Even on my most stressful day working as a public school teacher, there is a sense of understanding with children. They have logical minds, they want things to be fair, for their world to be safe. They absorb and purely respond to everything around them. “Misbehavior” in a classroom is a trauma response.
I recently took part of a teacher training at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. What spoke most to me while reactivating my knowledge of events surrounding the Holocaust were images of children wearing yellow badges with the Star of David. These yellow badges, sometimes arm bands, are markers that Jews were required to wear for legal status and survival in the European ghettos. Is there ever a symbol such a stark reminder of one’s devalued life – other than skin color? When I look at these yellow badges behind glass cases, preserved in archival photographs, all I feel is the polarizing power of oppression radiating off the cloth, how societies can just throw away human beings. It is even more demoralizing when I see a Jewish child wearing these markers – they’re just children, and to me, they haven’t done anything.
These paintings are based on black and white photographs from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s collection, many which were compiled by survivors and their families. The four photographs I chose to paint are of Jewish children living in Belgium, Lithuania, and Croatia, taken years 1941-1944. As they are black and white, they embody a different time, a different life, a different youth culture than what I know in 2020 – but perhaps not so different as children still pay the price in the relentless upholding of white supremacist institutions. I did not want to recolor the photographs. Instead, I wanted to light them up in flickering-like warm colors, to remind the viewer of a lit candle amidst in the darkness. Kids give me hope that things can be better and different, but at times like these they are especially vulnerable and subject to the current generation’s failures than ever.
USHMM Collection Photograph Numbers if you’re interested in learning more: 56401, 06546, 10945, 88262