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Art and Images in Psychiatry
October 2014

White Crucifixion and Listening to the CockerelMarc Chagall

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Developmental Neuropsychiatry, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland

Copyright 2014 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.

JAMA Psychiatry. 2014;71(10):1096-1097. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.2759

I carry my cross every day, I am led by the hand and driven on, Night darkens around me. Have you abandoned me, my God? Why?

Marc Chagall, Mayne Trern (My Tears)1(p220)

In White Crucifixion, Chagall documents the deliberate targeting of Jews in Nazi Germany that was the prelude to the Holocaust (Figure 1). Chagall uses religious imagery when he depicts Christ on the Cross as the central figure, not as the Christian savior but as a Jewish martyr.2 Thus, Chagall brings the Crucifixion to bear on contemporary Jewish tragedy. He starkly depicts Christ’s martyrdom as a Jew whose sacrifice speaks to the unspeakable suffering of Jews brought about by Nazi ideology. Chagall was reacting to events that took place in 1938, a year that marked the renewed persecution of Jews in Germany. It began with the registration and marking of Jewish businesses and was followed by the forced use of the names Abraham and Sarah for men and women and the required stamping of passports with a “J.” Concurrently that June and again in August, synagogues were destroyed in Munich and Nuremberg. The destruction reached its climax on the night of November 9, 1938, Kristallnacht (Crystal Night, or Night of Broken Glass), when more than 7000 Jewish-owned stores and buildings had their windows broken, when more than 1000 synagogues were desecrated, and when more than 30 000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps, and at least 90 were killed. Historically, Kristallnacht marked the beginning of the Holocaust.

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