I’ve got a few hundred comic books stashed in a rolling luggage, friends and clients call me Spiderman and I can describe in detail the historical difference between Marvel’s Thing and Hulk. Aside from being a comic and superhero nerd, I have the utmost respect for all the real-life heroes of our planet – our first responders, soldiers, law enforcement, mothers, fathers, and now that I’ve gotten some more insight, the modest heroic women during the Holocaust.
Artist and activist Linda Stein uses heroic inspiration for her astonishingly puttogether displays of art, even incorporating guest appearances by DC Comics’Wonder Woman. Holocaust Heroes: Fierce Females is an exhibit of tapestries and sculptures that highlight 10 female heroes of the Holocaust who stood up to violence and oppression, going on now through November 29 at the Futernick Art Gallery in the Dave and Mary Alper Jewish Community Center. Linda Stein explores gender roles and inspires compassion, empathy and bravery. Stein said, “It’s three o’clock in the morning. You are awakened by a knock on the door. A person in rags, looking close to death, pleads Let me in your house. Please. They will kill me unless you hide me. If you say Yes and authorities find out, you run the risk that not only you, but your family and friends will be murdered.”
Most people will either not answer or simply say “no” and close the door, but very few will open it and let the person in. These rescuers take the risk of letting in a complete stranger just to protect them, giving no thought to their own safety and not even considering themselves heroes at all. Although many people failed to help the Jews and eleven million individuals who perished during the Holocaust, some stood up to the brutality.
Through the use of fabric, metal, text and mixed media, Holocaust Heroes communicates the stories of heroic women, honoring positive female role models who are traditionally neglected in heroic narratives. When I first entered the gallery I was blown away by the assortment of huge tapestries, shadow-boxed sculpture collages and more. As an Art History minor, I can see the amount of work put into these, and can truly feel the communication and emotion each piece of art conveys as the colorful portraits and text literally pop out of the darkened space within the tapestries. These tapestries tell the amazing stories of such women as Ruth Gruber, an American correspondent who traveled throughout post-liberation Europe to interview and photograph displaced Holocaust survivor refugees, conveying their treatment to the world, and Noor Inayat Khan, a Special Operations Executive agent, who was the first female radio operator to be sent from Britain to aid the French resistance – plus eight fascinating others.
The idea for Stein’s Spoon to Shell box sculptures came from the following true story: “In Birkenau, a prisoner called Leah resisted the temptation of accepting a spoon from a Polish prisoner, a maintenance man in Camp C, when she understood that in return for the gift she would have to have sexual relations with him. She made this choice in spite of the fact that a spoon was literally a lifesaver in the camps. Without it one had to drink soup from the same vessel as everyone else, risking exposure to contagious diseases such as tuberculosis.”
For the artist, the spoon has forever become a metaphor: a symbol of protection and nourishment, bringing to mind the impossible choice that many women faced during these times. Similarly, the shell denotes a hard protective outer covering; a mask or camouflage of true feelings. For Stein, art and activism are inseparable. Tackling oppression is the mission that has guided Stein in the making of her tapestries and sculptures for Holocaust Heroes: Fierce Females.
This is art, history, and something to do on an early Sunday afternoon, and even better – it’s free. Exhibits in the Futernick Family Art Gallery at the Alper JCC are open on Sundays from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. and during all Jewish Book Festival events beginning in October at the Cultural Arts Center.
For information call 305-271-9000, ext. 265 or visit www.alperjcc.org.