David Labkovski’s art is on display at the U.S. Military Academy until May 30. The art is exhibited on the second floor of the Jefferson Library. The DLP was brought to West Point by Irving and Nancy Chase and is a cooperative effort of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and the West Point Library.
David Labkovski, the Lithuanian– Israeli artist (1906-1991), died nearly three decades ago, leaving behind a body of over 400 pieces of narrative art that depicted Jewish life in Vilna, Lithuania, illustrations of Shalom Aleichem characters, the stories of life under the Nazis from Holocaust survivors, his time in a Siberian prison camp and finally his renewal in Israel. His emotive art captures both the physical and the emotional.
Labkovski grew up in Vilna, Lithuania, then known as the Jerusalem of the North, participated in his first international art exhibition at sixteen, and then traveled to Moscow. There he worked at the State Jewish Theater, later studying at the Art Academy in Leningrad. He was drafted into the Red Army and then expelled and sent to the Lubyanka prison in Moscow with the onset of the Second World War. Sentenced to prison in the gulags of Siberia, Labkovski survived due to his artistic skills, earning extra portions of food as the prison tattoo and sketch artist. Upon his return to Vilna after the war, Labkovski found the community and city that he loved completely destroyed. The Nazis and their collaborators had murdered 95% of Vilna’s Jewish community.
Labkovski began painting not only the city ruins, but the city of his memory and the stories of the few survivors he encountered. He and his wife Rivka lived in Lithuania for a decade after the war before emigrating to Israel. In 1959, his first Israeli exhibit opened to critical acclaim but limited popularity. Audiences at the time wanted to move forward and not look back. This response convinced Labkovski not to sell his paintings. This decision to keep his paintings together ultimately gave rise to the David Labkovski Project (DLP).
The David Labkovski Project advances knowledge of the Holocaust and Jewish History through Labkovski’s art utilizing his history, paintings and sketches. The project emphasizes survival, tolerance, justice, and the importance of bearing witness to history. The DLP’s Director of Education, Stephanie Wolfson, DLP, and Executive Director Leora Raikin, developed the project based educational programming which accompanies the exhibit and has been scaled for middle schools, high schools and colleges.
Edited by: JV Staff