Montclair State University Launches Event Series Commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Showcases work by celebrated Holocaust survivor and artist, Israel Bernbaum

Release Date: January 10, 2013

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising, Montclair State University will host an exhibit of paintings and drawings by celebrated Warsaw-born Holocaust survivor and artist, Israel Bernbaum.

Titled Israel Bernbaum Painting His Story, the exhibit will be displayed at the University’s George Segal Gallery from February 26 through April 21, 2013.

The extensive collection -- which includes murals and drawings, as well as original copies of Bernbaum’s correspondences with political figures and other historic and personal artifacts -- was a gift to the university from the Holocaust Resource Center of the Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton-Passaic (NJ), which Bernbaum designated as the recipient of his work upon his death in 1993. When the Center closed in 2011, the university became the new custodian and undertook the significant, multi-year restoration and conservation project that will preserve Bernbaum’s work for posterity.  

Guest curated by Dr. Batya Brutin, Director of Holocaust Studies and the Israeli Society Program at Beit Berl Academic College, Israel, the exhibit is the centerpiece of a multi-disciplinary campus-wide series of commemorative events and presents Bernbaum’s newly preserved work for the first time. Dr. Brutin will give two public lectures about Bernbaum’s work and the art of the Holocaust.

“Israel Bernbaum’s detailed depictions of the harsh realities of life in the Warsaw Ghetto serve as a reminder of those gruesome events and furthers the artist’s personal commitment to educate humanity about this dark chapter of world history,” explained Dr. Brutin. “With his naïve, almost cartoon-like style, Bernbaum’s remarkable ability to intersperse symbolism with graphic images makes the presentation of unfathomable and horrific themes accessible and palpable – even to young people, who were his target audience. His legacy will continue to have a profound impact for generations to come.”

The artist’s intricate and brightly colored murals were created between 1981 and 1992, after Bernbaum immigrated to the United States. The materials document the destruction of the Ghetto based on his in-depth personal research, historical records, first-hand accounts from witnesses and photographic images taken by the Nazis.

Bernbaum’s work was used to illustrate several children’s books, including the award-winning I am a Star: Child of the Holocaust by Inge Auerbacher (who will be a guest lecturer, see below for details) and his own work, My Brother’s Keeper: The Holocaust Through the Eyes of an Artist, which he dedicated to the memory of the one-and-a-half million Jewish children who did not survive the Holocaust. In addition to being well received in the United States, Bernbaum’s book was published in Germany, where it received the 1990 Award for Young People’s Literature, West German Republic. The book also became the focus of a German traveling exhibition. Bernbaum’s ultimate message was – and continues to be – for children and all people to understand the Holocaust and to never forget that they are their “brother’s keepers.” In keeping with Bernbaum’s orientation towards educating children about the Holocaust, there will be programs for school children.

Director of the George Segal Gallery, M. Teresa Rodriguez, is delighted by the tremendous interest and support that the exhibit and collaborative programs are receiving from the Jewish community -- in NJ, across the U.S. and the world. “While the subject matter is deeply disturbing, there is also incredible beauty in in Bernbaum’s art, which draws people together and reminds us of our collective ability to heal,” she said. “Montclair State University is deeply honored to be the new stewards of Bernbaum’s work and affects, and we’re committed to carrying the torch for him, his family, and the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto.”

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Suzanne Bronski
Director of Media Relations
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Meaghan Morin
Communications Assistant
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