By Martha Nodar

A desire to be an ambassador of cultural exchange brought Peter Bürgel, the lord mayor of Dachau, Germany, to the Oglethorpe University Museum of Art (OUMA) for a special reception March 8 launching two exhibits of art from his city.

Both “Dachau Before Dachau: European Artist Colony 1860-1914” and “Dachau Concentration Camp: Years of Destruction 1933-1945” are making their U.S. debuts and are the products of a collaborative endeavor that began six years ago when OUMA’s director, Lloyd Nick, met Bürgel at an art conference in Germany.

Nick said “Dachau Before Dachau” consists of four prints and 47 paintings by European artists who lived and worked in a countryside artist colony near Munich between 1860 and 1914.

After the colony disintegrated as a consequence of World War I, Dachau remained largely unknown until the Nazis built a concentration camp there during World War II, turning what was a peaceful, creative colony into a center of death.

The “Dachau Concentration Camp” exhibition consists of 15 panels documenting that camp.

“The artists of these idyllic scenes could never have imagined the horrors that came decades later,” said Oglethorpe sophomore Larisa Ozeryansky, whose father lost most of his family in the Holocaust.

“I live and work every day with my town’s history: a city of arts and the site of a concentration camp memorial,” Bürgel said. “Our city continues to preserve and expand its offer on being a place of commemoration of the Holocaust. We thrive with strong conviction to ensure the past is never repeated. We promote art because creativity is the opposite of terror.”

Israel’s consul general to the Southeast, Reda Mansour, attended the opening reception, as did Oglethorpe President Lawrence Schall, who is Jewish, and German Deputy Consul Söenke Lorenz.

“Our office wanted to make sure that enough attention was given to the Dachau concentration camps,” Mansour said. “We have a responsibility to keep the memory.”

He said that while his office oversaw the accuracy of the 15 panels of the “Dachau Concentration Camp” exhibition, the office of German Consul General Lutz Görgens thoroughly researched the names of the artists who produced the works of “Dachau Before Dachau” to ensure no link between them or their families with the Nazis.

Also involved in the realization of the exhibitions were Wolfgang Krüger, the director of the German Cultural Center, and business executive Barry Flink, who lost 11 members of his family at Dachau.

Flink said his role as the chairman of the Atlanta Dachau Committee was never compromised. He praised Krüger for his contributions and said he appreciates the city of Dachau for its efforts in commemorating the Holocaust.

Schall said that with the help of faculty members, this school year the university has put together a series of lectures and academic projects associated with the Dachau exhibits.

Mansour said he would like to see Oglethorpe students take away from the art exhibits an understanding of the power of choice. “We have evidence that human beings are capable of great evil,” he said. “And yet we are also capable of great good. The choice is ours. This exhibition gives me hope for building a better future.”