Gregory Perillo’s Holocaust Images

Gregory Perillo’s Holocaust Images

Art that portrays terrible events  captures what words cannot say. World War II veteran and artist Gregory Perrillo uses light and dark, and details, as tools to project emotions that reflect the horror and hopelessness of a situation. Even though a picture is a frame of only one moment, with the use of artistic skills an artist can show what led to that situation and what will happen after. Art is the language of the universe. It can reach anyone without any barriers of language or nationality.

Gregory Perillo, The Roundup (2016-17)

This picture was painted by the artist Gregory Perillo shows a Jewish family being terrorized by two Nazi soldiers. The family seems to have been kicked out of their home. Perhaps the soldiers were taking out the family to take them to the concentration camps. The fear is evident in the faces of the family, while the Nazis’ eyes are blank. This could be a way the artist was trying to show that the Nazi’s could not see for themselves. But rather they followed their orders unconditionally, and were blinded by the idea of saving the Fatherland.

The artist has used light and dark as a tool where the dark side of the Nazis is creeping on the light of life. The Nazis followed a well known pattern that genocides usually follow, as they first began with discrimination. The, Jewish people were isolated and even attacked (ex. Kristallnacht) This painting may reflect the still early stages of genocide or a family caught in hiding after killing had escalated. While Jewish families were defenseless, the Nazis were ruthless in their ways of terrorizing their lives. First they were kicked out of school and no one would do business with them to make Jewish people more different and ‘useless’ in the eyes of the public. Then they were forced to wear arm badges and forced to carry passports that state their ethnicity. Before extermination, the Nazi’s deported Jewish people out of their houses. Then the families were put into trucks and sent to ghettos. As the war raged on, ghettos and work camps were turned into places of death and extermination. It certainly wasn’t a fair fight. However, it was an easy target for Jewish people have been outcasted for centuries before.

Gregory Perillo, The Evil and the Innocent (2016-17)

In this painting we can see a small child. He is on his knees and he seems to be praying. A Nazi soldier stands above him with his gun. While the artist has given the child a detailed face that showcases his fear and surprise, the soldier has no emotion on his face. We can’t even see the eyes of the soldier. The artist is clearly trying to show the indifference towards children the soldiers had. They might blame Jewish people for ruining Germany but what of the children? Well, children were believed to be ‘spawns’ of evil Jews. That’s why they practiced no mercy; none to women, children, the disabled, or the diseased. Again, the artist has used light and dark as a tool where the dark side of the Nazi’s is creeping on the light of life. The soldier with his generic uniform looks like a robot, and Nazi’s were  like robots in that way. They were all wired the same way, fueled by nationalism, and they did what they were told. They blindly followed a man with a funny mustache and anger issues.

Gregory Perillo, Free At Last (2016-17)

In this picture we can see more bright colors. We can see Lady Liberty in the middle, waving the American flag. The Jewish prisoners seem to no longer be trapped in concentration camps. This picture portrays the liberation of the concentration camps. American troops came across the camps as they were marching in Europe, and they found the ghostly figures of the Jewish people in the camps. They were all very taken aback by the scene in front of them, because they truly did not know what was going on unlike some world leaders who deny knowing the truth. They first thought it was a prison for criminals and terrorists, but soon they found out what the camps were for- Jewish people. They found the ovens, the mass graves, the disfigured people, and all the other horrors of the camp.

Being saved from the camp was like being reborn for many people. It all makes sense that people would feel like they’re in a new life after long periods of being dehumanized, mocked, abused, starved, and slaved. The brightness and the purity of the colors used by the artist portrays this feeling of euphoria and rebirth. Still we can see that some people seem upset, and that has a reason as well. After leaving the camps, these people don’t know how to reach their families and loved ones. They don’t have a home anymore and don’t know where to go from here. Not everyone was even from the country the camps were located at, they had no money or clothes to go back. It was the moment of realization that they were lost. Thanks to organizations such as Red Cross, and many others, first the people were nourished back to health and given proper clothes. The feeling of being cared for felt like meeting a very good old friend, years after being all alone. There is footage of the liberation of the camps, and in many of them people can be seen crying or hugging the soldiers.

About the Artist

Gregory Perillo is one of today’s most renowned American Western artists. After serving in the Navy in World War II, through the GI bill he began his art education. Today, Gregory Perillo’s artwork hangs in hundreds of galleries and museums throughout the United States.  After a showcasing his paintings, the “Unsung Heroes” of the Vietnam War at Wagner College, he made arrangements to donate them to the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial and Educational Center in New Jersey. Gregory Perillo has also donated his time and talents to the New York City Public School system, the Boy Scouts of America, American Parkinson Disease Association, 9/11 charities and other humanitarian causes.



  • Zeynep Akpinar, a rising junior at Staten Island Technical High School, had the opportunity to work at the Wagner College Holocaust Center in Summer 2017. Her position was funded by the NYC Dept. of Youth and Community Development Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) overseen by United Activities Unlimited on Staten Island). She has worked with Prof. Lori Weintrob on various projects including transcribing testimony of Holocaust survivors to creating lesson plans on the Rwandan Genocide.