainder of his life.

In the statue memorializing him, Karski is depicted life size, casually seated on a park bench with his legs crossed and holding a cane in his hands.  There is a chess board on the bench next to him with a game in progress.  Karski was an avid chess player and was reported to be in the middle of playing a game when he died in 2000.  Karski is depicted gazing off to his right, away from the board, as though he were contemplating his next move, or perhaps something more significant.

Other casts of the statue are located in New York City at the corner of 37th Street and Madison Avenue (renamed as Jan Karski Corner), as well as on the campus of Tel Aviv University in Israel, and in Kielce, Łódź and Warsaw in Poland.