In 1978, the noted late Swiss collector, Dr. Oscar Ghez,
presented the University of Haifa with 137 works of
art by 18 artists who perished in the Holocaust. Founder and president of the Petit Palais Museum in
Geneva, Oscar Ghez de Castelnuovo had been collecting
art since 1945. His collection represents most European
art movements and schools from the late nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries.
His first accidental encounter with a few pieces by artists lost to the
Holocaust inspired Dr. Ghez to search for more work of this nature. It took
him thirty years to assemble the collection, which he then donated to the
University of Haifa. All the paintings, drawings, sculptures, and watercolors
that are included in the collection were found and purchased in Paris.
Paris was also where all of the 18 artists lived, at least during
a part of their artistic careers, and
where most of them were arrested by the Nazis and their
Paris was the center of a dramatic artistic revolution
unfolding in Europe between the two world wars.
Painters, sculptors, writers, and musicians from all over Europe and America were
drawn to the French capital; they came to pursue their art amidst a highly charged
creative atmosphere in which the now legendary figures of early Modernism were redefining
Western Art. Among the artists who gathered
there was a significant group of Jewish artists from
Central and Eastern Europe. Sharing a common language
(Yiddish) and background, Jewish artists (such as those
included in the Ghez Collection) gravitated toward one
another. Congregating around Montparnasse, they formed
a kind of enclave, which came to be known as the Circle
of Montparnasse, or the Jewish School of Paris.
As can be seen from this selection of paintings,
many of the artists of the Jewish School of Paris embraced
and experimented with various aspects of a new artistic
language brought forward by the developing trends and
isms of Modern Art.
But World War II would bring this rich creative activity
to an abrupt and tragic end. Most of the artists
presented here, along with many others, were arrested
and interned in the concentration camps of Drancy, Compiègne,
and Gurs, and were ultimately deported to death camps. Thus,
on many of the labels accompanying the exhibited works of art,
a question mark has been placed where the year of the artist's
death should appear, since in most cases it is not possible to know precisely when he or she died.
We know only the year that the artist was arrested and
/ or sent to a death camp or a concentration camp.
The Oscar Ghez Collection stands not only as a memorial
to artists who perished in the Holocaust, but also as
an important record documenting the creative output
of 18 artists who were part of what has become known
as the Jewish School of Paris. Clearly, Dr. Ghez
showed sensitivity and determination in seeking out
and drawing together works by these artists. The collection
is an invaluable living record of humanity's persistent
will to create.
Dr. Oscar Ghez de Castelnuovo was awarded the degree
of Doctor of Philosophy, Honoris Causa from the University
of Haifa in 1995.