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Peter Martin Gregor Heinrich Hellberg (later Yigal Tumarkin) was born in Dresden, Germany in 1933. His father, Martin Hellberg, was a German theatre actor and director. With his mother, Berta Gurevitch, and his stepfather, Herzl Tumarkin, Tumarkin immigrated to Mandate Palestine when he was two. He served in the Israeli Sea Corps and, after completing his military service, studied sculpture with Rudi Lehman in Ein Hod, a village of artists near Mount Carmel.
In 1955, Tumarkin went to Berlin to work as a scenographer for Bertolt Brecht and the Berliner Ensemble. He returned to Israel in 1956 and created his first iron sculpture of two owls sitting on top of each other. Over subsequent years, Tumarkin created sculptures from iron scraps. In 1961, he went to the Negev region and built models of landscape sculptures.
Tumarkin travelled to Japan and the US in 1962 to study Japanese painting techniques. A year later, he returned to Israel and created his Desert sculptures in Arad and Dimona. He began sculpting, using weapons and tank parts, creating several public monuments, such as the Peace Monument in Lod and, most notably, the famous Holocaust Memorial in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv.
In 2004, Tumarkin received the prestigious Pras Yisrael (Israel Prize) for art.