ExhibitsHumanity & Inhumanity › Fire and Ash: Two Post-Holocaust Visions

They stand together as burning figures consumed by infernal flames. Their blazing bodies soon to be reduced to ash and smoke.They stand together as ashen figures without blood or bleeding hearts. Their carbon atoms cry out in eternity's deaf ear.

The basic inspiration for this print diptych was the industrialized cremation of exterminated Jewish bodies by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

The burning of these corpses in pits, pyres, and industrial furnaces created massive amounts of ash and bone fragments.

This charred debris, of what once were living human beings, were just dumped into rivers, ponds, or strewn in the fields as fertilizer, or used as landfill on uneven ground and in marshes.

I chose the haiku form for my short poems because it provides a simple, traditional framework for thoughts about the transitory nature of life. And it forces me to still and distill my mishmash of thoughts and feelings about the genocide of my people.

Since the liberation of Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps, and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both in 1945…

We are now all Jews.

Every living person on this planet is now subject to possible annihilation in a thermonuclear war involving the global super powers.

Such a war would not be the long tradition of great power conflict for political and economic advantages. Nuclear war in the 21st century is an act of unimaginable (but describable) mass murder that would end human civilization as we know it on this planet.

Although the following observations are obvious, it does not make them any less true.

The chances of this type of worldwide apocalypse has grown more likely since Putin's recent public threats of use of Russian tactical nuclear weapons on both military and civilian targets in the Ukraine; the Mullahs of Iran credible threats to annihilate the Jewish state of Israel with nuclear weapons; and the aggressive militarism of Xi’s China.


Many establishment experts posit that this is all bluff and bluster on the part of cunning dictators and theocrats. But the reality is that all the “defense intellectuals,” policy wonks, and media pundits are as clueless as the rest of us.

No one can accurately ascertain the actual risk of a nuclear armageddon until it happens…and that brilliant forecast will be short-lived.

American intelligence, diplomatic, academic, military, and media experts have an astounding bad record in assessing risk and predicting the future.

This has been quantitatively and impartially analyzed and verified by academics like Philip Tetlock at the University of Pennsylvania and Nassim Taleb, formerly of New York University.

So where does this leave us?

Hell on earth? Or more optimistically at the very beginning of a messianic age of peace and goodwill to all people on this linconsequential hunk of galactic debris?

Or something else all together different?

Like everyone else, I do not have a clue.

But what has popped into my mind as I end this short essay was a personal anecdote from long ago.

In the autumn of 1968, I was a freshman art major at Brown University and took an introductory design class with Hugh Townley, the distinguished wood sculptor.

Even 55 years ago, Townley was an academic anomaly. He had not received any formal advanced academic degrees but managed to get himself a tenured track position at an Ivy League university. His claim to fame was that he had studied with the acclaimed sculptor Ossip Zadine in Holland after WWII and later done some well regarded art commissions.

Zadkine created the iconic “The Destroyed City” sculpture for Rotterdam’s internationally important harbor in 1953. It has since become a Dutch national monument and treasure.

The older, well-established artist saw the talent and spark of brilliance in the young Hugh from the American midwest. He also introduced the provincial youth to the deep ennui and anomie of the Old World.

Townley used photos of the “The Destroyed City” to try to show his students serious art with serious themes. Many of us were also callow youths from the American midwest.

As I remember it, he then asked all of us a question. Roughly:

“What possible meaning could any piece of art have in a world where millions of innocent men, women, and children are exterminated by impersonal bombs and bullets…and magnificent, centuries-in-the-making European cities are flattened into rubble in a matter of hours?“

Although the professor and I never really hit it off, the question has stuck in my mind for well over half a century.

I have tried to answer the question over the many decades with art:


For me, it is a quintessentially Jewish response.

One must try to creatively engage with the world's human cruelty and injustice, and repair what the creator, or blind evolution, has left undone.

Technical Notes

The initial multi-media paintings were scanned and modified in Photoshop. The new images were printed on archival Hahnemuhle Photo Rag paper with pigmented inks. All images can be printed onto 8.5x11 to 17x22 inch sheets.


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