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UNI Commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day


To commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2018, UNI Museum has partnered with the UNI Center for Holocaust and Genocide Education to present an exhibit of reproductions of the drawings made by Zinovii Tolkatchev, a Soviet artist who accompanied the Red Army forces that liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp on January 27, 1945.

Below, Professor Stephen J. Gaise, director of the UNI Center for Holocaust and Genocide Education, shares more information about the exhibit, entitled “Private Tolkatchev at the Gates of Hell: Majdanek and Auschwitz Liberated: Testimony of an Artist.”

What is International Holocaust Remembrance Day?

A U.N. General Assembly Resolution in 2005—the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp—established January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Every member of the UN is urged to honor the memory of Holocaust victims and to develop educational programs about Holocaust history to help prevent future acts of genocide. The resolution rejects any denial of the Holocaust as an event and condemns all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is commemorated in many countries around the world, and many events take place at the United Nations headquarters in New York on and around January 27. However, the more established annual commemoration of the Holocaust is Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), which is recognized in the United States by an Act of Congress in 1980 that established annual Days of Remembrance, an eight-day period including Yom HaShoah itself. An annual Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony has taken place since 2007 under the auspices of the UNI Center for Holocaust and Genocide Education and its co-sponsors. This year’s ceremony is scheduled for Wednesday evening, April 11, at the Hearst Center for the Arts in Cedar Falls.

Who was Zinovvi Tolkachev?

Zinovii Tolkachev was a Jewish artist born in 1906 in Belarus. He was one of the first members of the Young Communist League (Komsomol), and he joined the Communist Party in 1922. He was a professor at the Institute of Fine Arts in Kiev (Ukraine) at the time of the German invasion of its erstwhile ally, the Soviet Union. Tolkatchev was finally allowed to enlist in the Red Army in 1944. He was first stationed near the recently liberated concentration camp Majdanek, on the outskirts of Lublin (Poland). His drawings of the now abandoned camp (reproductions of two of which are on display in the exhibit) were produced during a 5-week period. Two months later, he accompanied the Nazi Crimes Investigation Commission into Auschwitz-Birkenau only hours after Red Army troops first entered the camp. Tolkatchev’s work fell out of favor with the Soviet authorities beginning in the 1950’s, and his work was unknown to most people in and outside the Soviet Union for many decades.

Where does the exhibit come from?

The reproductions of some of Tolkatchev’s work and the explanatory information come from webpages of Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, in Jerusalem. Some of Tolkatchev’s original drawings were given to Yad Vashem by members of Tolkatchev’s family.

Tolkatchev’s drawings were created as series and were not intended to be displayed as stand-alone original works. The drawings were displayed in many cities of Poland in 1945 and 1946, and two albums, “Majdanek” and “The Flowers of Auschwitz,” were published almost immediately after the production of the two series of drawings. The Polish Government sent copies of these albums to heads of state of the Allies, government ministers and military officers.

What is the significance of Tolkatchev's work?

When the Allies entered concentration camps, they were often accompanied by journalists as well as still and film photographers. Some of the most iconic images of the survivors of concentration camps were made by the American photographer, Margaret Bourke White, who accompanied Gen. George Patton's Third Army through Germany. Some of her images of the liberated camp at Buchenwald, outside of Weimar, Germany, were published on the pages of the May 7, 1945 issue of Life magazine and brought the first glimpses of the horrors of the concentration camps into the living rooms of American families.

The role of film photographers by the Red Army was an important part of the effort to document the crimes of the Nazi regime in preparation for trials of camp commanders and officers. Zinovii Tolkatchev’s drawings of Auschwitz-Birkenau were commissioned for that same purpose, and his is one of the very few eyewitness visual testimonies produced by an accomplished artist in the first hours following the liberation of a concentration camp. Several British artists—Leslie Cole, Doris Zinkeisse and Eric Taylor—witnessed the conditions at the Bergen Belsen concentration camp in the aftermath of its liberation by the British Army in April 1945. However, none of works of these British war artists conveys the first moments of liberation, as the drawings of Tolkatchev do.

Exhibit information

"Private Tolkatchev at the Gates of Hell: Majdanek and Auschwitz Liberated: Testimony of an Artist” will be on display from January 22 to February 1 at UNI Museum on the first floor of Rod Library. For more event details, click here.

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