Three years ago I was rummaging around looking for a subject to paint that would result in licensable images. I found a book on my shelf that I hadn’t noticed in years – “Images et Traditions Juives”, Gerard Sylvain’s collection of postcards detailing Jewish life around the world from 1897 to 1917. I chose to recreate, from these grainy black and white reproductions, full color paintings of four synagogues that had been destroyed by the Nazis. The idea that I could bring synagogue buildings back to some form of life when they had so purposely and demonically been erased was intriguing and extremely satisfying and I continue to paint more of them. On close inspection of the old photos, the synagogues are extremely beautiful but in the small black and white format of postcards they do not speak to many people. My goal is to convey, in my paintings, the beauty, solidity and cultural importance of the old synagogues to the world today.
All of the synagogues I paint, with the exception of a few that were destroyed by bombing, were meant to be totally erased from the earth. Once the synagogues were burned or blown apart, the Jewish community was often levied a fee for the removal of the debris. Sometimes they were forced to remove the debris themselves, by hand. The synagogues I have painted and continue to paint have left no physical record other than photos and occasional memorial plaques. My paintings represent a small, but important, selection of the thousands of synagogues destroyed during the Third Reich.
Once I added the first four synagogue paintings to my licensable images, I found that everyone who looked through my collection picked the synagogues as among their favorites. I did more research and found more and more old photos that needed to be documented. Who built these buildings? How did Jews live in that spot? How was this building destroyed? I found photos and historical information in various archives, libraries and web sites, but nowhere was the historical information matched with the appropriate images. Interest in this project continues to grow and the idea for a book, “The Lost Synagogues of Europe” has come into focus.
Status of the “Lost Synagogues of Europe”
I am in the process of putting together a very substantial book that tells the story, through art and words, of 60-100 of the thousands of synagogues that were destroyed by the Nazis. The paintings, along with the written text, will provide an opportunity to learn about and appreciate the importance of these buildings and their congregations. I have significant historical information to go with each painting and in the process of researching, I have met several historians interested in writing the associated text. I will write an essay describing my process as an artist – with another writer’s help if needed. Maps will be included in the book. The book will look like an art book with the focus on the paintings, but it will have historical information that will explain and expand on the images. The book will include my paintings and the old photos and postcards that I work from for each synagogue - exteriors and some interiors.
all artwork copyright © Andrea Strongwater.