Paintings
Inner woord
The girl and the wolf
Portraits
Musicians
Landscapes

BoOkS (in Dutch)
Even now (life story of an Auschwitz survivor)
Turning point - About personal crises and chances 
Who is crazy, actually? - About the therapeutic relationship  
Do not disturb - A critical discussion about the mental health care
Ten composer portraits in word and image 

CV 
Saar Roelofs

 


saar.roelofs@xs4all.nl

 

 

© 
Partner
Productions


A STORY OF MANY TIMES

INTRODUCTION BY SAAR ROELOFS 0F 
HER CYCLE OF PAINTINGS

The Girl and the wolf
About a girl in a concentration camp
A story of many times


The text below is by Saar Roelofs, spoken on May 4 2006 at the opening of the exhibition of the The girl and the wolf in Alphen aan de Rijn, the Netherlands, and published in the exhibition catalogue. This exhibition took place on the request of the late Simon Speijer, a personal (Dutch) friend of Simon Wiesenthal on whose book Max and Helen the storyline of the cycle of paintings was partially based.

Personal commitment

I was born after the Second World War. As a child I picked up much about the war. As a clinical psychologist I investigated the subject of the Holocaust. I gave artistic expression to my insights in my second profession as a painter.

The disasters of the war

Nothing can be compared with the systematic, factory-wise genocide in the Second World War. But still… genocides occurred also in Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. How important are numbers?

Genocide on a large scale is hardly to encompass. As for me, the only way to comprehend this phenomenon is to contemplate on the behaviour of individuals. In my cycle of paintings The girl and the wolf  I depicted – in the footsteps of Simon Wiesenthal in his book Max and Helen – the suffering of just one girl.

Making this work I was inspired by the great Spanish painter Goya. Apalled by the Napoleontic occupation of his country, he created between 1810 and 1820 his series of etchings Los Desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of the War). No hectic war scenes with spears, cannons and horses as was customary in his time. No glorification of heroes, victory scenes or national flags. No. The series is a timeless indictment against violence of war in which the artist shares with us the tragedy and powerlessness of the individual. In this work Goya is denouncing both parties: the French occupiers and the Spanish citizens who sometimes took the law into their own hands and just like the occupiers committed atrocities. Goya made etchings of sadistic soldiers, of starving refugees, of woman who are raped, of men who are executed, of bodies which are dumped in a mass grave. Unfortunately, these are images which newspapers and television show us still today.

Ordinary people

The central theme which is elaborated in The girl and the wolf is as follows. Ordinary people are capable of horrific crimes; not just like that but when the circumstances provoke such behaviour. This opinion is based on several historical sources. In his book Ordinary Men the historian Christopher Browning states that general human behaviour – anxiety, conformism, obedience and the need for recognition, power and prestige – as well as lack of responsibility in a bureaucratic system under extreme circumstances can contribute to atrocities. He describes how in the Second World War a group of men from Hamburg in their middle ages who were drafted as reservists in Poland and Russia changed from ordinary family men into murdering machines who slaughtered ruthlessly innumerable Jews. If these reservists were ordinary, decent fathers, then what personality traits possess people who joined Hitler’s SS voluntary? Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi writes in his book The drowned and the saved about SS camp guards: “They were average human beings, averagely intelligent, averagely vicious; apart from exceptions they were no monsters.” Nevertheless they committed horrific crimes.

These examples show that evil is not something abstract or unimaginable outside men. They show us that general human character traits are magnified under extreme circumstances and can contribute to excesses.

In line with this view, the perpetrators in The girl and the wolf are not so much driven by an imposed ideology as by opportunism, impulses and personal needs, even if these are at odds with the prevailing ideology. Thus the wolf in the cycle of paintings – just like the historical character camp commander Werner Schulze in Simon Wiesenthals book Max and Helen – forces a Jewish prisoner, the girl, into a sexual relationship, committing in terms of the Nazi doctrine ‘miscegenation’ for which there was a high penalty in Nazi Germany. His personal urges were more important then the Nazi ideology. He just seized the opportunity.

This is not typical for only Nazi Germany, however. Reports of Human Rights Watch about the Rwandese genocide of 1994 show that members of the Hutu Militia for their own pleasure secretly kept Tutsi women imprisoned in – which they call themselves – a “marriage”, which was contrary to the rules of the militia.

War baby's

Just like in Wiesenthals book Max and Helen, in The girl and the wolf a child is born as a consequence of rape. Helen, the protoganist in Wiesenthals story, loved her child. But according to Human Rights Watch many raped Rwandan mothers can barely accept their war child. Here a new war is born: a war between mother and child.

Female perpetrators

In war stories the crimes of men are put first and foremost. War crimes are also committed by woman, however. The cruelty of a female American soldier in the Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib, for instance, was world news in 2004. Therefore, in The girl and the wolf a (fictive) female perpetrator is put forward: the blond woman. No more than the wolf is she driven by ideological motives. She is jealous on the girl and the wolf. Hence she tortures the girl.

Not black, not white

I did not want to create a black and white story. After Goya's Los desastres de la guerra I tried to represent the fate of victims as well as perpetrators. And from Primo Levi I learned that even the most cruel perpetrators in the concentration camps could for a moment feel pity with their victims. Accordingly the blond woman feels in the end remorse for her misdeeds.

Liberation

The cycle of paintings ends with a symbolica liberation of the girl.

Never again

A servant once asked Goya: "Why are you painting the barbarities of mankind?" Goya would have said: "To ask people once and for all not to be barbarians anymore." Unfortunatley, in our time such a remark is still legitimate.

  © Saar Roelofs, 2006

 REFERENCES

Bauman, Zygmunt. Modernity and the Holocaust. Cambridge, Polity Press (1989). 

 

Browning, Christopher R. Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. New York, HarperCollins Publishers Inc. (1992). 

 

The graphic art of Goya. Catalogue, edited by Dieuwke de Hoop Scheffer (preface by Karel Gerard Boon). Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, (1970). Text in Dutch.

 

Human Rights Watch. Shattered Lives - Sexual Violence during the Rwandan Genocide and its Aftermath (1996). 

 

Levi, Primo. The drowned and the saved. New York, Summit Books (1988).

 

Wiesenthal, Simon. Max and Helen. New York, William Morrow and Company Inc. (1982).

See also

LIKE AN AXE IN HARD FROZEN ICE 
Introduction by Hans Paalman
 


 

Paintings
Inner woord
The girl and the wolf
Portraits
Musicians
Landscapes

BoOkS (in Dutch)
Even now (life story of an Auschwitz survivor)
Turning point - About personal crises and chances 
Who is crazy, actually? - About the therapeutic relationship  
Do not disturb - A critical discussion about the mental health care
Ten composer portraits in word and image 

CV 
Saar Roelofs

 


saar.roelofs@xs4all.nl

 

 

© 
Partner
Productions