Prince commissions Holocaust survivor paintings as a ‘guiding light’ for society

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Image credit: Firebrace CCLicense

By Lianne Kolirin

Prince Charles has commissioned seven portraits of survivors as a “lasting reminder” of the Holocaust. 

The paintings, painted by seven artists, will go on display at The Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace on Holocaust Memorial Day, 27 January. 

The prince’s Twitter account announced: “The portraits will stand as a lasting reminder of horrors which will one day be lost to living memory.”

An accompanying documentary, Survivors: Portraits of the Holocaust, will air on BBC2 on the same day, following the artists who were tasked with creating the portraits of the seven survivors — each of whom has been honoured for services to Holocaust awareness and education in recent years.

Helen Aronson, who was one of about 750 people liberated from the Łódź Ghetto in Poland, was painted by Paul Benney. Ishbel Myerscough was commissioned to paint Lily Ebert, whose mother, brother and sister were all killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau. German-born Manfred Goldberg, a slave labourer at Stutthof concentration camp near Danzig, sat for Clara Drummond. Arek Hersh, who survived a death march before being liberated from Theresienstadt in 1945, was painted by Massimiliano Pironti. 

Anita Lasker Wallfisch, who played cello in the Auschwitz Women’s Orchestra, sat for Peter Kuhfeld. Stuart Pearson Wright painted Rachel Levy, whose mother died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz, while Jenny Saville did the portrait of Zigi Shipper, who experienced the Łódź Ghetto and several camps including Auschwitz-Birkenau. 

The Prince of Wales, patron of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said: “As the number of Holocaust survivors sadly, but inevitably, declines, my abiding hope is that this special collection will act as a further guiding light for our society, reminding us not only of history’s darkest days, but of humanity’s interconnectedness as we strive to create a better world for our children, grandchildren and generations as yet unborn; one where hope is victorious over despair and love triumphs over hate.”

Seven Portraits: Surviving the Holocaust pays tribute to the stories of these remarkable people, each of whom has in recent years been honoured for services to Holocaust awareness and education. After going on display in both London and Edinburgh, the portraits will become part of the Royal Collection.

During the 60-minute BBC documentary viewers will hear the testimonies of the seven who were children in the Nazi camps but went on to build new lives in Britain. 

Stuart Pearson Wright told the Religion Media Centre it was an “incredible privilege” to paint Rachel, who grew up in a tiny village in the Carpathian Mountains in Romania. After surviving the death march from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen, she was liberated, aged 15, by British soldiers in 1945.

He said: “It just felt extraordinary to come into direct contact with someone who had been part of that and who had survived.”

The Suffolk-based painter, whose previous commissions have included the actor John Hurt, the Duke of Edinburgh and Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling, told the RMC that his first sitting with Rachel, who like all the portrait subjects is in her nineties, was brief as it was during lockdown. 

Aware of her vulnerability, he used the short time to take photographs of her, which he painted from in his studio while listening to her recorded oral history, which is available on Imperial War Museum’s website. 

“The painting of Rachel really drew me in on an emotional level, particularly because I was listening to her testimony while I was painting so I was really immersed in her world for the period that I was working on it,” he said.

“The quality that most impressed me about her was her sense of dignity, which was what I really tried to convey in the painting.”

Survivors: Portraits of the Holocaust is on BBC Two at 9pm on 7 January. The paintings will be at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, between 27 January and 13 February, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, from 17 March to 6 June

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