'Beloved: Children of the Holocaust' exhibit opens at Saint Vincent College
When Mary Burkett starts to draw, she always begins with her subjects’ eyes.
“You see their little souls shining out of their little eyes,” said Burkett, a nurse by profession whose portraits depict children killed in the Holocaust.
And if her portraits could speak, Burkett said they would have lessons of tolerance and respect to teach.
“Evil is real,” Burkett said of what she hopes viewers take away from her exhibit. “And that it can take peoples’ lives. But it cannot take their souls. Because I think the souls of these children are obvious for us all to see.”
Over seven months in 2017, Burkett, of West Columbia, S.C., created the 27 portraits that comprise the exhibit “Beloved: Children of the Holocaust,” which opened Tuesday at the Foster and Muriel McCarl Coverlet Gallery at Saint Vincent College in Unity. The exhibit continues through Nov. 20.
Each portrait features a young child who was killed in the Holocaust, their images reproduced by Burkett in sanguine colored pencil on tan paper. The portraits are based on photos she finds online.
The first in the series, Hersch Goldberg, was born in Romania in 1939 and died at Auschwitz in 1944, according to Burkett.
“He was the portrait that started me drawing, period,” said Burkett, who said she has not received any artistic training.
She started sketching as a hobby and stumbled across the image of Hersch without knowing his story.
“He just jumped out at me,” she said. “I just knew that I was supposed to draw him.”
Burkett, who is Catholic, lived in Belgium during the 1950s — an experience that made the impact of World War II tangible, she said.
The opening of her exhibit at Saint Vincent coincided with a lecture commemorating the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, “the night of broken glass,” which occurred in Germany on Nov. 9-10, 1938. Nazis ransacked Jewish homes and businesses, burning schools and synagogues to the ground. About 30,000 Jewish men were detained and sent to concentration camps. Broken glass from homes and storefronts covered the streets. It was a violent turn in the Nazis’ treatment of Jews.
In his lecture Tuesday, Rabbi Ron Symons, senior director of Jewish life at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh in Squirrel Hill, looked back both 80 years and 10 days — to the shooting at Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill, where 11 Jewish people were killed by a gunman shouting anti-Semitic statements.
“How do we make sure that we’re not sowing seeds through our words that encourage people to act violently?” Symons said, noting that his lecture was planned months before the Oct. 27 shooting.
Just before 10 a.m. that day, he was driving to the Jewish Community Center, unaware of what happened as police cruisers passed him on Forbes Avenue, on their way to Tree of Life. In the hours and days that followed, the community center would become a crisis center, offering assistance to families who were impacted.
“I am overwhelmed over the course of these past days,” Symons said.
His presentation, “Love your neighbor as yourself: 21st-century imperatives,” included photos of Nazi attacks on synagogues in Europe and public lynchings in the United States, moments in history when people came together to witness acts of hate.
It also included a photo of hundreds gathered at a vigil held in Squirrel Hill hours after the attack — evidence of people coming together in an act of love and kindness, Symons said.
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, email@example.com or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.