The following is from the Jan. 28, 2007, edition of The Dallas Morning News.
By KATIE MENZER
The Dallas Morning News
Kelsey Moser's artwork is terrible.
That's the point.
"In most art pieces, it's a taboo not to have the subject face you, but I felt that it was crucial to show the true atmosphere of what was going on," said the Southern Methodist University student.
Holocaust artwork by Kelsey Moser
Her painting: a German World War II officer and his hunched Jewish prisoners marching off into a gray distance with only their backs visible to the viewer.
"You can't see their faces because it was a shameful thing that was happening. It's something that people wanted to hide. Even today, people want to hide. They don't want to talk about genocide and the horrible things that are going on in the world."
But Ms. Moser's painting – along with 30 other pieces of Holocaust-themed art by SMU students – is meant to stir that silence into discussion.
The month-long exhibit opens today at the downtown Dallas library and commemorates this weekend's (Jan. 27-28, 2007) International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The United Nations established the day to remember the massacre of millions of Jews and other Eastern Europeans and help prevent future acts of genocide worldwide.
It's an exhibit no sane person would want to see, but one many people should, the organizers believe. Many experts say anti-Semitism and the carnage it brings are gaining speed once more worldwide.
In one of the exhibit's pieces, toe tags are placed around the candles on a menorah. The name of a Nazi death camp and the number of people murdered there is printed on each tag.
A piece of luggage – reminiscent of the suitcases now left in piles at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland – is divided in half. One side holds eyeglasses and clothes to represent the Jews' hopes for a better future. The other is packed with a Nazi uniform, broken glass and a poison gas canister to represent the actual fate of the suitcase's owner.
And a canvas is painted bluish black using prussic acid – a cyanide compound once common in both photography darkrooms and Nazi death chambers.
"That was by a photography student who was shocked that the same chemical used in art was also used to kill," said Rick Halperin, professor of human rights at SMU and the impetus behind the students' art.
The artwork is part of Dr. Halperin's human rights course and accounts for one-fifth of a student's grade for the class. The pieces in the exhibit were selected from hundreds the professor has collected in his office and in storage over the years.
Although Dr. Halperin said most of the students do well on the project – "I wouldn't be able to grade on artistic merits, per se. It's about revealing the inner self" – most also pour their hearts into it.
"This is a visual project because this is a visual class," said Dr. Halperin, who has been teaching the class to SMU students for decades. "The photos, the texts on genocide are all very visually disturbing. It has to be visible to have meaning. This is not just a theory. This is about people."
Dr. Halperin's course examines human rights violations across the world – from tragedies in Cambodia to the ongoing horrors in Darfur – but the Holocaust is a primary topic.
Every available space in his office is crammed with books on the subject, and Dr. Halperin, also chairman of Amnesty International USA's board, takes a group of students to Poland each year during winter vacation to view the death camps.
He said the atrocities perpetrated against Jews and others during World War II spurred the human rights movement as it exists today, and students must understand the Holocaust to understand the efforts to stop further genocides now.
"It's all well and good to talk about 'never again,' but that's a hollow reality," Dr. Halperin said. "It's apparent the world has learned very little."
Holocaust denial is growing worldwide, experts say. For example, a high-profile conference was convened in Iran last year to discuss whether Nazi genocide took place or was greatly exaggerated.
"It's outrageous," Dr. Halperin said. "It should be a crime itself. It is a moral abomination."
The convention was obviously political – an attempt to undermine the nation of Israel and its supporters – but it's part of the disturbing resurgence of anti-Semitic ideology being seen especially in Europe and the Middle East, said Mark Briskman, a regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.
Iran's convention was headlined by the country's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has said the Holocaust and the murder of 6 million Jews is a "myth."
"They have real money, real power behind them," said Mr. Briskman, whose organization is co-sponsoring the exhibit at the library.
That's why those who believe in human rights must fight back against hatred and ignorance, said graduate student Cindy Williams, who created the luggage artwork for her human rights class project.
She said she struggled for weeks to come up with a subject that "would have real meaning."
Ms. Williams, a lawyer who specialized in elder-abuse law before she returned to school, said she was especially proud of the luggage tag she attached to the suitcase.
It reads, "I am somebody."
"Dr. Halperin would tell us how they tried to strip them of their identities and tell them they were nothing, that they were less than people," she said. "As much as I was scared of it because I am not an artist, I really loved working on that project."
Ms. Moser is an artist – she'll graduate in May with a degree in art – but she found the project no less challenging.
"As an artist, it was about trying to pull together all the ideas and concepts that made a lasting impact on me from the class," she said.
"Trying to do that in one painting is kind of daunting."
She painted in drab colors, except for the red swastika she drew on the German officer's uniform.
"It was about taking away the joy of color," she said.
Ms. Moser, an academic resident assistant on campus, has finished the human rights class, but she's working with Dr. Halperin to design a program to get more information to her fellow students about fighting for human rights.
"I realized my own complacency with what was going on in the world around me," the 22-year-old said.
"Once I took this class, it really opened my eyes to the fact that I need to make a difference."
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