Survivors show their art on Israel’s Holocaust day

JERUSALEM (AP) — As a 9-year-old girl, Shoshana Neuman was forced by Nazi collaborators to march across what is now Ukraine in a brutal six-week trek that her father and sister did not survive.

The only image she has of her dead family is a painting she drew 40 years later of an exhausted, bearded man, his eyes closed, hoisting a small, terrified girl on his shoulders.

“I have no family pictures,” said Neuman, 78. “I painted this from memory, and it’s all I have to remember them.”

The sketch, which went on display at Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial on Monday, is part of a new art exhibit coinciding with Israel’s annual Holocaust memorial day, which focused this year on the dwindling number of survivors, 65 years after the end of World War II.

About 207,000 aging survivors remain in Israel, down 63,000 from just two years earlier. Another 200,000 survivors live in the rest of the world.

The Nazis murdered 6 million Jews during World War II, wiping out a third of world Jewry.

Israel came to a standstill Monday morning to remember them with a two-minute siren heard across the country. Pedestrians froze in their tracks, buses stopped on busy streets and cars pulled over on major highways – their drivers standing on the roads with their heads bowed.

An official wreath laying ceremony at Yad Vashem followed, with Israeli leaders and Holocaust survivors in attendance. Other ceremonies, prayers and musical performances took place in schools, community centers and army bases.

The annual remembrance is one of the most solemn on Israel’s calendar. Restaurants, cafes and places of entertainment shut down, and radio and TV programming was dedicated almost exclusively to documentaries about the Holocaust, interviews with survivors and somber music. The Israeli flag flew at half staff.

At the Israeli parliament on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and other officials read names of loved ones who perished.

Peres recited the names of his family members killed “with 2,060 of their community members in the town of Vishneva in August 1942,” saying the “Nazis and their accomplices assembled the town’s residents in the synagogue that was made of wood and cruelly shot and burned them to death.”

The reading is an annual rite known as “Every Person Has a Name” that tries to break down the 6 million number into stories of individuals, families and communities destroyed during the war.

At the memorial’s opening ceremony late Sunday, Netanyahu drew a parallel between the rise of Nazi Germany and the development of Iran’s nuclear program.

Israel, like the West, believes Iran is developing nuclear weapons, and Netanyahu derided the world’s response to curbing Tehran’s atomic ambitions as limp. “If we have learned anything from the Holocaust, it is that we must not be silent or be deterred in the face of evil,” Netanyahu said.

Yad Vashem chose “Voices of the Survivors” as the theme of this year’s commemoration, and the art exhibit presented its latest effort to preserve the memory of the Holocaust.

The exhibition showcases the creative works of some 300 Holocaust survivors. The pieces, collected over dozens of years, include colorful murals of the Nazi killing machine.

Yehudit Shen-dar, the exhibit’s curator, said the display marked the first time an attempt has been made to have survivors visually describe a place and period that is often said to be indescribable.

“Not only is it describable, it is describable in very vivid colors,” she said.

Neuman’s mostly brown painting, with prominent yellow stars of David on its subjects, recounts her last memories of her father carrying the younger sister Esti, who couldn’t walk because of blisters on her feet. Her father, Yaakov, dropped dead of exhaustion at the end of the brutal march across a part of Romania that is now Ukrainian territory in summer 1941, and her sister died from typhus.

Neuman stayed at the side of her sister’s body for more than a week before it was removed. “I’ve been missing her for more than 60 years,” she said.

Raul Teitelbaum’s painting depicts a boy with stick-thin legs sitting on a rock, his face turned and his hands cramped near his mouth.

“It describes one of the most intimate moments in the daily routine – getting your daily ration of bread,” said Teitelbaum, 79, who survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany but lost his father in the Holocaust.

“At that moment you just want to be alone, and that is the most enduring memory that I have.”

© 2010 The Associated Press