|Biography from Canadian War Museum:|
|Flight-Lieutenant Aba Bayefsky enlisted in the RCAF in October 1942 at
the age of 19. After service in Quebec and Manitoba, he was posted
overseas in May 1944 to Skipton-on-Swale Station, Yorkshire, in No. 6
Bomber Group. Appointed an official war artist in December of that same
year, he completed assignments at Topcliffe Conversion Unit in
Yorkshire and 437 (Transport) Squadron, Blakehill Farm, Wiltshire. |
He was then attached to No. 39 (Reconnaissance) Wing of the RAF's
Second Tactical Air Force, which disbanded in Lüneberg, Germany, in
August 1945. It was during this period that he visited Bergen-Belsen,
and depicted the war-damaged cities of Hamburg, Niemunster, and
Bayefsky's experiences in Europe had been disturbing. At odds with the
establishment, he found it difficult to settle down in Toronto.
In 1980 Bayefsky painted a self-portrait to commemorate his return to
health after an operation. Surrounding the canvas are the Hebrew words
of the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead. The compositional format in
this painting reappears in his most powerful Holocaust work,
Remembering the Holocaust. Surrounding the monochromatic figure of the
"Grim Reaper" and the mutilated bodies that form its crop are the names
of the major concentration camps of the Second World War. Flame-like
forms rise behind the murderous creature, and the whole scene is
convulsed with the kind of frenzy that is also present in
Michelangelo's Last Judgement.
The artist's anger is barely controlled and rooted in his personal
reactions to anti-Semitism, to revisionist historians, and to the
obliteration of the facts of the Holocaust. He feels a moral obligation
to speak in paint, as it were, for those who cannot.
Aba Bayefsky has not found it easy to exhibit his Holocaust works, nor
has any institution - other than the Canadian War Museum - or private
collector showed much interest in acquiring them. The Museum has
collected all of them because we believe they form an important body of
work in Canadian art, and because the message they convey is
significant to our civilization and is one with which we agree.
"For the first time I had become aware of man's monstrous capacity for
evil. It was the determining factor in everything I have done since."
Bayefsky had just turned 22 when he visited Belsen for the first time
on 10 May 1945. For the young Jewish man the experience was of critical
importance to his later career as well as to his attitude to life.
"The truck loads of dead inmates were being placed into newly dug pits
by captured German soldiers and German civilians who were denying any
previous knowledge or connection with the death camp."
The artist revisited Belsen a week later, and sketched another pit scene, Belsen Concentration Camp Pit. This
work shows signs of tension: the lines of the composition are scratched
in an urgent manner and possess an anxious, nervous quality.
At the same time that he was sketching a pit for the second time,
Bayefsky made a sketch of a starving German Jewish boy who died the
next day, Belson Concentration Camp-Malnutritian. He returned
to this theme twice more. In each version, the artist strove to capture
the pathos, misery, and hopelessness of the boy's situation despite the
fact that the camp was now liberated.
Echoes of these compositions reappear in two works entitled Boy with
Butterflies dating from 1948 and 1949, and based on sketches the artist
made in displaced persons camps around Paris and Milan in 1947.
On a third visit to Belsen on 28 May 1945, Bayefsky sketched one of the slave workers, Slave Worker.
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