Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorates the death of six million Jews in the Holocaust. On this day, which in 2019 begins on the evening of May 1 and continues through May 2, communities come together to remember the horrific events of the Holocaust and the people killed in the atrocities. Group and individual ceremonies often include the lighting of yahrzeit (memorial) candles to remember those who were killed. In Israel, sirens sound on Yom HaShoah to remind residents to stop their daily tasks and observe a moment of silence.
Holocaust Remembrance Day is also a time to recognize the heroism of those who resisted Nazi rule. The life-saving rescue work of Raoul Wallenberg is a noteworthy example of resistance against Nazism. Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat who began aiding Hungarian Jews in July of 1944. He provided Swedish protective passports to Jews and created safe houses in Budapest where Jews could be protected by the Swedish state. Wallenberg led additional efforts to prevent Jews from being deported and provided food and medical aid to Jews. Thousands of Hungarian Jews survived the war as a result of Wallenberg’s efforts.
This art medal was created as a tribute to Wallenberg and was fittingly designed by artist Marika Somogyi, herself a Holocaust survivor from Hungary. On the front is an image of Wallenberg’s face in front of a brick wall, which alludes to the safe houses that he created for Hungarian Jews. The back of the medal shows Wallenberg protecting people underneath an outstretched cloak. Medal artist Marika Somogyi was born into a Jewish family in Budapest and grew up during World War II. She survived the war in hiding under a false identity, pretending to be Catholic. After the war, Somogyi studied at the Budapest College of Fine Arts and then continued her artistic training after immigrating to the United States. Her work has been shown in museums around the world, and in 1989 she was awarded the American Numismatic Association’s Numismatic Art Award for Excellence in Medallic Sculpture.
Marika Somogyi also designed four medals for the Jewish-American Hall of Fame that honor Irving Berlin, Benny Goodman, Leonard Bernstein, and Arthur Miller. These medals can be viewed in the Skirball Museum exhibition Striking Medals: 50 Years of the Jewish-American Hall of Fame, which is on view through June 2, 2019. The Raoul Wallenberg medal can be viewed in the Skirball Museum’s core exhibition, An Eternal People: The Jewish Experience.