The 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, or "Night of Broken Glass" was this year - just last week. The night of November 9th, continuing in to November 10th, 1938, Nazis throughout Germany incited an anti-Semitic uprising and terrorized Jews and torched synagogues, Jewish-owned business, and schools. Police and firefighters were ordered to do nothing but stand by and watch. Approximately 100 Jewish people were killed, but the death toll is not accurate and is possibly an underestimation. Over 260 synagogues were destroyed. In the wake of this the Nazi government blamed Jews for the destruction. They fined Jews $400 million (1938 rates) and over 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps.
This wasn't the beginning, and it certainly wasn't the end of the troubles for Jewish people in Nazi-held areas of Europe. I will focus even more on this with another piece, but I do have to add: before World War II it was estimated that over 9 million Jewish people lived in Europe. By the end it was barely over 2 million - some had fled, some had survived, but approximately 6 million Jewish people were killed by Nazis. Approximately 2/3 of all Jewish people in Europe were killed. That's the same thing as taking the entire population of Virginia and Washington D.C. right now and killing 2/3 of them. I live in VA with my wife and child. My in-laws live in the same city I do, as does my father. We have extended family and friends throughout the state. Two-thirds would be a lot of my most dearest. You can use so many numbers here: 2/3 of the population of the London metro area, gone. Two-thirds of the population of the metro areas of both Philadelphia and Boston put together, gone.
And Nazis still walk among us. Make no mistake. Anti-Semitism is alive and well. Just ask the whole city of Pittsburgh.
For me, this piece is a meditation, a contemplation. A pause to remember. Each one of the lines on this page represents approximately 24 Jewish men arrested in the aftermath of Kristallnacht. It helped me to conceptualize 30,000 people in this way. One thousand two hundred fifty marks seemed like so many, but even more so when each one represented 24 people. Twenty four people is approximately one American primary school classroom... Now imagine 1250 of those classrooms. When looking at the total number consider that 30,000 is the approximate number of verses in the Bible - a hefty tome. Thirty thousand, ironically, is also the number of refugees the United States will allow in for 2019.
All lines are in watercolor with a mix of Winsor and Newton Indigo and French Ultramarine. I was attempting to recreate tekhelet, the sacred shade of blue dye used by Jewish people in the Old Testament. Tekhelet is made from the sea snail Murex trunculus and the dye color can vary from this blue to a more blue-violet based on UV exposure. Tallit - Jewish prayer shawls - were commanded by the Torah to have one string dyed blue with tekhelet.
This piece is painted on 6x8" cold press, 300gsm, 100% cotton watercolor paper.
Read more about Kristallnacht here:
I got my numbers about the Holocaust partially from here, but all sources match these numbers:
Read more about tekhelet and the symbolism of the color blue here:
"In Flanders Fields"
BY John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
One hundred years ago today, at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month (Paris time), World War I ended. Of course, then, they didn't know there would be a World War II. It was thought of as the "war to end all wars." Oh how wrong they were!
The poem above, "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae was written after a friend died in 1915 at the second battle at Ypres. It was published in Punch magazine that December, and instantly became popular. Due to its popularity it eventually helped the poppy become the symbol of remembrance for soldiers killed in conflict.
In the United States, this is Veteran's Day - a day to honor those who served and survived. My father is a veteran of the Navy. My father-in-law is also a veteran, serving 20 years in the US Navy. I have two uncles who are veterans - one of the conflict in Vietnam. Both of my grandfathers are veterans. My maternal grandfather served in the Pacific arena during World War II. He was excommunicated from his pacifist church (The Brethren) for his service. He worked on an LST as a mechanic. My paternal grandfather served in Japan post-World War II. He served with the Army and taught electricians who then worked throughout Japan.
For some of the world, though, this is Remembrance Day. A day to honor those members of the military who didn't make it home.
This piece represents every casualty of World War I. Approximately 37.5 million people were injured or killed. This number includes victims and soldiers on both sides, as well as those killed in the Armenian Genocide, and those who died from starvation or disease. To bring that down to something I could comprehend, there are 750 lines here. Each one of those lines represents 50,000 people. I am still having trouble wrapping my brain around that, so here are some comparisons:
All lines are in Winsor and Newton Winsor Red watercolor. This shade of red was chosen to approximate the color of red poppies.
It's painted on 4x6" Arches hot press, 300gsm, 100% cotton watercolor paper.
I hope to make this conceptualization of numbers, loss, and great human tragedy into somewhat of a regular series. We'll see. Looking ahead I see representations of Iraqi citizens killed since the invasion in 2003, the massacre and destruction of Native American lives and homes since 1492, mass shootings in the United States, violence against people of color by police, lost of life and land in Palestine, loss of life in the Holocaust. I could go on forever. And, unfortunately, I might have to.