Moroccan-born artist turns Holocaust artwork into a book

Elvire Coriat de Baëre spent six months creating nine nearly colorless paintings that told the story of the Holocaust with scenes of a ghetto, a cattle car, the gates of Auschwitz, a pile of shoes, an empty gas chamber.

The Moroccan-born San Anselmo woman donated the paintings in 2002, ceding their future to the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“The whole series belongs to the world, not to me,” she said. “I did it not for myself; I did the paintings for people to know about what happened in the Holocaust in a subtle, sensitive way.”

Elvire de Baëre

To ensure that even more people see the exhibit, de Baëre in March published a book of the nine paintings along with original poems she scribed. “Realm of Silence: Reflections on the Holocaust” is now on bookshelves at museums and stores across the country.

De Baëre said the book is in libraries of Holocaust museums in Australia and Europe, and that her poems have been translated into French, where children are reading them as a way to learn about the Holocaust.

She hopes the book “might help people to understand the consequences of apathy in the face of persecution,” she said. “That is of vital relevance today.”

De Baëre grew up in Casa-blanca, Morocco. She fell in love with art while in college in London, frequently spending whole afternoons staring at Impress-ionist paintings.

She didn’t begin to paint until years later when, several years after she had moved to the Bay Area, she worked up the courage to knock on the door of an art studio in San Anselmo.

“I said, ‘I want to learn how to paint,’ and he told me, ‘Come back next week and bring canvas and oil paints,’ ” she recalled.

From “Realm of Silence”

She learned, and realized she had talent. While enrolled in a class at the College of Marin, the instructor told students to paint something that in the last century had inspired fear, hope or passion in them.

“I of course thought of World War II and the Holocaust,” de Baëre said.

She spent hours at the library researching the Holocaust. And then, in 2000, she began to paint.

“I felt an urgency to tell the story in my own way,” she said. “Those that died are not here to tell their story, so they need people to sculpt, write, paint and talk about it. I felt that painting was a very humble way to tell their story.”

Once she finished, the collection began going on display in museums across the country.

Stephen Goldman, former director of the Florida Holocaust Museum, wrote in the foreword of the artist’s book that he was impressed by how she departed from her usual bright paintings done in the style of the French Impressionists.

“She is brave enough to come to grips with the horror of the Holocaust and share that experience,” Goldman wrote. “Many cannot bear to share the images and words; it remains for artists and poets with guts to see and speak for us, to us.”

Elvire Coriat de Baëre will sign copies of “Realm of Silence” at 4 p.m. Sunday, May 31 at Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera.

“Realm of Silence: Reflections on the Holocaust” by Elvire Coriat de Baëre (40 pages, Lost Coast Press, $22.95)

Stacey Palevsky