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Saturday, August 14, 2010

The ARTS triumph during adversity

Last Sunday night I stumbled on a PBS TV show called History Detectives. I have not seen this program before. One of the mysteries they were looking at was a copy of a portrait done of a woman's father while he was a prisoner of war during WWII.  The woman was interested in finding out about the artist. This took the host to her father's home where he had the original pencil drawing. The drawing showed a robust, healthy, clean young man, which of course he would not have been, protected all these years by a sheet of German toilet tissue.  Something I learned was that because of the Geneva Convention, the USO sent care packages to the POW's. This man, who the portrait was of, was a POW in Stalag 17B. The USO had sent Journals to the POW's and very few of these paper journals have survived. This man had kept his, mainly because of the portrait, but he had not remembered the artist's name correctly, which is something that was discovered. Anyway, what got me was they showed a number of pages out of this journal, and the pages showed drawings, memorials to their fallen comrades (mostly airmen), poetry or sketches/descriptions of what went on. ie like playbills announcing Christmas Carols, different plays they put on, and other forms of entertainment. What I am getting at is, this man said these activities, this portrait, is what kept them human and a form of defying the circumstances in which they found themselves.

Notice, it is the arts that kept them sane! The portrait was why he kept this journal as a memento; but the rest: poetry, the playbills of their "productions" and the memorial to the rest of his crew, (drawn as airmen's wings) were what kept them going. Pencils were hard to come by so that this book was filled, is another marvel.

To finish off the mystery, the host found out the correct name of the artist, located one of his sons, who positively identified the signature as his father's. The artist (Harold Rhodan) painted on the side, had done other portraits, but did not pursue it as a career. The airman had traded 2 onions and a potato to have his portrait done. He had gotten the vegetables by throwing 4 cigarettes in his sock over the barbed wire to a Russian POW, and the veggies came back in his sock. You can view this episode on PBS online.
In conclusion, the arts, no matter how much the powers that be cut them, will triumph!

1 comment:

Aloha Sistah said...

What a powerful story, one of many such testaments to the importance of the arts to human survival. Just watched "Invictus," which turns out to be the name of the poem which kept Nelson Mandela's focus on something larger than his grueling circumstances. Keep the light of creativity and beauty burning!