Since 1945 many people have responded to the Holocaust through art. From sculpture to painting, music to poetry, art is a medium through which one can express the deepest of emotions. Art also has the power to challenge and to stimulate, to inspire and to educate. U.S. scholar Lawrence Langer calls Holocaust art the ‘horror truth’ and indeed such art is an invaluable testimony to the atrocities of the Holocaust.

Let’s look at a few examples; in 1999 the Imperial War Museum (IWM) curated an exhibition called ‘Unspeakable: The Artist as Witness to the Holocaust’. It was the public’s first opportunity to see the IWM’s collection of Holocaust art and consisted of works by a number of individuals including Holocaust survivors and British artists. This diversity of artists was reflected in the diversity of the artwork; art from the camps was displayed alongside contemporary responses.  

Roman Halter, a Polish Jew who survived the Lodz ghetto as well as Auschwitz, and Stutthof Concentration Camp, was just one of the artists displayed in the exhibition. His artwork is at once beautiful and tragic, for whilst he considered his art to be a “form of joyous expression” it was also a “pit of trauma” (Roman Halter). His art is characterised by abstract shapes and sharp lines, reminiscent of the camps’ barbed wire. Many of the scenes Halter chose, including a child in her mother’s arms, the face of his mother and brother, are depicted in stained glass. His artwork, whilst personal, holds universal significance. We are honoured to have a number of stained glass windows created by Halter and designed by Moshe Galili here at the Centre. The memorial windows feature in our memorial hall and include the following:

The Yellow Star: commissioned by Paul, Rudi and Eve Oppenheimer in memory of the Camp at Belsen where they were imprisoned. Created by Roman Halter.


Although Halter did not begin to express his experiences through art until 25 years after the Holocaust, there are many artists, professional and amateur, who depicted the Holocaust contemporaneously. As a result, art exists from within the Nazis’ persecutory system, including ghettoes and concentration camps. Clandestine art was done at the individual’s own risk and is a testimony to their experiences. One such artist was ‘Bill’, an anonymous Jewish man held in Blechhammer, a sub-camp in the Auschwitz camp complex. ‘Bill’s’ fate is unknown but his artwork is invaluable evidence of life inside Blechhammer. ‘Bill’s’ series of 13 cartoons were displayed in ‘Unspeakable’ and many of the scenes illustrate the centrality of forced labour within the concentration camp system. 

Whilst a great deal of Holocaust art consists of work by survivors there also exists a wealth of art created by those who were not directly persecuted. Liberators, artists from contemporary society and the children of survivors are just a few who have responded to the Holocaust through art. Eric Taylor  was one of the first liberators to arrive at Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp in 1945 and documented the tragedy left behind through watercolour. He wrote:

'I drew the dead and scarcely living people when Belsen concentration camp was overrun, and I witnessed at first hand all the other appalling horrors of war. To me, any attempt to explain in words the overall influence of this experience on my work appears to weaken what I endeavour to say in my painting or sculpture. It means so very much.'

The overwhelming scale of human suffering evident at Bergen-Belsen was too much for Taylor to represent. As a result, his artwork largely focuses on single lone figures rather than groups of people.

Holocaust art, therefore, serves a multiplicity of purposes. It is both testimony and witness, as well as a means of expressing feelings and recalling memories that are difficult, if not impossible, to articulate.

In light of this we are encouraging students to keep the memory alive by creating a piece of artwork that reflects what they have learnt about the Holocaust. Full details of the competition are available here.


A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust ‘Art’, A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 9th April 2015).

Langer, Lawrence (1995) Art from the Ashes: A Holocaust Anthology Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

The Imperial War Museum ‘Unspeakable: The Artist as Witness to the Holocaust’, The Imperial War Museum [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 9th April 2015).