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80 years since the Holocaust in Northern Transylvania

This year’s commemoration is different from previous ones. Even the last survivors are disappearing. To the best of our knowledge, only one survivor of the extermination camps is still living in Cluj, and to this we may add the fact that in this city, where according to the racial laws around 17% of the population were Jewish before the deportations, there are now very few Jewish families who were directly affected by the Holocaust.

We are thus faced with a question: how and for what reasons is the memory of those terrible events being kept alive by those of us who are not of Jewish descent? What does absence mean to us?

We feel the lack of what we have lost. We mourn the loss of our Jewish brothers and sisters who were expelled from society like a foreign body, perhaps even while living alongside our parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents, and enthusiastically destroyed. As a consequence, our society was impoverished in a way that is irreversible. We lack those old people, men, women. We lack those children and, through them, we lack the promise of the future.

This feeling of absence is accentuated by the awareness that we cannot even appreciate it fully, since the majority of us who are here now do not even know which houses the Jews lived in, where their schools were, how they studied and sang, which were their shops, or how they exchanged greetings with our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Absence is hard to represent because the places they inhabited did not stay empty but were filled by others. We also therefore feel the pain that arises from the absence of memory, because their past is our past too.


Of the artists whose works have been brought together for the exhibition, some perished in the Holocaust, others survived it, some belong to the second generation after the Holocaust, and some are not Jews. What underlies the works and the narrative woven around them is in broad terms the taking of an impression of reality as a means of constructing testimony and transcending this absence.

Thus, the house made by Belu-Simion Făinaru bears the imprint of the Jewish life that has disappeared from within it. A rural Jewish home that survives in the Sătmar area served as the starting point of this artwork. Decades ago, at a time in which it was almost impossible to speak about religion and about the Holocaust, Csutak Magda attempted to draw closer to the intriguing culture of the Jews from Galicia by copying the magnificent symbols carved on their tombstones. Rajk László produced frottages of the names of prisoners scratched on the brick and rendering walls of some of the accommodation blocks of Auschwitz as a final bold gesture bequeathed to posterity. Kerezsi Nemere and Nagy Csilla turned a relief made during the First World War into a huge round stamp, like those used by the Mesopotamians, representing fratricide. In their version, both characters have knives while pursuing each other. Dan Beudean has copied present-day reality – a commercial advertising technological fish sorting systems – in order to demonstrate how easily the unacceptable can penetrate reason.

First Night by Egon Marc Lövith is part of a series made in the late 1980s in which the artist evoked his own experiences in the Dachau camp.

Leon Alex’s painting Boxerii [The Boxers], painted before 1942, and the poet Frigyes Marcell’s book Va fi lumină! [There will be light!] (1934), illustrated by Grünbaum Ernő, exemplify in a chilling manner the clarity with which some painters, graphic artists and poets saw the horrors that could be in store if attitudes did not change. While at the time they appeared it was possible to view these works as phantasmagorical and exaggerated or simply to ignore them, in only a few years their most macabre images were to be overtaken by real events. All three artists perished in the Holocaust. In parallel with these visionary images, we are struck by the human gesture made by the Dutch Jews filmed by a neighbour as they left their house, waving their hats or waving to the person behind the camera at the very moment of their deportation.

What were they feeling at that moment? What future were they thinking about?



May the lesson of the Holocaust be our guide; may it help us see the past clearly and orient ourselves in the present. May memory prevent us from becoming spectators. May it serve as a warning of how much we can lose of our humanity if we remain unmoved. The Shoah has taught us that it was the normalisation of fratricide, and the silence that went with it, that made the atrocities possible.

And it also taught us that the situation is never complicated. The situation is actually very simple: do not kill! Do not let the house of the Other be emptied of its inhabitants. In defending the Other, we defend ourselves.


Napoca 16

Cluj, 400009


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