The Mucha-Shaped Hole in the World

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, but really every day is Holocaust Remembrance day, because it’s a hole in the world that reaches into everything. Millions of noncombatants sadistically murdered by people who had looked into their faces and touched their bodies. Millions of people who were never born because their family lines were snuffed out. Millions of people who were displaced and ethnically and nationally recategorized when diverse cosmopolitan areas were sorted into us and them and them and them.

A couple of months ago, I did a curiosity search on Alphons Mucha, an artist I like, to see what he got up to after his Art Nouveau poster fame. Killed by Nazis. It sneaks up on you, how everywhere it is.

Mucha was a Slav, and when Czechoslovakia was created in 1918, he helped design their postage stamps, and the money. He was already halfway through a series of large-format paintings about important moments in the region’s history. (It took him 18 years to finish. You can see it in Prague.) When the Nazis marched across the border in the spring of 1939, Mucha was one of the first people dragged in by the Gestapo. It’s doubtful they thought they could get much valuable information from a 78-year-old painter, so it’s safe to say “interrogation” is a euphemism for what happened to this man who symbolized Czech identity, who was pro-intellectual, pro-Jew. He never recovered from his injuries. He died a few months later, officially of a lung infection.

It reaches into everything.