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Michal Rovner's new installation at Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

Thursday, June 13, 2013 marked the opening of the new Permanent Exhibition Shoah in Block 27 at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, presenting new work Traces of Life: The World of the Children by Michal Rovner. The new exhibition combines powerful visual displays with short texts, that will provide a profound experience for the some 1.5 million annual visitors to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Rovner is featured among curators, historians, philosophers, artists and designers, including Chanan de Lange, David Grossman, Niv Ben David, Noemi Schory and Hagit Shimoni, all participated in and contributed to the plan of the exhibition.


Nazi ideology not only blamed the Jewish people for the world's troubles, but also targeted every single Jewish child for annihilation – the most extreme expression of genocide. When the new permanent Jewish exhibition in Auschwitz-Birkenau was being devised, Yad Vashem approached world-acclaimed artist Michal Rovner to create a work for the space devoted to the 1.5 million Jewish children murdered during the Shoah.

Rovner decided not to build a tribute or memorial, nor to deal directly with aspects of the murder. "At Auschwitz-Birkenau, we are already in the 'territory of murder,'" she explains. "Therefore, I wanted to create a space that will reflect the children themselves."

For over a year, Rovner studied the drawings and paintings made by children during the Holocaust. To this end, Yad Vashem created a special collection for her from its own archives as well as others around the world – most notably, the Shoah History Archive of the Jewish Museum in Prague.

"One day, I was sitting at Yad Vashem looking at children's diaries and sketches from the Holocaust, and something struck me," Rovner says. "After seeing some of those drawings in frames, reproductions behind glass, I suddenly realized how much power can be in just a small detail in the margin of the page. I decided not to change, or appropriate the drawings. I believe that no artist could produce any better work on the topic of children during the Holocaust than what the children themselves had already created. I wanted their authentic voices to be heard.

"Those children's families, homes, friends, belongings, landscapes and freedom had been taken away from them. Tragically, the vast majority of them left no sign behind them. Only very few were able to document the essential thing they were able to hold on to: their viewpoint. That is what is expressed in their drawings. Within a situation in which they had no choice, in front of a piece of paper they had a certain freedom to express themselves, and the way they saw reality".

"One can almost feel the urgency of the situation in many of the drawings. They are reflections and details of the life they were forced to leave behind, and the new reality they encountered. These drawings are their legacy – and our inheritance."

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