Holocaust Heroes: Fierce Females
Tapestries and Sculpture by Linda Stein
Edited by Linda Stein; Foreword by Gloria Steinem
Review by Jenni L. Schlossman, Ph.D.
The catalogue for the exhibition Holocaust Heroes: Fierce Females, includes fourteen essays by the artist Linda Stein and others that discuss the art and activism seen in her ten tapestries depicting “Holocaust Heroes,” as well as sculptures that “address… victimization and masked self-effacement." (16)
This traveling exhibition is especially relevant because of the current political climate, where sitting at home and saying nothing about the injustices toward marginalized people in the US can be seen as being complicit in these actions.
Stein’s tapestries highlight ten Jewish and non-Jewish “Fierce Females" referencing them as "brave upstanders" declaring a distinct contrast to "bystanders" who stand by idly and do nothing "against bullying and bigotry, … persecution, sexual abuse, and harassment.” (16) Stein’s powerful tapestries are collaged images and texts about Anne Frank, Ruth Gruber, Vitka Kempner, Noor Inayat Khan, Zivia Lubetkin, Gertrud Luckner, Nadezhda Popova, Hadassah Bimko Rosensaft, Hannah Senesh, and Nancy Wake.
These women contributed significantly during WWII, but other mostly male narratives have eclipsed their stories, and they need to be remembered as strong women who were not willing to be victims. Stein’s works of art bring up discussions of the "other" in our society, in order to help find solutions and actions to solve problems, and in this way, she becomes a "Brave Upstander" herself.
In the essay, “Forgotten Female Holocaust Heroes,” Eva Fogelman discusses how both men and women participated in WWII, but that it was the men who were honored for their bravery and sacrifice, while most women who participated weren't recognized. She discusses why that is the history we learn, and theorizes why the names of Jewish women in the resistance, except for a few, are forgotten.
In the exhibition, a viewer can scan the large-scale tapestries and then focus on one at a time, while being surrounded by the auras of these brave women. In the catalogue, each hero’s story is told in an essay along with images of the tapestries. Some are personal stories, while others also provide insight into the women through historical research. Overall, these ordinary women did extraordinary things, and Stein provides their narrative in the tapestries using photographs and texts, but also contrasts the historical with figures from popular culture, her favorite being Wonder Woman.
Stein’s figurative narratives, supported by her background in abstract art, make the images especially powerful to a wide range of audiences, encouraging them to be “Upstanders” rather than bystanders in the fight to “never forget” the narratives of heroic Jewish and non-Jewish women.