Ronit Joy Holtz
Artist Statement for “Exile to Ashes”
Mixed Media Paintings, Installation and Extended Media from March 27-June 2, 2017
Ronit Joy Holtz
“Why’d they take us here, why’d we come to such a beautiful free environment papa? Are we going to be able to swing on the branches, collect rocks and feel the wind speak in our ears? Why can’t I hear the birds singing? Why aren’t the tree branches lifting us out of this horror?” My papa cried and held me tight. “Hold my hand sweetheart and we’ll fall under the silent trees of Poland together.”
I wrote this poem after walking through the Children’s Forest in Belzec, Poland. At 15 years old, I was on a two-week journey retracing the brutal steps of the Holocaust. Silent trees around me had eyes engraved on their bark, witnesses to the immediate execution of 6,000 Jews as they were shot into pits. From that day on, I had been branded: my life was going to be a vessel so that the stories of the Jewish people would never be forgotten, and I would never cease to lift up my country in remembrance.
Exile to Ashes, Ashes to Existence, is a body of work that tells the resilience of the Jewish people. As an Israeli artist, whose entire family perished in the Holocaust aside from one man, I feel that it is my duty to keep the candle flame lit in preserving my family’s memory and the memory of countless others. The nation of Israel birthed after the diaspora of the Jews who survived the plan of extermination in World War II.
I have often asked myself what it means to be an offspring of the innocent who suffered tremendously and how now living in a nation is by a product of survivors. My work is not merely a historical account of human suffering, but rather a way to take the past and show hope fulfilled. Through the utilization of wax, candles, relics, text and imagery, I tell the story that revolves around a nation built from ashes. The photos in some of my work come from the heroic actions of Wilhem Brasse, a young Polish man who was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau for refusing to declare loyalty to Hitler/join the Nazi regime. At the age of 20, he was forced to be the camp’s photographer witnessing the most brutal and gruesome acts (including the Mengele medical experiments). He took about 45,000 photographs and was strictly ordered to burn them but before the liberation of Auschwitz, he hid and buried 38,916 of them. Later these photos helped convict the very monsters who commissioned them.
History has aged and it’s been seventy-two years since the Holocaust. Survivors continue to reduce in numbers but who will speak for them after they are gone? Hate crimes, Holocaust deniers, prejudice and anti-Semitism are still circling the air. As as an artist I hold the access to paint and perform the present act of remembrance.
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