An abbreviated version of this story appears in the Sunday Life section of The Oklahoman.
Artful ‘Testimony’: Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art celebrating the work of Holocaust survivor David Friedman
More than 15 years after he was liberated from the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp at the end of World War II, Jewish artist David Friedman faced a new horror.
“My father was disturbed by the fact that people were forgetting the Holocaust,” recalled Miriam Friedman Morris, the late artist’s daughter. “He never forgot the paintings of the concentration camp and the ghetto. They remained buried in him, and as soon as he retired in 1962, they called. … And he went back to his work because he was disturbed by what he saw, even in America. He saw the KKK on television. This anti-Semitism that we see today was also happening for a long time. It hasn’t just started now.”
On view through May 26 at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in Norman, the exhibit “Testimony: The Life and Work of David Friedman” is a survey of his artistic output. But the exhibit’s harrowing focal point is the series “Because They Were Jews!,” a visual diary of his time in the Lodz Ghetto in Poland and at the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
“It really does depict a firsthand account of his suffering: In the ghetto, it was largely starvation under a very kind of totalitarian system. In Auschwitz, obviously, it was a question of life and death every day. He never really knew if he would be selected arbitrarily to go to a gas chamber or whether he would be selected as part of a Nazi’s game. It was a really uncertain existence, and there’s a lot of tragedy to those images as he’s reflecting on that in the 1960s,” said Mark White, the Wylodean and Bill Saxon Director of the University of Oklahoma art museum.
“I think it’s important to remember what happened at Auschwitz. That was part of racial intolerance, economic intolerance. And it wasn’t just Jews; the Nazis selected a number of different groups that they found ‘undesirable’ to be interned. So, I think that those lessons of intolerance are useful reminders. … We are now 70 years away from the horrors of the German experiment, but it is, I think, useful to remember that.”