Holocaust Memorial Day 2016: The Arnold Daghani collection

27th January 2016

By Emma Johnson

‘Don’t stand by’ is the message for Holocaust Memorial Day 2016. 71 years after the end of the holocaust against the Jewish population of Europe, these words are as relevant today as they were then- there is still a need to stand against racism, violence and discrimination of all kinds. As holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said: ‘Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.’

Being educated and informed about past atrocities is so important to prevent them from happening again. Sometimes it is very easy to become distanced from the hurt and suffering being experienced by others, because it is not something that we are experiencing. Here at The Keep, in the care of the University of Sussex Special Collections, is an archive that seeks to humanise the experience of the holocaust: the Arnold Daghani collection. Within his work, Daghani used a mixed medium of art and the written word to document his experience of the holocaust.

'Fragments of Memoirs'

‘Fragments of Memoirs’

Arnold Daghani (1909 – 1985) came from a German-speaking Jewish family in Suczawa, on the eastern borders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which is now  Suceava in Romania. He attended art school in Munich before returning to Romania to work at a publishing house. In June 1942 Daghani and his wife Anisoara were deported to the slave labour camp of Mikhailowka in the Ukraine. They managed to escape in July 1943, only a few months before the camp was liquidated. Daghani’s collection includes around 6,000 works, including albums of drawings, paintings and writings. His later years living in Hove are also represented, particularly by many spiral-bound sketchbooks filled with ink drawings.

One of the most prominent pieces of Daghani’s work that documents his experience of Mikhailowka is his ‘What a nice world’ folio (1943-1977). Every aspect of this

Passage from 'What a Nice World'

Passage from ‘What a Nice World’

work emanates symbolism- from the physical structure of the work- bound in wire- to the dark, dramatic colours and sporadic use of text, reflecting Daghani’s emotional trauma and his use of art and writing to provide an emotional release from this horrific experience. This passage is recalled in the third person:

‘Quickly they were pushed across the street, where a group of people were already under guard. What was going to happen to them? Their clothes to be thrown into the boiler? Their hair to be cut? Or perhaps, something worse? The touch of the soldier had already recalled unpleasant things in Arnold’s memory, but he did not allow his mind to work itself into a panic.’

Last year marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the message promoted by the Holocaust Memorial Trust was reflective; commemorating and remembering the stories of the victims of holocausts that have happened across the world, such as those in Second World War Europe and in more recent times, Rwanda and Bosnia. For 2016, while it is still so important to remember these stories, it is also about looking forward, so that we ‘don’t stand by’ if we witness discrimination of any kind. It is the victims’ voices, such as that of Arnold Daghani, preserved in our archives, which seeks to educate us, humanising their experiences so that they are not merely a statistic in history.


You can follow the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust on twitter and facebook. They also have a number of videos of survivors testimonies on their Youtube channel.