The art of lamentation: Josef Herman’s humanist expressionism

Phyllis Lassner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This essay discusses three paintings by Josef Herman, who escaped to Glasgow from Warsaw in 1938. The Refugees, painted in 1941, resonates with Chagall-like nostalgia, but renders it darkly as an expressionist lamentation for a lost Eastern European civilization and the omnipresence of political oppression. Refugees, as well as Lear Destroyed, painted in 1961, and In Memory of the "Fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto, 1974-98, broaden and yet critique the definitions and circulation of modernist, transnational aesthetics by including the haunting images and resonances of East European Jewish displacement and the destruction of its culture. With a rejection of sentimentality, the refugees are both humanized and marked as victimized by Nazi racial ideology, which deployed its industrialized persecutions to dispose of those identified as subhuman and disposable. Enlarging the historical scale and expressing the ongoing trauma of loss, "Lear Destroyed is depicted as a figure overwhelmed by abandonment, betrayal, and erasure from history, while In Memory laments the tragic outcome but heroic imprint of Jewish resistance. I argue that these paintings represent an approach to studying Jewish exile culture and Holocaust memory as instrumental in constructing the meanings of East European Jewish subjectivity as it migrates to modern cultural history.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)171-202
Number of pages32
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019


  • Antisemitism
  • Britain
  • Expressionism
  • Holocaust
  • Lamentation
  • Refugee art
  • World War II

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Religious studies


Dive into the research topics of 'The art of lamentation: Josef Herman’s humanist expressionism'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this