Another much smaller image of Zora depicts her as an even younger infant sitting up for her portrait while the caption that frames her along the edges tells us she was born in 1939 and was “hidden in a hospital in Belgrade …was discovered and murdered by the Nazis.”
Another very large painting (98” x 77”), Three, pursues the same testimonial motif, here utilizing a photograph of a father and his two young children taken in the 1930’s. The children were forced to wear the yellow star but the wounded veteran, proudly wearing his WWI medals, was exempt under the anti-Semitic Nuremberg laws. Eventually even these exemptions were abolished and all Jews faced deportation and death camps. Kurz’s stark portrait of absolute strangers dramatically bridges the familial gap and imposes upon us an intimacy and empathy seldom achieved in Holocaust art. They become our family because they are more than our People; they are a family we could have known all too well. A patriotic father who fought and suffered for his country, is simply trying to raise two children in as much normalcy as abnormal times might permit. And perhaps most horrifying, we know with almost certainty the fate that they could never have guessed.
In Dorrit and Michael Kurz (1990) the artist again focuses on her own family. By now we recognize Michael, here with his older daughter Dorrit posing in a somewhat more formal portrait against a railing and a village view out the window. Kurz’s painting style is matter-of-fact and disarmingly simple. Dorrit’s deep blue dress contrasts with her father’s grey suit just as her pretty red bow echoes his red hair. She stares pensively into the distance while he confidently confronts the camera. Their future seems to stretch endlessly before them. And yet the blank wall that formed the perfect backdrop now allows for the text’s bitter history: “Michael Kurz and Dorit deported in the 1940’s from Yugoslavia to an unknown destination. They were never heard of again.”
Diana Kurz’s most powerful works in this series demands that we take notice of the devastating “normalcy” that pervades these images. It is perhaps this aspect of normalcy of each and every victim of Nazi terror than galvanizes our emotions to reach back through time and reconnect with these victims. The same emotions were summoned for me in the aftermath of a distinctly different tragedy. The New York Times from September 14, 2001 until the end of that year profiled 1,910 victims of the 9/11 attacks in a series called “Portraits of Grief.” The overwhelming sense I got from reading them and the theme that time and time again would tear out my heart was the overwhelming decency and normalcy of these innocents. It is this insight that makes Kurz’s work so riveting. By depicting the all-too-soon to be victims as simply normal individuals, the horror of the genocide against the Jews is fully revealed. We were not persecuted and murdered because of any crime, any characteristic or any trait that could be discerned. No, it was only as Jews, and here as Jews in the abstract, that the Nazis decreed death to us, our families, our people. It is the very normalcy of the victims that makes this crime so egregious. This is Kurz’s crucible that she exploits so well.
(The artist can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)