Lama Sabachthani by Morris Kestelman

My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?    The title of this painting was taken from the first verse of Psalm 22 in the Bible and clearly exemplifies the utter hopelessness and despair felt by the Jewish people who were imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camps.

There were six extermination camps in Nazi-occupied Poland. Four of them – Belzec, Chelmno, Sobibor and Treblinka – all were given over solely to mass murder, while two – Auschwitz and Majdanek – were also concentration camps. Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest Nazi death camp, and an estimated 1.1 million men, women and children, mostly Jews, were murdered there.

At Auschwitz-Birkenau, Jews from all Nazi-occupied Europe were put through ‘selection’ after long and often harrowing railway journeys in overcrowded cattle trucks. SS doctors chose mainly the young and physically fit for slave labor, while the remainder was immediately sent to the gas chambers.

From June 1940, when it was established as a concentration camp for Polish inmates, Auschwitz grew to a huge complex of camps and sub-camps where over 400,000 prisoners were forced to labor under atrocious conditions. Over half died of starvation, illness and brutal ill-treatment. In all the extermination camps some of the younger, fitter and healthier Jews were made to work, processing the possessions of personal effects of those who had been gassed. Others were forced to join Sonderkommandos. They had to clean out the gas chambers and dispose of the bodies in crematoria or in open pits (IWM)

It is estimated that 3 million human beings, the vast majority Jews, were murdered in these camps.

Morris Kestelman, a Jewish artist raised in the East End of London, made a rare response as a British artist to the known horrors of mass extermination in Poland. His painting Lama Sabachthani depicts the Holocaust only as much as one could imagine it in 1943, before the true extent of the Nazi crimes was made public knowledge. “ In this painting Kestelman’s subjects raise their hands and faces heavenward asking God why he has not intervened in the genocide” (Unspeakable).   Kestelman used predominantly dark blues and greys to show the anguish and suffering of Jewish people.


Extermination Camps.   Imperial War Museum.  Web.  11 Bay 2013.

Palmor, Lauren.  “Unspeakable”   The Art Object.  12 Apr 2009.  Web.  11 May 2013.

Spiegel, Frances.  Holocaust Art Exhibit – Unspeakable.  Suite 101.  15 Apr 2007.  Web.   11 May 2013.

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