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Art Recalls Holocaust Nightmare
Series of prints a life-long wish
By DEBBIE TUMA
East Hampton artist Michael Knigin has had about 20 one-man shows and been included in about 120 group shows around the world, showing his series on social commentary, environment, flowers, fish and nudes.
But since childhood, his dream had been to create a series about a sensitive subject that has haunted him all his life Ñ the Holocaust.
Knigin's dream is finally a reality, with his "Holocaust and Beyond Ñ Survival of the Spirit," a series of about 30 prints. It is being shown in its third location in two years Ñ the Jewish Community Center in East Hills, Long Island Ñ now through May 26.
The show ran in conjunction with Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah) this month.
The show opened last year at the Jewish Community Center in Stamford, Conn., and recently was exhibited at the Holocaust Museum of Nassau County from Dec. 3 to Jan. 26.
It wasn't until 1975, when Knigin, 58 Ñ then living in Brooklyn Ñ was hired by the Israel Museum and the Jerusalem Foundation that he was able to see real images of the Holocaust firsthand.
"I was introduced to people at the Holocaust Museum [Yadvashem], who gave me access to their archives, so I photographed them at the museum," he said. "These were pictures of the victims in the camps, of revolts, deportation, ghettos, liberation and of Anne Frank," he said. "Many of these pictures were taken by the German soldiers."
Knigin decided he wanted to use the images in a series when he returned to New York after living in Israel a year.
"It brought everything to light, and helped me understand why I had always wanted to study this terrible period of time," said Knigin in his East Hampton studio.
"I couldn't believe man's inhumanity against man, and I decided to copy these photographs to use in my own series about this time in history."
Knigin, by this time a printmaker and painter, had been brought to Israel to set up a professional fine-art printmaking atelier where artists could create silkscreens and lithographs.
In 1977, back in New York, Knigin started to create his Holocaust series, along with other series on horses and carousel animals.
Knigin attempted to make collages from the images but found some either too large or too small to have the importance he wanted. He was constantly interrupting his work to find a copier that could enlarge or reduce them.
Then one day about six years ago, a new world opened up to Knigin when a friend introduced him to a newly released computer-software program called Photoshop.
"It was like magic, and I went berserk," Knigin said. "Suddenly I could move around images, colors and textures, layering them, reducing and enlarging them, right on the computer screen."
Knigin transferred his archival photos to the computer and started creating his Holocaust series on the screen. He also has integrated images, symbols, textures and colors from many of his own paintings into his computer project.
So far, he's created about 500 images in his Holocaust series in a loft filled with computers, scanners and printers Ñ but, he says, it will never be finished because now he has thousands of images to choose from.
In much of his Holocaust series, including those in his new show at the Jewish Community Center at East Hills, Knigin uses strong contrasts to show the horror of this era.
His print, "Lady Glow," shows the sad face of a young boy in a concentration camp. Juxtaposed over this face is an elegant ballerina dancing freely, showing that life was flourishing despite the deprivation and oppression of Jews.
Another contrast is evident in a print contrasting two arrivals of people. On the bottom, freedom-bound Jews board a large boat headed for Palestine. Overhead, a group of Jews arrive by cattle car at a death camp.
Knigin said that in addition to giving him freedom to create strong images, the computer allows him to create art less expensively, and to make his work available to more people.
"But I don't think the Holocaust series is going to be a big seller, since not many people want to live with it," said Knigin, who is doing the artwork for the book, "Memories of 100 Survivors of the Holocaust."
"I did it because it was my legacy, and I wanted to remind people what we are capable of doing to other humans. The Holocaust is really about the survival of the spirit."
Tracing the Tragedy's Victims
The Suffolk County and Nassau County chapters of the American Red Cross are offering hope to Long Island Holocaust victims through the services of the American Red Cross Holocaust and War Victims Tracing and Information Center.
Anyone who has loved ones who have been missing since the Holocaust or World War II, or who wishes to document their internment for restitution, can contact the Suffolk County chapter of the American Red Cross at (631) 924-6700, or the American Red Cross in Nassau County at (516) 747-3500. The staff will provide free, confidential service.
The American Red Cross' Holocaust and War Victims Tracing and Information Center was started in Baltimore in 1990 as a national clearinghouse dedicated to helping people seeking answers to the fate of loved ones missing since World War II.