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... in the concentration camps I told myself, if I survive, I must tell my story as I saw it. I painted for twenty years to develop the skill to tell it, and I wrote the first poem right after liberation, to challenge myself not to be silent. –Alice Lok Cahana
At the age of 15, Alice Lok Cahana's life was changed forever. She was brutally uprooted from the security of her home in Sárvár, Hungary, as the Nazis took her and her family to Auschwitz. Her mother, sister, two younger brothers, grandfather, aunts and uncles did not survive. In 1945, at the time of liberation, Cahana was still a young girl, one of the few children who was able to survive the torture and deprivation of concentration camp life. In 1978, she felt compelled to use her art to tell her story and the story of all the children who suffered.
In 1978, I went back to our hometown. The same train that took us to Auschwitz took me back. It seemed like nothing had changed there – the town was still mute and silent – no memorial, no remembrance, no one missed us or cared. After 35 years, no one remembered that a whole community was swallowed up in smoke.
About Cahana's work, Barbara Rose, the art historian writes: "To create a universal message that communicates a subjective emotional experience is the task of the true artist. The task becomes particularly difficult if the artist, like Alice Lok Cahana, has to confront the darkest moment in human history, depicting an inferno that is not imagined but real. Cahana made an artistic statement that would last as a permanent testimony to her firsthand experience of the Holocaust. She was determined to overcome the contradiction between aesthetics and mass murder, two irreconcilable opposites representing the highest and lowest levels of human consciousness. She felt she must dedicate her art to creating the memorial to those that had been murdered and forgotten. At the same time, she believed that art could not be about the transcendence of the human spirit, the triumph of human spirituality over inhumane evil and hate."1
1 Barbara Rose, from Ashes to the Rainbow: A Tribute to Raoul Wallenberg, works by Alice Lok Cahana ( Los Angeles, CA : Hebrew Union College Skirball Museum, 1986) 15
Site constructed with permission of the artist.