When Halina Olomucki was at Auschwitz, according to a recollection included in the wall text at the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s “The Last Expression: Art and Auschwitz,” “someone told me, ‘If you live to leave this hell, make your drawings and tell the world about us. We want to be among the living, at least on paper.’ And this need to document became an extraordinary force that carried me to survival.”
Unlike many of the artists who created the exhibit’s 200 works, Olomucki survived the war, living long enough to share recollections and comments about her work with the exhibit’s curators. Most of the others — Jews, resistance fighters and Gypsies — perished at Auschwitz or at other camps during the Holocaust. Some of the works displayed here document life in the camps — and its inmates, many of them identified only by the numbers on their uniforms — while others provide evidence of art as a mental escape. There’s a watercolor portrait of a woman by Michael Fink, a member of the French Resistance who hid Jews and smuggled children out of France to Switzerland; he was deported to Drancy, then Auschwitz, where he died. Another artist featured in the exhibit, Petr Ginz, was sent as a youth from Prague to Theresienstadt, where he edited an underground publication before being deported to Auschwitz, where he perished. Focusing on the necessity of memory through its victims’ legacy, “The Last Expression” includes messages of hope, among them Ginz’s blooming “Sunflower” (1944).