Adding to the Narrative: Stories of the Holocaust through Portraiture and the Museum

April 3, 2021   /  

Name: Marloes Krabbe
Majors: Anthropology, Art History
Advisors: Dr. Beth Derderian, Dr. John Siewert

My independent study is an anthropological and art historical analysis of a series of portraits by Franciszek Jaźwiecki and Felix Nussbaum, two artists who created during the Holocaust, and the display of their artworks, and others from that time period, in museums. I explore these topics through an array of methods, including ethnographic interviews of museum staff at various relevant institutions (i.e., the Yad Vashem), as well as formal analysis and social history. Utilizing Lila Abu-Lughod’s (1991) ethnographies of the particular, Saba Mahmood’s (2006) theory of agency, Jane K. Nielsen’s (2017) writings on museum communication, and Susan A. Crane’s (2006) framework on museums and memory, my independent study interrogates how art and museums act as purveyors of stories. While the portraits by Jaźwiecki and Nussbaum, and the museums that display them, occupy two different sections of Holocaust studies, I unite them in this independent study through the articulation of key themes that play out in both spheres. I seek to bring together discussions on museums and portraiture of the Holocaust through intersecting themes of agency, identity, and commemoration/permanence.

Marloes will be online to field comments on April 16:
10am-noon EDT (Asia: late evening, PST: 6-8am, Africa/Europe: late afternoon)

64 thoughts on “Adding to the Narrative: Stories of the Holocaust through Portraiture and the Museum”

  1. Congratulations, Marloes, on a beautiful and sophisticated senior project! I’m so proud of what you’ve accomplished and for your next big adventure!

  2. Gefeliciteerd Marloes met dit prachtige werkstuk. 😉
    And of course with the clear and concise presentation of your work.
    Enjoy your graduation next month.
    Another milestone you’ve reached, on to the next!

  3. Congratulations, Marloes! You’re IS is so amazing and I’m so proud of you and I can’t wait to see what you do next!!

  4. Congratulations Marloes! This is such an important topic, and one that is very personal to me. Your work on this is amazing and incredibly relevant.

    1. Thank you Stephanie! I’m glad you liked it, I definitely wanted to make sure I did the topic justice.

  5. Miss Marloes!!! Wonderful work on an incredibly important topic. I am so proud of you and happy I get to call you a friend! Congratulations.

  6. Congrats Marloes! What a great presentation! The arts and the Holocaust is a very important topic that should have more research. How do you feel that these works should be represented in American museums and why are they not often exhibitied here?

    1. Hi Sydney! Thanks for the questions. I think one of the reasons they aren’t commonly displayed in the US has to do with who obtained the works following the liberation of the camps. Some survivors kept their works, with many of them immigrating to Israel so they ended up at institutions like the Yad Vashem and the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum. Others left behind their works, so they’ve ended up in museums dedicated to sites of the Holocaust in Europe (i.e. the Felix Nussbaum House, Auschwitz State Museum). The only museum I came across that has a fair amount of art from the Holocaust in the US is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, but they choose to keep them in their archives. This could perhaps be due to the USHMM not being a ‘charged’ or ’emotionally significant’ location and thus they might want to include more photos and artifacts to solidify their importance as an institution and their connection to the Holocaust. Additionally, “The Last Expression: Art and Auschwitz” exhibit was held at three U.S. institutions in the early 2000s. However, when speaking with curators and various museum staff who were involved, it was clear that this would probably never be replicated due to the shifts in politics and practices. As for how these works should be represented, I have no definitive answer. I really started my I.S. thinking I would come up with some solid idea of what is right–but it’s not that black and white. I would say the most important thing is context. These works need to be recognized within the circumstances in which they were created, so they should not be displayed as purely aesthetic representations.

  7. Hello and congratulations, Marloes! Thank you for sharing your work in today’s Symposium. I learned a lot from listening to your presentation, and will look forward to reading your IS in full sometime. Again, thank you!

    1. Thank you Dr. Graham! I’d be happy to field any questions if you read the full thing.

  8. Congratulations on completing IS and thanks for sharing this interesting and important research. Reaffirming the importance of these portraits and artwork within the context of its creation helps ensure the remembrance of the Holocaust as well as the individuals who lost their lives, which is especially important during a time where people are actively rejecting history. Thank you for educating me more on this topic.

    1. Thank you Sarah! The contemporary moves toward rejecting and/or forgetting history were definitely something I delved into in my introduction. Although some of us may feel we know a fair amount about the Holocaust, the knowledge surrounding it in the US is severely lacking. It is my hope that museums are a way to bridge this gap in a more accessible way than academia (although museums have their own accessibility issues).

  9. Marloes, excellent work! I am very interested in the history surrounding the Holocaust, but you introduced me to new information that is such an integral part of this history. It is wonderful that you are taking the time to share these stories. I really enjoyed this presentation- Best of luck in your future endeavors!

    1. Thank you! I too had no real idea about the creation of art during the Holocaust prior to developing this project. It was so striking to learn about all the individuals who were driven to produce art throughout such a horrific and dangerous regime.

  10. Amazing job, Marloes! Your investigation of how Jaźwiecki conveyed shifting identity and remembrance via his art are especially intriguing. Thank you for sharing your work and congratulations!

    1. Thank you Dante! It was really such a joy to learn more about Jaźwiecki throughout this process. Very little scholarship exists on him in English (I’m talking like three paragraphs) so I felt so honored to get to know him as an artist and person through his portraits and testimonials.

  11. Amazing work! I have loved being in classes with you for the past four years and getting to witness your brilliance and kindness in person. I can’t wait to see all that you do and wish you the most LOVE moving forward!

    1. Thank you Ella! Ugh, you already know this made my heart all squishy. Sending you all the love moving forward 🙂

  12. Super cool to see and it was really interesting to hear you discuss the permanence that these portraits provide!

  13. Thank you for sharing more on such a fascinating and important topic! I was lucky to visit Yad Vashem a few years ago, and I really enjoyed hearing more about their exhibits from the museum studies perspective. Congrats on all of your hard work!

    1. I am jealous of the fact you got to visit the museum! In a non-pandemic world, I would have loved to visit there and interpret it for myself. My IS was limited in that I only saw museum staff perspectives. If I were to continue this work, I’d be very interested to see how audiences interpret these displays.

  14. Marloes, you and your work ethic are so inspiring. I miss your sunshine-y face, and I’m so impressed by you! Can’t wait to see how you change the world. I’m so lucky to know you!

    1. Awe, thank you so much Laney! 🙂 This year has definitely been a balancing act and I really appreciate all the grace and patience you have sent my way.

  15. This is awesome and important work, Marloes! I am so glad to be able to hear about this more and see your work come to fruition. Congratulations, and I can’t wait to see where you go next!

  16. Wonderful work, Marloes! I know this is a topic you are very passionate about and your energy for it shows. Great work, love!

    1. Thank you Halen <333 I wonder what freshman year Marloes & Halen would think of us now. So thankful that I got to have you as a friend for the whole journey!

  17. Marloes,

    Compelling presentation and work on an important aspect of both art, society and history. Your passion for this topic is clear. Thank you for keeping the dialogue around the Holocaust both on-going and engaging. Congratulations on an exemplary IS!

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to listen to it! I really appreciate it.

  18. Congratulations Marloes! This is such an important topic and your research is so interesting. Bummed we couldn’t hang out this year but I can’t wait to see you for graduation and our cabin!

  19. Congratulations. This is very interesting. I’m not sure if Christine ever mentioned, but my father was present for the liberation of a concentration camp at the end of WWII.

    1. Thank you! I had not heard that from Christine, but what a horrifying and impactful experience that must’ve been for your father.

  20. What a great presentation! Thank you so much for sharing your research with us.

  21. Congratulations! Thank you for using your agency to remember. May their memories be a blessing.

  22. This is a really thoughtful and compelling presentation, Marloes, and you delivered it so well! Will you be continuing on with museum work or research after your time at Wooster?

    1. Thank you so much Professor Thomas! Yes, I will be attending IU Bloomington to pursue a Master’s in both Art History and Library Sciences. While there, I will be working as a graduate curatorial assistant in European and American Art at the Eskenazi Museum of Art. They have a fascinating Nazi-Era Provenance Research Project that I look forward to helping with.

  23. By taking a closer look at the work of artist Jaźwiecki, you were able to show us his agency that he was able to maintain despite being a prisoner and highlight his spiritual resistance through art. It reminds me of the importance of being able to connect with one’s identity and brings up the power that art work has. When people think about their relationship with, for example, their ethnic identity – a lot of people look to language, stories from family members, food, cultural practices, etc. Your work highlights how art is also a strong element that people can refer to when expressing their cultural identity. Could you argue that Jaźwiecki expresses his cultural identity through these portraits by making note of the red “P” and the number assigned to Piotr – capturing what it meant to be Jewish during the Holocaust while also maintaining the humanity of Piotr in the portrait?

    A wonderful presentation that you so eloquently spoke about! Incredibly proud of you and excited for what’s to come my lovely!

    1. Thank you Mia!!! One thing that is unique about Jaźwiecki’s identity during the Holocaust is that he was not Jewish (as far as my research could tell). I set him up as a foil to Felix Nussbaum (the other artist of my IS) because of how their identities manifested differently through art.

      Jaźwiecki, and Piotr Kajzer, were both Polish prisoners (hence the red Polish P). Jaźwiecki writes about Polish identity in his post-war testimonials, including describing the death of a Polish hero and general, Bolesław Roja. He details how he did not break and spoke to his fellow Poles of Polish Independence. While I think his writing solidifies his Jewish identity, this is also supported by the fact he was part of the Polish Legion in WWI. I think what Jaźwiecki does in his portraits is establish individual identity and humanity for all his subjects – regardless of why they are imprisoned in the concentration camps. In a time where the Nazis devalued and murdered large groups of people, Jaźwiecki values all his subjects equally in how he renders them.

      1. Oops, definitely meant Polish identity in the latter paragraph! Doesn’t help to confuse the two when answering your question.

  24. Marloes!! You are an INCREDIBLE scholar and I am, as always, so impressed and inspired by your commitment to nuanced interdisciplinary anthropological scholarship here. This is truly an excellent IS and I am grateful you chose to share your research. You’re so awesome.

    1. Thank you Hannah!! This was such a lovely comment. Very happy I got to experience a bit of your brilliance in Junior IS:-)

  25. Such a beautifully done thesis, Marloes! I love projects like these, because I can take their lessons and carry them in my mind when I visit museums. Wooster is a better place because of students like you!

  26. Congratulations on everything, Marloes! I’m typing really quickly because time is running out, but you are so fabulous and I’m excited to see what’s next for you!

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