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The Jewish Weekly, a San Francisco-based publication, featured a cover story on this project.


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Dina Babbitt and David Rapaport at Palo Alto High


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Students working together 


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This article appeared in People Magazine 2/19/2007


Through the courtesy of the David Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and Marvel Comics, we were able to reproduce part of an issue of X-Men Magneto devoted to Mrs. Babbitt.

Here is a point by point response to the Auschwitz Museum's argument published by a student:

 Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum,

  I am writing to address one of the statements your Museum has issued regarding the works of Dina Babbitt. I am working with my class here in California to return her paintings into her waiting hands, but I realize that your organization simply does not understand her emotions, as much as you may claim otherwise; this is unsettling, considering the fact that you are in charge of the Museum and how material is presented to visitors. To me, it seems as though a basic understanding of Holocaust victims’ emotions should be a baseline for the moral platform of presentation in your Museum.

Dina Babbitt painted Roma under threat of death in order for the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele to more-efficiently pick out Roma from lines of prisoners to be killed. That is not, by any means, a pleasant experience. I should hope that you appreciate that. To continue, Dina was marched out of the camp on a death march and escaped to freedom. She had no hope of taking her paintings with her and to suggest such would be a burning and disrespectful insult to every prisoner marched out of that death camp.

Still, though, the Museum bravely suggests that by being forced out from the camp that she lost her rights to the paintings. Surely, this is a mistake. If I am taken from my house at gunpoint, do I legally surrender all of my possessions to be begged for later? This, of course, is not the case, so I cannot fathom the thought process that leads to such a conclusion. Still, the law is the law, and I do not possess the power to change it.

You write that “In the light of law, the rightful owner of the seven Roma portraits is the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. In what regards the author property rights, they belong to Ms. Gottliebova.” Clearly stated is the simple fact that the Museum has legal rights to the works. I will remind, though, the most important right granted by the law is the right to return it. It is one thing to be a legal owner and another to be a responsible owner, an owner who considers the feelings of others and the importance of respecting those who suffered through the conditions of the Holocaust.

The statement goes on to say that “The Museum fully understands the emotional attitude of Ms. Gottliebova.” Judging by the actions of the Museum, I do not accept the verity of this sentence. Clearly there is disparity between the real emotions of Dina and the perceived emotional state. Let me inform you that Dina is torn apart over your claims, that she feels that part of her soul is missing. When a person expresses something so profound, it is time for actions that are equally intense.

Your argument is that “works of art created in the camp … are a unique document and piece of evidence, having the biggest meaning, significance and impact in the place of their creation.” This simply is not correct. Copies are displayed at the Museum and the originals are stashed away in protective cases, hidden in the dark just the way that Dina feels. I do completely agree that every original work should be preserved and not lost, but there are ways to ensure that while the truly rightful owner may possess her works, her soul. I am utterly convinced that her paintings are better with her due to the moral significance and the incredibly traumatic memories associated with them. Another issue is the creation of these documents. It is one thing to say that a factory worker does not own the things that he or she produces, but a woman who is forced to participate in a genocide should not be stripped of the creations that she was coerced into painting.

You declare that “every lost piece of this tragic world's heritage is a tremendous loss to all the people who come here to commemorate the victims and to conduct historical research,” but the entire Museum is allegedly centered around the Holocaust and the people involved, so why should not a survivor receive her art during the event itself? Who are you to say that you deserve it more than her, the creator and sufferer, the brave woman who negotiated with Josef Mengele, who bargained for her mother’s life in a death camp? Surely it cannot mean more to someone hanging on the wall than in the hands of a human.

To cite another quote, “the statements that her artwork in not available to public view and therefore this unique and important body of work is essentially lost to history are therefore simply not true.” I am a true skeptic. Inform me of the reason that the location of an undisclosed document matters. Dina has granted the Museum rights to reproduce many times, and would continue to do so, but her life and well-being should be placed above the relatively demanding attitude of the Museum. An agreement may also be made ensuring the document’s safety and care, but even such a request infringes on her rights, as she is the authentic owner of her paintings. I encourage compromise and friendly talks between Dina and the Museum and perhaps some consensus may be reached, for the greater good.

To approach from another angle, I would argue that the strongest impact may be reached by direct contact with a survivor of the Holocaust, as opposed to a Museum visit. To carry that further, it is imperative that she feels that the Holocaust is in the past and that the world has advanced from that mentality. The Museum’s actions, however, make it seem as though they/it/you are placing material objects and evidence stockpiles above the importance of addressing the true emotions of a survivor, which is what your Museum exists to speak of. This is not about places or where the paintings are stored, it is simply a question of tactics and morality in the face of a multi-faceted disagreement. This is about Dina Babbitt and her experience with the Holocaust which extends until her soul can rest with the possession of her works.

I appreciate that this letter may seem extreme to you, but I beg that you should consider that my words accurately represent the sentiments of good samaritans across the world. I challenge the Museum to put itself into the soul of a woman who painted for her life, denied the opportunity to protect her soul from invasion by the Nazis. I challenge you to observe her reaction more closely than your vital mission to preserve artifacts of the Holocaust. I challenge you to rearrange ethical priorities in your organization to correctly address the gravity of the situation. I challenge you to walk through your halls as I once did and imagine people wearing those shoes, people wearing those glasses, people wearing those clothes. Now think of Dina.

 

Sincerely,

Julian Pitt

Palo Alto High School

California


Palo Alto High * 50 Embarcadero Rd. * Palo Alto * CA * 94301