Restoring faith in humanity

Hanging in Yad Vashem is a huge painting of a man taking an emaciated young boy by the hand and leading him towards a palm tree. Titled, ”The Man Who Restored My Faith In Humanity,” it is the creation of the then-16 year old Czech Shoah survivor, Yehuda Bacon. After the war, he got on a ship with hundreds of other orphans and sailed to Israel where he soon enrolled to study at the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem. After a few years of utilising various international scholarships, where he picked up prizes and won acclimation for his work, Yehuda returned to Israel and became one of Bezalel’s most prestigious tutors.  

Yehuda’s journey through the excellence of art was born in Terezin, the only Nazi ghetto in Czechoslovakia. Crammed together with hundreds of older people in a damp attic, Yehuda managed to befriend three famous artists who had also been interned. They gave him some of their pencils which they had managed to bring with them. Yehuda would watch for hours to learn from the best and practice his newly-developing skills. 

Art became his means of survival. It served as a distraction from the terrible reality. Day and night, he sketched the desperation around him. But the worse was yet to come: Along with his family he was deported to Auschwitz where his family were immediately murdered. Young and relatively strong, Yehuda was spared. Tasked with pushing goods in a wagon from place to place around the camp, his “job” gave him access to the secret gas chambers

As the allies began liberating Europe, the Nazis destroyed the crematorium and other evidence throughout the Reich to hide their crimes. Orphaned and anguished, Yehuda knew that he had to paint and document as much as he could. His sketches would be more than paintings, they would be of historical importance. His paintings of the gas chambers would later be used as evidence in trials. 

Although much of his work documents those terrible times, the painting which hangs in Yad Vashem is a testament to the healing power of kindness. 

When the war was over, the penniless Yehuda took shelter in a rehabilitation refugee center in Prague founded by Přemysl Pitter. Before the war, the Christian preacher had established the center for Czech children from poor families who could visit the center and do crafts, play games and even learn theatre. During the war, the center became a hub of secret support for persecuted Jews. With help from his friends and congregants, after the war Přemysl Pitter got permits from the allies to confiscate German properties and turn them into convalescent homes for children. 

Every time Yehuda gives his testimony (even at the ripe old age of 93) he says that it was in this oasis of tranquility that he began to be healed. He was surrounded by love, kindness and care. Yehuda realised that not everyone in the world was out to kill him because he was a Jew. 

His painting “The Man Who Restored My Faith In Humanity,” is a self-portrait but dedicated to Přemysl Pitter, who rightly was later honoured by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous among the Nations. The figure leading him to the palm tree is that righteous man, and the palm tree symbolises the Land of Israel. Not only did Pitter shower the teenager with love, he loved him so much he encouraged him to finally go home to the land of his people.