“My sculpture facing Lake Maggiore to remember and contrast indifference”

A large head with no eyes, ears, mouth. Seen from a distance, it looks like a stone. Like that the Israeli Ofer Lellouche really threw into the lake the first time he arrived in Meina, near Lake Maggiore. He was there to learn more about what it is by many considered the first German massacre of Jews in Italy during World War II to which he dedicated a sculpture unveiled to the public yesterday. It is a big stone on the shore, which had the features of a head. “A head looking at the lake”, says the artist. “But a head without eyes to see, without a mouth to talk or cry. Just a silent stone which looks like a head”.
The artwork is dedicated to 16 Jews, mostly originally from Thessaloniki and displaced from Milan, whose bodies were ballasted in that seabed by the Nazis who first imprisoned them inside the Meina Hotel where they were staying and then, after a week, between 22 and 23 September 1943, killed.
At first, when the idea of a commemorative monument came up, the artist, 74, had many doubts about whether to try his hand at this project: The Shoah seemed too big of a theme. Then he understood that “whatever I do, the memory of the Shoah was a part of my DNA. Actually, I realized it was in the DNA of most Israeli artists of my generation. It was a strong and terrible revelation, but in a way, it liberated me from the fear of doing a monument in the classical interpretation of this word”.
He wanted to see the spot where the sculpture should be placed and saw the hotel, which is still there. He heard about the massacre. “How the victims were tied with barbed wire and were thrown into the lake still alive. I was taken by great emotion, a great sadness. I felt that this lake which is one of the most beautiful places in the world was hiding a dark secret. To honor the memory of the dead I bent down to the floor and pick up a small stone which I deposit at the shore of the lake. Which is the way, we, Jews, honor, in cemeteries, the memory of our dead”.
The sculpture required hundreds of sketches. “Drawings, small models, terracottas, some were more tormented, some were showing horror, but at the end, I chose to show a face of love and hope. That sculpture was inspired by the portrait of my wife”.
This a sculpture to remember ad a warning, he stresses, against the “crimes committed at this very minute all over the world. Wars, massacres, hunger, and diseases”. Many people have encouraged him on this mission. Among them, Lellouche recalled Becky Behar Ottolenghi (1929-2009). Becky was the daughter of Alberto, the owner of the Meina Hotel, who managed to save himself together with her loved ones thanks to the intervention of the Turkish consul. Her diary still remains today a fundamental testimony of those days. The artist concludes: “Memory is not something that pertains only to the past, but that must encourage us to make a substantial commitment to the future. I hope that this silent sculpture of mine can help us think about the world we want and the values we must defend “. The touching head facing Lake Maggiore, says Lellouche “of course it is about memory. But memory should not be fixed only on the past. Memory should face the future. It should give us strength to look upon future with faith and courage”.