Picasso’s words resonate, “I have always believed that artists should not remain indifferent to a conflict in which the highest values of humanity and civilization are at stake.” The mission of the movie “As Seen Through These Eyes” is to combat prejudice, intolerance and bigotry through a series of moving interviews with these survivor-artists. Each conversation brings with it the realization that every painting or sketch on a torn scrap of paper is its own Holocaust diary. Their words — and their images — are profoundly moving, communicating horror and hope artistically. One only needs to absorb the evocative drawing of train tracks leading into the mouth of Death’s head, its victims’ plight
compassionately captured by the artist, whose signature reads Simon Wiesenthal. His art, and that of all the other survivorartists, are documents echoing the message “Never again!”
What is most heartrending is the art of the children; images from creators who were forced to become immediately what they would not have time to become naturally. Ela Weissberger, one of the few surviving child artists also performed in a rare camp opera. Having played the “Cat” in Brundibar, she is one of merely 100 child survivors among the 15,000 children who lived in the “model ghetto” Theresienstadt. In her interview, she speaks on behalf of the murdered children, “Please remember my friends. They cannot speak for themselves so I speak in their words.” We see children’s artwork and images of the ghetto and its random camp deportations, revealing what life was like for these innocent victims.
The film is partially scored with the melancholy harmonica music of Henry Rosmarin. Henry’s harmonica was his very last possession, smuggled through three concentration camps, until it too was taken from him. A gaunt figure and a week away from the gas chamber, he was brought to face the camp commandant who was blowing into a harmonica but could not play. “Play me Schubert, you miserable dog!” barked the commandant. Upon finishing the song, Henry was given the job to play for the SS in their mess hall. This job continued through the end of the war. As he plays these solos through his tears, he tells us, “It may look like just an instrument, but to me it is a lifesaver.”
Just as Rosmarin was spared, so were the lives of other artist-survivors. Dina Gottliebova Babbitt was forced to paint Gypsy portraits by Dr. Mengele in the course of his monstrous experiments, and survived by doing so. Karl Stojka, a Gypsy child who was Mengele’s errand boy, painted over 1,000 related canvases because he doesn’t “want to forget anything. These images are burned into my mind.” Samuel Bak’s first exhibition at age nine in the Vilna Ghetto helped save his life as he earned recognition as a child prodigy. And Judith Goldstein made a promise to her father in the very same ghetto that, if she survived, she would “paint to tell the world what really happened.”
These are the stories of people whose drive was to preserve their sense of self worth despite being stripped of all dignity. Their muses did not desert them during their struggle to survive, but empowered them to create in the face of death, leaving us with an undiluted record. As Simon Wiesenthal said, “I made it as a witness!” There was one other, however, who did not communicate as an artist, although he tried. His realization that he would be unsuccessful as an artist fueled his desire to paint a larger picture of his twisted vision, and the signature on that canvas reads Adolf Hitler. As Seen Through These Eyes exposes the irony that its artists succeeded in the very arena in which their oppressor failed.