(Forward) Did Mexican Artists Produce the First Images of the Holocaust?

Leopoldo Méndez, Deportation to Death

Leopoldo Méndez, Deportation to Death (Death Train), 1942

My article “Did Mexican Artists Produce the First Images of the Holocaust?” appears in the Jewish Daily Forward. Here’s the lede:

Velvet-black smoke pours out of a locomotive looming on the horizon, accentuating the train’s length. It ascends heavenward, but the smoke is no Exodus pillar of cloud guiding the Israelites. This ominous billowing form signals the train’s imminent departure, as armed Nazis herd people aboard. In the foreground, a burly soldier shines a lantern into a cattle car, illuminating a huddled mass of victims, some lying on the floor, as another Nazi points aggressively.

From a historical perspective, Leopoldo Méndez’s “Deportation to Death” is significant for at least two reasons. The 1942 linoleum print was an early portrayal of the death camps, and that depiction was published not in the United States — where the anti-Nazi works of artists like Arthur Szyk and comic book covers, such as one of Captain America famously punching Hitler, have received considerably more attention — but in Mexico City.

“It’s maybe the first, and certainly one of the earliest published and widely-circulated images of the death camps,” says Matthew Affron, curator of modern art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Affron is co-curator of the exhibit which includes Méndez’s print, “Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism, 1910-1950” (through Jan. 8) — a collaboration of the museum and Mexico City’s Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes.

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