Shoah: a Table of Elements

“The trade of chemist (fortified, in my case, by the experience of Auschwitz), teaches you to overcome, indeed to ignore, certain revulsions that are neither necessary nor congenital: matter is matter, neither noble nor vile, infinitely transformable, and its proximate origin is of no importance whatsoever. Nitrogen is nitrogen, it passes miraculously from the air into plants, from these into animals, and from animals into us; when its function in our body is exhausted, we eliminate it, but it still remains nitrogen, aseptic, innocent.”
—Primo Levi, The Periodic Table

The Holocaust represented a contradiction in perception: ordered, regimented evil and unrestrained, billowing pain. For decades, artists have sought to capture the ineffable destruction that befell the Jewish people.

“Shoah: A Table of Elements” describes the task of making order of the ungraspable. In so doing, it works to release some of the emotional charge of our most raw subjects, while evoking the more prominent associations of the Holocaust: the gases, the smoke, the debris.

“Shoah: A Table of Elements” is a meditation on how we commit to memory, how we use symbols, and how we represent that which we cannot behold.

שואה: לוח יסודות

Dov AbramsonDov Abramson is founder and creative director of an art and design studio in Jerusalem, Israel. His work combines classic graphic design and branding with independent artistic work that deals with Jewish and Israeli identity. His projects have been featured in Zeek, Forward, Maariv, Haaretz, and the Chicago Tribune, and his art has been exhibited at The Jewish Museum in New York and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Tumblr. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

Share Your Reflection



Thank you. We will never forget. 

This is hauntingly terrible! What does it add to our understanding of the Shoah? Can someone please explain the implicit theory of notability? (It's too bad that none of my murdered relatives were notable. Hopefully they were killed by a notable Nazi.) The enactment of selection to explain a genocide perpetrated through multiple acts of selection does nothing bring us any closer to understanding of the Holocaust or to dealing with its legacy. Rather, this post - which is uncharacteristic of Tablet - represents the worst applications of our rising digital culture.

Jacob, we've received a wide range of opinions on Mr. Abramson's rendering. It just brings to light how incredibly difficult it is to graphically represent the Holocaust in such a way and not tread on the myriad perspectives. The choice of "notable" has ruffled a few feathers, and perhaps there are better choices.

We found it interesting, which is why we published it, and wanted to share with all of our readers. While I was trying to understand it from a scientific angle (e.g., why are all the concentration camps part of the rare earth series?), I've learned others look at it from a relationship perspective or a taxonomical point of view. This all makes for a sticky discussion, but one that's taking place here and on our Twitter account. We respect that you raised these objections and want to thank you for contributing to this discussion.

Oh, yes, we're big fans of Tablet online, but On Being is responsible for this post.

Interesting idea, but where are all of the notable women?

A fine question. I'll ask Mr. Abramson about this. Thank you.


I've heard a lot of adjectives used to describe this illustration, but this is a first. Why this descriptor?

I like the reference to Primo Levi, and yes, each "element" serves as a springboard for further learning and memory.  But actually, the whole conceit of the periodic table is sophmoric and not  an apt metaphor for all that one can never "know" about the shoah.  There is an infinity of questions that the holocaust raises, an unknowability.  A facile conceptual art piece.

God bless you.

A fair-handed response. Many thanks for contributing.

To reach your conclusion I need to be able to follow your reasoning. To follow your reasoning I need to understand what you have written. Your second sentence contains a double negative, a verbal speed bump, if you will, towards your fey conclusion.

The Hebrew word " bolet" is not really translated to "notable", it is more like "prominent" .