University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies
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CHGS

Voice to Vision I

My Name Was No. 133909 and I Sang

This painting was inspired and named from a true story from Murray Brandys' book titled above.

2003, 30" x 60" x 9", Collage, acrylic on wood, florescent Plexiglas, mirrors, found objects
David Feinberg, with drawing and painting contributions from Ryan Friar, Taylor Costello, Ann Cossette, and Emily Widi.


My name was no. 133909 and I sang'We began this death march in early April, walking day after day, allthe while guarded by SS. They directed us to walk mostly through forests so American planes wouldn't spot us from the air. Whenever an American plane did fly overhead, I'm guessing at about 20,000 feet, the guards would leave their posts and walk among the prisoners: They were afraid of being recognized as German soldiers and shot from the air.

After a while there was no food and the SS began to eliminate as many of us as possible. Weak ones were executed in the forest. The front wagon continued to go on ahead to prepare food, just for the SS. It had been a couple of weeks and I kept pushing on without gloves and with few breaks. A friend of mine marched directly across from me, also pushing the heavy four-wheeler. I remember it was late in the afternoon one day and the sun was going down. That's when my friend, completely exhausted, just stopped in his tracks and laid down. The rest of us didn't pause but kept going. People walked right over him. I heard the shot and knew he was dead.

With such happenings a constant occurrence, my concern was to survive not the day but the hour. That was never more true than a couple of days later. While I pushed the cart, I always kept a lookout for food, possibly some scrap along the side of the road. One day, I spotted something five feet from the wagon, something that looked like food. I thought if I was quick, I might not be noticed. I let go of the wagon and ran to pick it up. But an SS officer saw me and dragged me to the Death Commando. Two of them held my arms so that I could not run back to the prisoner line. I knew I'd soon be shot in the forest. This was to be the end then. But still I had hope.

I addressed the two men holding me. "What if I sing for the SS?" I asked. "Do you think if I tell them that I will sing, they will let me go?" That won't help you now, they said. The SS executioner was a rough guy, a Yugoslavian, maybe 40 years old. I noticed that there was no one else to be executed at that point but me. Maybe he was too lazy to go into the forest to shoot just one prisoner. Or maybe he had a son my age. I don't know what was going through my mind at that point, but I had nothing to lose. I opened my mouth and began to sing.

I sang for maybe two minutes. I don't know what song I sang, something in Yiddish, maybe a folk song. But it was the solo of my life.

For whatever reason, the executioner, this man who shot prisoner after prisoner without a thought, listened to my song and then ordered the Death Commando to send me back to the line of prisoners. Not the wagon this time, but I didn't care. My life had been saved.

American Pilot Over Auschwitz, 1945

1945. 2003. 50"H x 60"W. Acrylic and collage on canvas.
David Feinberg, with drawing and painting contributions from Murray Brandys, survivor, Joe Grosnacht, survivor, and the following artists: Ann Cossette, Ryan Friar and Emily Widi.

American Pilot Over AuschwitzThis was the first painting in which Murray Brandys and Joe Grosnacht participated. To start the project we showed them a variety of colored sheet in pairs of two and asked them to select the color that most reflected their Holocaust experience. We set the selected color aside and eliminated the other color. Then we took the selected colors and repeated the process, asking them to select only one color from each pair. This process was continued until we arrived at the final choices of grayand orange. This process was then used to determine size and placement of the colors.

As the painting took shape, my colleague, Dr. Stephen Feinstein - Director of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota - noted that the image looked like an aerial view of Auschwitz. He sent the Voice to Vision team a reconnaissance photograph taken over Auschwitz by an American pilot in 1945. A detail of this photograph was arranged by computer to suggest a deeper perspective and the result was enlarged and collaged onto the canvas. The drips were added to suggest railroad tracks and airplane trails.

Never Give Up. Never Give Up

2003. 14"H x 14"W x 2.5"D. 2D/3D Mixed media
David Feinberg, with drawing and painting contributions from Murray Brandys, survivor, and the following artists: Ann Cossette, Taylor Costello, and Emily Widi.


Never Give Up
The title of this work came from an excerpt of the Voice to Vision documentary. When asked how he survived, Murray Brandys responded, 'Never give up. Never give up.'

For this piece, Murray and Joe smelled a variety of scents to remind them of places and experiences. Murray recalled the odor of prisoners who were crammed together like sardines in the bunkhouses. Murray described these beds to Ann Cossette, a BFA art student at theUniversity of Minnesota, as she drew them. The drawing was placed diagonally on this work. The striped collage used on parts of the wooden planks was taken from photographs of prisoner uniforms.

 

The Showers

2003. 14"H x 14"W x 2.5"D. 2D/3D Mixed media
David Feinberg, with drawing and painting contributions from Joe Grosnacht, survivor, and the following artists: Ann Cossette, and Emily Widi.


The Showers
As in piece number three, Joe and Murray smelled a variety of scents to remind them of places and experiences. Joe was reminded of the prisoners' body odor in the shower building. Joe described this scene to Emily Widi, a BFA Art student at the University of Minnesota, as she drew it.

The image of an escalator was used as to suggest the piles of bodies outside the showerbuilding. Joe signed the bottom of the work with his concentration camp number.

 

Termination

2003, Collage, acrylic on wood, florescent Plexiglas, found objects
David Feinberg, with drawing and painting contributions from Emily Widi, Laura Krueger, Katie Novak.

Termination
'Termination' was inspired by dialogues the Voice to Vision team had with Murray and Joe regarding their experiences on the boxcars.

The small monkey sculpture entitled 'Hear No Evil', is a found object purchased at a garage sale in the early 1970's. For over 30 years I tried to place it in an artwork but never found the right piece. Finally, after hearing the stories of Murray and Joe, I placed it in 'Termination' where it represents people who, in the beginning stages of World War II, were in denial about their fate. Adding the monkey was the last visual move we made to 'finish' this piece.

 

Flight

2004, acrylic on canvas, collage, 50" x 36"
David Feinberg, with drawing and painting contributions from Lucy Smith, survivor, Sabina Zimering, survivor, and the following artists: Laura Krueger, Katie Novak, Taylor Costello, and Diane Grace Goodman. Photograph by Aviel Goodman.

FlightFlight is based on the concept of being alienated from one's home, city, and country during the formative years of one's life. With nopreparation, no plans for the future, and no home to return to, these young survivors had to hide for years. Their only chance for a future was if the Allies could win the war before they were exposed.

To revive their memories, Sabina and Lucy participated in an exercise with the art team that included directions such as "Draw the thing that you most regret leaving behind", and "Draw an incident that occurred during a winter when you were in hiding". In one of the variations, the directions were: "Make with your hands a shape that represents your feelings. Play with your hands until you find a position that feels right. Then hold that position, so it can bephotographed". (Everybody in the room, including the art team, performed this exercise.) In this painting, David chose the hands of Sabina as they crossed each other. Through Photoshop, he stretched the image for emotional effect and enlarged it as the starting point for the artwork. He saw the hands as representing the vital crossroads that force life-or-death decisions on a daily basis. Lucy added the green lines that cross each other on the lower left side of thepainting, under-lapping one of the cathedrals.

 

Six-Sided Tear

2003, acrylic, collage, on canvas, 54" x 30"
David Feinberg, with drawing and painting contributions from Murray Brandys, survivor, and the following artists: Ann Cossette, and Emily Widi.

Six Sided TearThe imagery for 'Six-sided Tear' is derived from Murray's response to word-stimulus. We gave Murray a phrase or word and asked him to create a drawing in 30 seconds. For this piece, 20 drawings were made on index cards from which two were chosen.

The first one was based on the phrase, 'someone behind you.' Murray drew an SS guard who was behind him. His rifle was used as a club.

The second drawing was in response to the word, 'monument.' Murray asked if he could draw a monument that he helped create. He drew a hexagon that represented the Holocaust monument that he and other local families created in the 1950's for their relatives that died. The six sides represent the six million Jews that were killed.

 

Six Playing Train and Then There Was One

2003, acrylic, collage, on canvas with florescent Plexiglas and wood, 40" x 44"
David Feinberg, with drawing and painting contributions from Joe Grosnacht, survivor, and the following artists: Emily Widi, Ryan Friar and Ann Cossette.

imageThe imagery for 'Six Playing Train and Then There Was One' is derived from Joe's response to word-stimulus. We gave Joe a phrase or word and asked him to create a drawing in 30 seconds. For this piece, 20 drawings were made on index cards from which three were chosen.

Joe chose one drawing based on the phase 'a crowd', in which he drew the guards' and civilian workers' children playing just outside of the concentration camp fence. The second drawing was from the phrase 'a place to hide' and resulted in a drawing of trees.

In another session, Joe was asked to draw something inside of his childhood home. He drew six chairs that he and his 5 brothers used to play train with. In the upper left hand quarter of this painting Joe drew the chairs. He placed an image of himself on the first chair. The remaining chairs are left empty. When asked why he didn't draw his younger brothers in the chairs he responded, 'They didn't survive.'

 

Why Didn't We Bomb The Crematoriums?

14"H x 16"W x 2.5"D, 2003, Collage, acrylic on wood, florescent Plexiglas, found objects
David Feinberg, with drawing and painting contributions from Laura Krueger, Katie Novak, and Emily Widi.

Why Didn't We Bomb the Crematoriums?
When Joe viewed the framework of this piece, he said that it reminded him of the crematorium but it needed smokestacks. We proceeded to use the crematorium with its smokestacks as our theme for this project. In one of our sessions, Murray asked Dr. Stephen Feinstein, Director of Holocaust and Genocide studies at University of Minnesota, 'Why didn't the Americans bomb the crematoriums, which would have saved so many lives?'

Murray came into my studio to see the work in progress. He said, 'When people were gassed in the crematoriums, they played music. 'You have to include music in this piece.' We placed the birdman playing his flute in the bottom right-hand corner.