Shoah Forensics I: Re-Construction ex-nihilo

In the permanent collection of the Yad Vashem Art Museum, Jerusalem, Israel.

Shoah Forensics I: Re-Construction ex-nihilo
Type: Oil
Dimensions: Width/Height (in inches) 24/36
Year: 2009

This is the first of a two-paneled oil painting (diptych) reconstructing the physical appearance of Herman Moskovitc ,my paternal uncle, who was murdered during the Shoah in Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria. This forensic reconstruction is based on his Haftlings -Personal-Karte (Prisonerís -Personal-Card) which scientifically documents his personen-beschreibung (physical description) along with other vital biographical and personal data. These cards are archived and have been made publicly available by Yad Vashem under their ďCentral Database of Shoah Victimsí namesĒ.

There are no photographs or any other concrete physical documents in existence that can prove that a human being by the name of Herman Moskovitc was ever born, lived or died, except for this card, and the fading memories of the few people who once knew him, or of him, in the cloudy distant past. This painting physically reconstructs him and fleshes him out based on the relatively precise and detailed linguistic description of his physical attributes observed and recorded by his Nazi captors and executors. Artistically reconstructing Herman from this card is very analogous to the artistic techniques employed by police and other law enforcement artists to reconstruct the faces of criminal perpetrators based on the their physical characteristics verbally provided by their victims. In this case, the captors are describing the victim.

The motivation for creating this card by the Naziís was probably two-fold. The first motivation was purely from a scientific documentation point of view. It appears that it was important for the Naziís to document in detail every single captured Jew (and other victims) to verify for themselves and for posterity that they indeed did capture and ultimately eliminate the number of Jews they said (and were to say) they did, so that they could not be accused of not doing so, and/ or artificially inflating these numbers. The documented precise descriptions of each prisoner establish without a doubt the once-upon-a-time existence of each murdered individual.

The second motivation for such prisoner documentation was a very practical one. If a prisoner escaped, he could easily be captured, by describing the escapee to the surrounding populace based on the information documented on his personal card.

The Nazis could never have dreamed that this card would one day be a gift to posterity, and enable whomever would be motivated and interested to artistically reconstruct and recreate Herman Moskovitc and all other victims just like him who are so precisely described in similar cards. Thus these Haftling Personal Kartes hold the potential to re-breath life into the scattered ashes of hundreds of thousands of martyred Shoah victims from the four corners of the earth, and once again look into their eyes, by creating their painted photographs (or computerized reconstructions etc.), thereby allowing people to hang on to an image with which to cherish their memories and lives, just like most ordinary families typically do.

Illustrated at the center of this painting is Herman Moskovitc as seen by his captors against the background of his illuminated Haftlings personal card. He is splayed out in a Petri dish under an unseen microscopic lens whose illuminated light source shines down upon him. The Petri dish is kept in place by upper and lower green microscopic slide holders. He is being scientifically scrutinized, measured, classified and catalogued, just like a new species of insect or bacteria would be, by an unseen clinically astute Nazi scientist from above, whose face is not seen but felt. The scientistís two well-manicured hands are seen above and below Herman holding and manipulating tweezers and forceps with which to probe his victim. The Naziís shirt cuffs have Nazi Ėemblem cufflinks. To the left of the Petri dish are two other vital scientific tools. On the upper left is a caliper (which measures in centimeters) used to record the victimís height. On the lower mid- left is a surgical scalpel in order to dissect the victim for further scientific description as is necessary. Both instruments are dripping with blood, and are probably not sterilized after use from one victim to the next.

This image evokes the culturally advanced scientific methodology used by the Nazis to hunt down, capture, classify and kill Jews. The physical descriptions recorded on Hermanís Personal card evoke the same rigorous methodology used for the scientific classification of different species and Phyla of butterflies, insects, bugs, microorganisms, or flowers. Thus the scientific method which was and is used to make amazing medical advances was employed by the Nazis to categorize and classify human individuals as a form of dehumanized insect species. Kafkaís Gregor Samsa wasnít having a nightmare; he was having a prophetic vision. Nazi era Germanic Science, like Music and Art provides another example of what happens when high Ėculture intersects with and complements depraved bestiality.

Hermanís personal characteristics described in German on the far right of the card which were used to physically reconstruct him include the following: 1) Height: 170 cm.2) Body contour: Long (gangly). 3) Face: long.4) Eyes: Green. 5) Nose: broken. In this painting, Hermanís nose is broken and bloodied. It is assumed he was not born with a broken nose. 6) Mouth: normal. 7) Ears: Standing out. 8) Teeth: Spaces between them. 9) Hair: Blonde. 10) Language: Hungarian and Ruthenian (not recorded is the language he most frequently used: Yiddish). 11) Specific identifying marks: Scar over his left under-knee. Illustrated in this painting is a bleeding scar under his left knee. He most likely got this scar during his captivity, although this isnít one hundred percent certain.

Hermanís identifying vital statistics are recorded in German on the cardís left: 1) Family name: Moskovitc.2) First name: Herman. 3) Birthdate: May 16, 1927. The 7 of 1927 is typed on top of a 4. Thus it was initially incorrectly typed as 1924. They then corrected it, typing in a 7 on top of the 4. Looking at this one would not know for sure if he was born in 1927 or 1924. 4) Marital status: single. 5) Children: not filled in. 6) Address: Kuzmina com. Bereg. (The Transcarpathian town of Kuzmina is in the county (com.) of Beregszasz). 7) Street: not filled in. 8) Religion: Mosaic. 9) State: Hungary 10) Address of relatives: Father Nathan, address unknown.

His fatherís, Nathanís, address was indeed unknown at the time. Thanks to the Klarsfeld foundation archives linked to Yad Vashem, significant information, thus far not know is currently available (after the fall of the Soviet Union). In approximately 1941, Hermanís father, Nathan, was forcibly removed from his home in the middle of the night, and was taken into Hungarian slave Labor, and was never heard from again. Based on the Klarsfeld files, Nathan was enlisted in the Hungarian Slave Labor Battalion, Unit 108/60 TNSZ. From the record of his deportation list, his identity is confirmed by his name (Nathan Moskovits), his birthdate (1901), and his draft notice city (Kuzmina). Furthermore, it is recorded that his motherís first name is Ida (Yetta in Yiddish), and that her motherís family name (Maiden name) is Niedermann. Lastly his official ďmissing dateĒ (M.I.A.) is recorded as January 14, 1943 at the Russian front in the town of Konotovka. Thus Nathanís death had never been established, but was presumed with high probability. Therefore, for the first two years he was missing from his family, unbeknownst to them, he was still alive. But when Hermanís card was written, Nathanís address was truly not known; in fact he was likely deceased.

The lower left of Hermanís card records that he was transported to Koncentration Lager (concentration camp) Auschwitz on May 20, 1944. Reason for internment: Hungarian Jew. On the top middle column of the card it is recorded that the date he was transferred from Auschwitz to Mauthausen was May 28, 1944, or eight days after his arrival at Auschwitz. On the top of the card, are hand written letters ĎQudrzí (? Quartz; codename for Melk, a sub-camp of Mauthausen) and the date June, 2, 1944, probably the date the card was created.

Hermanís Haftling number (his prisoner number): 68621 is written within an enclosed box on the upper right of his card. Next to it is written; ďHungarian JewĒ. An upside down triangle is drawn over the word Jew.

At the bottom of the card, near Hermanís feet, in large green letters are the words ďHollerith ErfastĒ which means ďHollerith registeredĒ. Hollerith was a German American who in 1898 patented his Hollerith punch card to store information which became the basis for the IBM computer data punch card. The original punch card was first used to assist in data gathering for the American census. In fact IBM provided the punch cards which were the foundation for German record efficiency for the Shoah. The Hollerith Erfast stamp also means that there must have existed punch cards that were stored elsewhere, which may have been later destroyed. These cards kept track of Jews throughout the concentration camp network.

From yet another document found through the ďCentral Database of Shoah VictimsĒ which Yad Vashem obtained from ďAmerikai HadseregĒ ( A Hungarian organization), Hermanís death is documented as occurring on April 19, 1945, seventeen days prior to the liberation of Mauthhausen.

In addition Hermanís death date is noted in the Mauthausen Totenbuch (Deathbook). There are seven volumes of Deathbooks which list the deaths of over 10,000 Jewish prisoners in Mauthausen. These books were confiscated by the American liberators of Mauthausen, and introduced as evidence in the Nuremberg trials.

The entrance to Mauthausen concentration camp is illustrated on the top of this painting. The Nazi eagle with outstretched wings hovers arrogantly over the campsí entering gate. This eagle is almost identical in form to the Eagle image of the ancient Egyptian god Horus, whose image greeted the enslaved Israelites in the pits of Pithom and Ramses. A foreboding night- time sky with a misty moon is engulfing Hermanís Petri dish .The faceless Naziís manipulative arms descend from a separate cloudy day- time sky.

At the bottom of the painting awaiting Herman and all other prisoners are Mauthausenís flaming crematoria which burn non-stop, all day, and all night.

If we go from the top to the bottom of the painting we can trace Hermanís s trajectory at Mauthasen from beginning to end. At the top of the painting, he enters the gate, and is interred. He is then transported to the middle of the painting, placed in a Petri dish where he is microscopically analyzed, classified, categorized, measured, weighed and dissected. He is then swept into the bottom of the painting where he is disposed of, and cremated, simultaneously extinguishing his existence and any memory of him; save for his Haftlingís Personal Karte preserved in Yad Vashemís archives.

Today his image and memory live once again. This painting , in a manner similar to the narrative in Ezekielís vision, has sutured together all of Hermanís dead bones and reconstructed him from the frayed decomposing words typed on his Hatfling personal card sixty five years ago. The next painting, Shoah Forensics II, attempts to breathe life into Hermanís nostrils re-creating his illuminated neshama (soul).