Visiting artist sees Holocaust as personal

By Jeremia Schrock
Sun Star Reporter

“Victims Unknown” by Marty Kalb. Charcoal on Paper.

Painter Marty Kalb is not an artist to pull punches, not when it concerns the Holocaust.

“What I find missing…is a connection between the reader and the victims as human beings,” Kalb said at a lecture on Nov. 11 in Schaible Auditorium. He feels that the Holocaust was a dehumanizing event that has since been further dehumanized by our obsession with facts. “You can read about the number of transports; the number of murdered by the month, by the day, by the hour. However, the pages and pages of numbers that record the deaths of millions and millions of people can become depersonalized facts,” he said.

Kalb wants to make the Holocaust experience personal for his viewers.

He began his lecture by reading from a paper he’d written which discussed the humanitarian cost of the Holocaust, his art as an interpretation of those events and how he felt when he visited Auschwitz, one of the most infamous concentration camps run by the Nazis. “When I stood at the top step of the stairway leading down to the entrance of the now-destroyed gas chamber, I thought, ‘I’m a Jew, and millions of people like me were murdered on this very spot.’”

When Kalb finished reading, Schaible was darkened and he began a slide show of various charcoal sketches he’d drawn. These sketches were accompanied by black and white images he’d altered using Microsoft Paint.

The slide show was graphic and had not been sanitized, as Kalb hoped to get the brutality of the Holocaust across to the audience. Kalb switched between his own drawings and the altered images to show a kind of dual reality: this is what a photo shows us, this is what it can tell us.

One altered image showed an emaciated corpse, mouth agape. When Kalb showed the image tinted blue, the corpse appeared to be asleep. One could even imagine it snoring. However, when the same image was tinted red, the corpse was suddenly alive and appeared to be screaming in agony.

Kalb showed images of Nazi officials next to those of their victims. A favorite subject of Kalb’s is faces, particularly eyes. He showed numerous “evil” looking Nazi officers (men and women) before showing others who looked almost kind and friendly. Kalb would then show images of Holocaust victims: some were terrified, others passive and some who even looked as “evil” as their Nazi counterparts.

While the photos and drawings of executions, failed escapes, mass graves and corpses stacked like firewood were gruesome, the most chilling images were some of the most banal. This is especially true of the passport-style photographs of concentration camp doctors and nurses, which covers up the fact that they were among the most reprehensible individuals involved. Many of these individuals conducted experiments on prisoners ranging from infecting them with malaria or sexually transmitted diseases to sewing twin children together in order to “create” conjoined twins.

For Kristen Romeo, an elementary education student, the lecture was all about an individual’s eyes. “It’s funny how you can detect evil through just eye contact,” she said.

Richard Kublske, a geology and volcanology major, felt saddened by what he’d seen, but added that Kalb’s paintings stood out and helped tell what he was trying to say.

“The one that stood out the most for me is when all the bodies were piled up and one was at an angle,”
 Kublske added. “It looked like something out of the east side of Hell.”

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