A Painting of Pain & The Responsibility of Remembrance

As we prepare to commemorate Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, I’ve been thinking about my father- in- law, Leon Schipper, z’’l.

Leon grew up in Germany, and was still a boy when he fled to Belgium in the 1930s to escape Nazi tyranny. Throughout his life he shared memories of life as a young Jewish German refugee in Belgium. He shared letters with us that his parents had written, which demonstrated their attempts to obtain permission to emigrate to the United States, to no avail.

For those wishing to learn more about the Holocaust, MyJewishLearning has a trove of information about Yom Hashoah and the Holocaust, including its full history and impact, efforts to memorialize it,  and theological implications. 

In 1940, the German army invaded Belgium. The occupation under Nazi regime made life for the Jewish population perilous. In September 1942, Leon’s older brother Henry and his parents were sent to Auschwitz. Tragically, his parents were immediately gassed upon their arrival. His older brother survived for a while under the hardship of forced labor, but eventually died in 1943. This was all ultimately related to Leon by a friend of his brother’s who survived the camp. Leon spent the war in a Belgian orphanage and was fortunate that he was sponsored by family to come to the United States at the end of the war.

We lost my father-in-law not long ago. I am grateful that Leon shared these stories and memories with his children and grandchildren. I believe that as we lose more and more of the last living survivors of the Shoah, it is our duty to keep telling these stories. We must honor and remember those whose lives were lost, and those who witnessed and survived the unfathomable horrors of World War II.

Leon told us his stories, which we must now share — but he also left behind beautiful creations, and one of his last artistic endeavors also tells the story of the Shoah. I wanted to share it in honor of Leon, and in acknowledgment of this somber memorial holiday.

Leon was passionate about his oil painting. We have so many of his canvases on the walls of our home, we jokingly refer to our “Leon Schipper Gallery.” After he died, we returned to Mississippi with the last painting that Leon created. I think it is the only painting of the horrors of the Shoah, and it is a powerful and painful image, shared above.

On this day, I remember, Leon, who survived; his family members who perished; and the millions of others who were killed during the Holocaust. May all of their memories be for a blessing. May we never forget. And may we accept the responsibility of being the ones to share the stories, display the artwork, and continue the conversation agreeing “Never again.”

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