The Ark of the Generations: Encapsulating the Depth and Breadth of One Family’s Holocaust Devastation

Photo courtesy of Christine Malina-Maxwell

Photo courtesy of Christine Malina-Maxwell


Christine Malina-Maxwell

Named the “The Ark of the Generations” by the artist Ardyn Halter (1953-), this detailed piece was commissioned for Robert Maxwell (1923-1991) by his wife Elisabeth (1921-2013) and presented for his 65th birthday in 1988. It is made of American cedar wood; the size is 16.25” wide by 24” tall by 6” deep. The “Ark” houses an indelible record of the fate of Robert Maxwell’s family during the Holocaust that catalyzed a second academic 'career' for Dr. Elisabeth Maxwell as a globally recognized Holocaust scholar. This brief overview describes the multi-faceted work through the unique lenses of the artist, the recipient, and the scholar. The “Ark” presently resides within the Elisabeth Maxwell Holocaust Archive, courtesy of her estate.

“The Ark of the Generations” was conceived and made by the world renown Israeli painter, stained glass and Ketubah (Jewish wedding contract) box creator, Ardyn Halter, son of a revered Holocaust survivor, himself also a world renowned architect, stained glass creator and painter, Roman Halter. Ardyn Halter’s creation of the “Ark” was based on Elisabeth Maxwell’s original instructions to him to create a hand-scripted and decorated version of Robert Maxwell’s family tree. However, as her painstaking research into Robert’s little known and long lost family roots bore fruit, Halter realized that due to its sheer length and breadth it would be impossible to produce the desired, classic, hand-scripted family tree. This was why he suggested to Elisabeth that he design and make a special box to serve as a repository for my mother’s genealogical research.

During his teenage years, Ardyn Halter pursued an interest in Persian miniature paintings. Later, he attended Cambridge University, where he studied English literature. As a result of his university studies, Halter won a scholarship that allowed him to travel through Afghanistan and ran to study wall mosaic designs. Halter's knowledge of Persian art and architecture has influenced his Judaica work and can be seen in such motifs as the birds, arches and lattice patterns covering this remarkable and precious box. 

The pressed wild flowers and ferns, accompanied by additional floral forms in the fabric of the exquisite hand-made paper embedded in the natural wood surround of the “Ark”, endow this beautiful object with a tactile, almost ethereal beauty. On the sides of “The Ark of the Generations”, are symbols painted in gold filigree: on one side referring to the shtetl in Central Europe where Robert’s family originated; on the other are symbols relating to study, to books and to Robert Maxwell’s extraordinary international publishing career.