It is vital that we continue to remember the more devastating moments of our human history. To list them would be callous to those not included, but the events that define the inhumanity of tragedy should be called upon regularly to influence our actions and attitudes towards present day injustice and prejudices. On the 27th of January, we commemorate the six million Jewish people murdered in the Holocaust, as well as the millions of people killed in Nazi Persecution and in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. Though many seek to turn away from confrontation of these horrific events, to do so would be a fundamental dismissal of the treatment and memorial these victims and their families deserve. The most important thing to do on this date is acknowledge in any way one can this crime and attempt to learn from the lessons of history.
It could be argued that the most direct way that art can engage its audience is live theatre. The shared nature of the emotions offered by good theatre is heightened when dealing with a topic of such emotional weight. Perhaps the most direct of all confrontations with the holocaust in theatre is Charlotte Delbo’s ‘Who Will Carry The Word?’, an autobiographical play about the French writer’s time in Auschwitz. Following the lives of twenty-three French women living in the barracks during the first few, most lethal months in the concentration camp, Delbo’s words are filled with the kind of brutal realism that is only justified and adequately written by someone who lived through that brutality. Of Charlotte Delbo’s 230 French nationalist companions captured and sent to concentration camps, only 49 survived. To read her words is an act of vital reverence that is practically one’s duty on a day like January 27th.
There are also other forms of art made by survivors and people looking to uncover the emotions that lay at the heart of these horrific events. A few choice artists to look at are the provocative, grimly comic works of Pavel Fantl and the hauntingly simple works of Nelly Toll. More so than most art, the truth behind these images leaps out of the frame, thanks in part to the efforts of so many people dedicated to keeping moments like the Holocaust alive in our memory. It is our duty to remember these events and Holocaust Memorial Day gives us the opportunity to take some defined time to give both the survivors and the departed the respect they deserve. While it may be tempting to look away, take some time on January 27th to engage with these works from one of the worst periods in European history, so that you might understand at least part of what they went through.