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Sidney Chafetz (1922-2013) was born in Providence Rhode Island in 1922. He received his art training at the Rhode Island School of Design; L'Ecole Americaine des Beaux Arts, Fontainebleau; L'Academie Julien, Paris; and with Fernand Léger, Paris. He became a professor at Ohio State University in 1948 where he taught until his retirement in 1982. Chafetz is known for his skills in printmaking, working with woodcuts and linoleum blocks. His subjects range from politics and portraits, to the Holocaust. In 1992 Chafetz completed Perpetrators, a series of lithographs of individuals who carried out the policies of the Third Reich, during World War II. The portraits in Absence/Presence were hung in a manor to evoke the infamous “most wanted criminals” walls found in U.S. post offices.
Chafetz became fascinated by the biographies and actions of the perpetrators of the Holocaust and genocide. The lithographs include a broadside type description of the personality, beliefs and crimes of the perpetrators Some are very familiar, others are less known. Many were lawyers, doctors and professors and some of the portraits include the words of Christ alongside the name of Hitler.
After September 11, 2001 attacks on the USA, the issue of understanding the mentality of perpetrators has become more important, especially if there is an effort to create early warning systems to prevent such attacks and more lethal enterprises, such as genocide.
Obituary Sidney Chafetz. 1-14-2013
Sid Chafetz at 90: YouTube 2011
For years I have struggled with the question of how I, as an artist, could deal visually with the atrocities of the Third Reich in a meaningful way. It was frustrating because I believe nothing could equal the truths of documentary still and motion picture photography that revealed the horror of the camps and victims. Today, older people seem either inured against those ghastly images or are disinterested. Whole generations are uninformed. We even have a band of revisionist academics who are claiming that the Holocaust never happened. Worse yet, and sadly, totalitarian governments, anti-Semitism, racism and genocide are still ugly realities.
In 1990, after I had done extensive research on the Nazi era, Perpetrators began to take shape. Rather than depicting victims, I decided to portray the people who made Hitler possible. I began to focus mainly on a representative group of men who helped Hitler to power and implemented his policies. These "perpetrators" came from every facet of life: law, education, the military, industry, finance, medicine, religion, science, journalism, art. They were mainly men of position and education. By using period photographs, together with biographical text as integral to the drawn portraits, I satisfied the twin poles of my aesthetic and didactic interests: work that achieves a formal coherence and at the same time educational impact.
Perpetrators has two functions. The first is as an art exhibition; the second as a catalyst for public programs on that terrible period in world history. It is my hope to provoke the audience to think critically about the present by remembering a past when a single tyrant was joined by a cadre of men in perpetrating evil across the world.
- Sid Chafetz
Page updated 2013.