University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies
chgs@umn.edu
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CHGS

  • Pearl Hirshfield

    Pearl Hirshfield

    Pearl Hirshfield is a Chicago born, first generation American. She is an artist-activist whose installations and works in other mediums deal with cutting edge political, social, and gender issues. Her art reflects and embraces many causes that speak to basic freedoms in the national and global landscape. A trip to Poland in 1985 seeking information on family members who did not survive the war, compelled her to focus on the Holocaust.

    Artist Statement

    As a child, and as a first-generation American growing up in a vibrant Jewish community in Chicago, I felt protected and secure. With the early rumblings of Hitler, my world changed. I gradually became aware that anxiety and fear for loved ones left behind in Europe began to permeate my parents' lives and those of our immigrant neighbors. Letters from my father's parents and mother's relatives ceased abruptly at the beginning of the war. After my children were born, I continued the search for the missing pieces. It has become a quest for answers.

    Shadows of Auschwitz is a walk-through installation constructed for viewers to enter, one person at a time. The numbers on the structure are tattoos sent to me by survivors who responded to the work-in-progress. Their names are inscribed on a separate scroll kept in a phylactery pouch. Other numbers are from the 1942-43 ledgers retrieved from Auschwitz.

    As Shadows of Auschwitz is an ongoing work, numbers are continually added to the installation and names to the scroll as they are received. I continue to attempt to make sense out of this and other events through my work.

    Artworks: Witness and Legacy

    Shadows of Auschwitz

    Shadows of Auschwitz,1989 Installation
    15 x 22 feet

    Shadows of Auschwitz is a "Z" shaped walk-through installation commemorating the victims of the most infamous German concentration camp on Polish soil. Viewers enter a dark space to see constructions evoking a deportation car, a series of shadows produced by revolving lights evoking the camp perimeter, and a mirror array where one's own image appears with a concentration camp number across it.

    Shadows of Auschwitz

    Shadows of Auschwitz, 1989 Installation
    15 x 22 feet

    Billions of words have been published in books, periodicals and media since the end of World War II, including the widely circulated films and photos of the atrocities in the death camps and ghettos, but the enormity of all that happened during the Holocaust has yet to be explained. An artistic image of a railway made of individual vertical slates. The "shadows" of Auschwitz are projected on the right wall.

    Shadows of Auschwitz

    Shadows of Auschwitz,1989 Installation
    15 x 22 feet

    Each survivor's story, each victim's story, is different and I cannot get past the feeling, "It could have been me."

    Detail of Railway car image.

    Shadows of Auschwitz

    Shadows of Auschwitz,1989 Installation
    15 x 22 feet

    Mirror array is covered with Auschwitz survivors' numbers, beginning with Primo Levi, 178514. Others are added as the artist meets and records stories of survivors. Thus, this aspect of the exhibition is never static. Revolving lights produce shadows resembling the concrete support posts for the camp perimeter. Barbed wire holding up part of the fence creates a camp image.

    Shadows of Auschwitz

    Shadows of Auschwitz,1989 Installation
    15 x 22 feet

    A view looking back to the mirror array, a quote by Primo Levi on the wall, and the exit, with documentation from the Auschwitz Survivor's association in Israel.

    Shadows of Auschwitz

    Shadows of Auschwitz,1989 Installation
    15 x 22 feet

    The quote from Italian survivor Primo Levi comes from his short story, "The Coin, " which is repeated in his last book, The Drowned and the Saved. Levi's suggestion seems to be that genocide is always lurking. Germany, one of the most civilized nations of Europe, was the main instigator of the Holocaust.

    Page updated 2013.