“Birkenau Barracks Diorama” is the largest piece and the only sculpture in Bruce Gendelman’s “Sifting Through Ashes” exhibit. The sculpture features 65 slave laborers in the barracks of the Birkenau concentration camp.

“Birkenau Barracks Diorama” is the largest piece and the only sculpture in Bruce Gendelman’s “Sifting Through Ashes” exhibit. The sculpture features 65 slave laborers in the barracks of the Birkenau concentration camp.

Photo provided by the Holocaust Memorial Center


HMC exhibit to feature artist who conveys Holocaust in post-witness era 

By: Maddie Forshee, Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published January 17, 2018

 “Aerial View of Birkenau” is one of nine large-scale oil paintings coming to the Holocaust Memorial Center Jan. 21.

“Aerial View of Birkenau” is one of nine large-scale oil paintings coming to the Holocaust Memorial Center Jan. 21.

Photo provided by the Holocaust Memorial Center

 “Dom Katolicki,” from Bruce Gendelman’s “Sifting Through Ashes” exhibit, is one of the nine oil paintings being shown at the Holocaust Memorial Center.

“Dom Katolicki,” from Bruce Gendelman’s “Sifting Through Ashes” exhibit, is one of the nine oil paintings being shown at the Holocaust Memorial Center.

Photo provided by the Holocaust Memorial Center

FARMINGTON HILLS — How do you convey the devastation of the Holocaust in a meaningful way, so that others can learn about it in its proper context? 

That question is answered through the Holocaust Memorial Center’s “Sifting Through Ashes” exhibit, slated to run Jan. 21-March 27 at the center, 28123 Orchard Lake Road; an opening program is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 22.

 According to a press release, the exhibit will present the horrors of the Holocaust through artist Bruce Gendelman’s series of nine large-scale textural oil paintings and 20 photographs. 

Gendelman will show his exhibit, “Sifting Through Ashes,” just four times. From Philadelphia, the exhibit comes to West Bloomfield Jan. 21. From there, the exhibit will travel to Poland and Israel. 

“All this art is about experience that resulted from experiences I had in Eastern Europe,” said Gendelman. “This trip greatly affected me, so I was motivated to do this art on this very big scale to send a message for other people.” 

The exhibit is geared toward promoting the education and the artistic expressions around the Holocaust in the upcoming “post-witness” era, “when all Holocaust survivors will be gone,” the press release states. 

“The purpose of showing this art to other people is to try to understand that we’re at a point in time where there’s almost no one alive who lived to witness this,” said Gendelman. “If there’s no one left alive, how do you convey this to future generations?” 

Gendelman hopes that his exhibit, now and in the future, educates guests even after all the living Holocaust survivors pass away. 

“It gives me satisfaction to explain the message I have, because it encourages people to think about how they treat other people,” he said. 

Rabbi Eli Mayerfeld, CEO of the HMC, said that Gendelman’s art includes masterful, emotive, larger-than-life paintings and moving photographs.

“Taken from the sites of death camps around Europe, (they) are a sobering reminder about the atrocities and poignant memories still felt by so many today,” Mayerfeld said in the press release. “We are honored to have Bruce’s art on display, and it is our sincere hope our visitors, including teachers and students from throughout southeast Michigan and beyond, will learn from his works. This exhibit supports our important mission of education and learning lessons from the Holocaust, which, in a world still filled with hate and bigotry, is more important than ever.”

Gendelman’s works were inspired by a 2015 trip to Poland and Ukraine, where he toured Holocaust sites with his sister and brother-in-law. The trip was led by Hannah Rosenthal, the former U.S. State Department special envoy to monitor and combat anti–Semitism, and Father Patrick Desbois, a Catholic priest who has devoted his life to investigating the mass murder of Jews. 

During the trip, Gendelman met with Holocaust survivors, witnesses and deniers, which led him to uncover the circumstances surrounding the murder of his great-grandparents, who were rounded up, tortured and then marched into a forest in Bolochev, Ukraine, where they were shot and thrown into a pit.

When he came back to America, Gendelman printed some of the photos he had taken. He was struck with inspiration to create more when he was looking at his photos. He decided to do a series of paintings of the chimneys at Auschwitz using only a trowel. 

“That’s how the slave laborers who built those, brick by brick, would have built them,” said Gendelman. 

As for the rest of the paintings, they came to Gendelman during nightmares after returning home from Europe. 

“I was thinking, ‘How do you use art to send a message?’” said Gendelman. He created three landscapes from those nightmares. 

The exhibit also includes an 8-by-12-foot painting of Auschwitz at sunset that includes 550 pounds of paint. 

The biggest piece in “Sifting Through Ashes” is a sculpture — 20 feet wide, 22 feet deep and 8 1/2 feet tall — of 65 slave laborers sitting in a bunk at the Buchenwald concentration camp. The sculpture was inspired by a famous photo of the same subject. 

The exhibit is free with museum admission or membership. Docent-led tours of the exhibit will be hosted at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 4 and March 18, and at 7 p.m. Feb. 12 and March 12. 

People can sign up for a tour by calling (248) 553-2400, ext. 110.

The opening program for “Sifting Through Ashes” will feature Gendelman and Arthur Berger, a retired senior official from the United States Department of State and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, according to the press release. The program, titled “American Diplomacy and the Holocaust: The Roots of Hatred Explained in History and Interpreted in Art,” will feature a discussion from Gendelman on the history of the Holocaust and its importance today, according to the press release. Berger will discuss pre-Holocaust events of the 1930s and other topics. 

A dessert reception will be held after the remarks. 

RSVPs are required by Jan. 16 by calling (248) 536-9605 or rsvp@holocaustcenter.org.

For more information, call (248) 553-2400.