Battle Fatigue: 1942 - 1945
An Expedition of Discovery in Mixed Media
This work is an expedition of discovery about a time quickly fading into historical memory; an important story and teaching tool.
Eleven years after my father, a brilliant but complicated man died, my mother said, “How come nobody ever talks about Daddy?” The truth is, we didn’t know what to say about him. In his 30s, a lawyer, married with a one-year-old child (my older sister), he enlisted as an officer in WWII, a war that he, as a Jew, knew was absolutely necessary. He returned home 2 years later with a diagnosis of Battle Fatigue, damaged by but never speaking about his experiences. At 15 he told me to paint over my first painting-not to waste the canvas-I didn’t paint again for almost 50 years but in the end he made me stronger- and this show is my gift to him.
He arrived in England in January 1944, arrived in Normandy on June 16, D-Day+10. In August 1944 he found himself in newly liberated Paris and attended the first Rosh Hashanah services at the Le Grand Synagogue of Paris 2 weeks later, receiving a yellow star from a recently released French Jew. He fought under Patton in five European battles including the Battle of the Bulge. Wintered in Verdun spending that bitterly cold, wet months in the Ardennes. In April 1945, he took part in the American liberation of the concentration camp Ohrdruf, a sub-camp of Buchenwald, bringing home photographs of piles of bodies which was how I learned about the horrors of the Holocaust. One person after seeing the show said that my father was like “Zelig”. He was everywhere that anything was happening in Europe during WWII. He later won a Bronze Star Medal and ended his war career in Berlin as a Captain, returning home from Paris on my sister’s third birthday, August 13, 1945. He went directly into Mason General Hospital on Long Island, a psychiatric facility which was open for 2 years to treat returning GIs. In World War I it was called shell shock, World War II-battle fatigue, and today we refer to it as PTSD or Combat Stress Reaction. No one in my family spoke about it.
My father was released after 2 months with no further treatment. Upon his return my mother and father put together his scrapbook of photos and memorabilia using the material he had carried around with him during his 2 years with Patton. He spoke very little about his experiences. I am now the age my father was when he died, and through this show I am finally talking about WWII, the Holocaust and Daddy. This show struck a powerful chord of recognition during the month it was hanging at 510 Warren Street Gallery in Hudson, NY. People from all walks of life; an army veteran who spoke of her grandmother who arrived in the US at 16 years old having lost 65 members of her family in the holocaust, a civics teacher who said that he was teaching about WWII to his 8th grader students, many people said that their fathers also fought in the Battle of the Bulge and never spoke about it, and so many, many more stories. It is a universal story told through approachable paintings that draw the viewer directly into each canvas. It tells a powerful yet intimate story but also holds together as an art exhibition. It provides viewers with insights into the life and wartime experiences of a man who I never got the chance to fully know.
~ Nina Lipkowitz