Wednesday, May 4, 2016

As Seen Through These Eyes (2008): Confronting Annihilation with Art

Title: As Seen Through These Eyes
Director: Hilary Helstein
Language: English
Rating: Unrated

"As Seen Through These Eyes" is a documentary about the Holocaust, and specifically artists, musicians, and writers imprisoned in ghettos and concentration camps.

Sometimes, their artistic talent saved them from death. For instance, one man played the harmonica very well, and a camp commander requested regular performances. One woman was singled out by the infamous Dr. Mengele in Auschwitz to paint portraits of the camp's Romani population; while she saw their beauty, what Mengele was interested in was the exact shade of their skin and shape of their ears.

Other people were murdered because of their art. For instance, they may have been kept alive in a ghetto to draw up propaganda posters, and were caught also secretly sketching the scenes of misery and brutality around them.

Art also became a way for people to grapple with their trauma, during and after the Holocaust. They wrote, painted, and performed music that expressed their torment or that shared their longing for beauty and life. Sometimes art was their one form of freedom and their way of staying sane. One musician described the importance of playing the fiddle. Because his experiences in the camps felt like an uncontrolled bass rhythm inside of him, maybe the fiddle would balance out the bass and bring some harmony into his life.

The movie shows many examples of art and presents interviews with survivors. It's also narrated by Maya Angelou. Altogether a beautiful, moving documentary and worth watching at any time. I'm writing about it now because Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) begins this year at sundown, May 4.