“Entering Darkness: Dorothy Wahlstrom, Nurse at Dachau, 1945” is a 130-inch-by-387-inch oil painting by Jerome Witkin. The six panels of the 2001 work shown below are to be read in Hebraic order from right to left. Detail at left is panel 6. Courtesy of Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, Los Angeles.
Jerome Witkin’s painting “Entering Darkness” was inspired by an account of a Red Cross nurse, Dorothy Wahlstrom, published in “Witnesses to the Holocaust” in 1990. At once, it offers the viewer identification with the protagonist—the nurse entering Dachau—but at the same time renders in these other panels mythic, allegorical and surreal images of the Holocaust, including some images of bodies cut apart by Josef Mengele in his experiments. So the painting partly expresses the horror through the nurse, but the images also move beyond her purview.
Obviously, the allegorical levels gesture toward a common trope of revulsion at violence, at human devastation of other humans. That the focus is on the individual brings the viewer in, and perhaps it’s very necessary for a subjective identification, particularly for empathy to take place. But at the same time we have a generalized horror beyond the specificity of this camp, a horror of this catastrophe. So arguably, one has to think in larger terms of justice.
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