Why, given the nature of the punishment, did the painters continue to paint? In the 1930s the Nazis formulated laws and edicts that dictated the comings and goings, food allowance, livelihood, living arrangements, and statelessness of Jews and other “undesirables.” After the Jewish populations were moved into ghettos, the Germans decided who would live to see another day and who would face deportation and death. However, these measures did not and could not destroy the victims’ inner strength, the spiritual resistance so many artists exhibited. Artists painted because they wanted to alert the world. They painted because they wanted to memorialize the victims. They painted hoping the scenes they depicted would be a negative example never to be repeated. Using whatever materials they could scrounge, they drew, sketched, and painted on such unlikely canvasses as the backs of postage stamps and on flimsy tissue paper. In some instances they exhibited their work publicly, but most times they worked in total secrecy and at great risk.
What did these creative eyewitnesses see? Through their eyes they recorded the horrors of forced labor, random murder, ghetto life, transit camps, the Resistance, and concentration and death camps. Artists such as Samuel Bak of the Vilna Ghetto, Sara Glicksman-Faitlowitz and Szymon Szerman of the Lodz Ghetto, Esther Lurie of the Kovno Ghetto, Gela Seksztajn, Halina Olomucki and Roman Kramsztyk of the Warsaw Ghetto, and Haim Urison of the Bialystok Ghetto depicted the overcrowding, starvation, random murder, sights, landmarks, and leaders of their respective communities.