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Posts Tagged ‘holocaust’


Photo: Saul Gonzalez/PRI
Kalman Aron began sketching when he was 3 years old and had his first show at 7. Still working at 93, he said if he didn’t paint and draw every day, life would be too boring.

Links to some of the stories that I aim to blog about get squirreled away weeks in advance, and now I’m wishing I used this one in February before a certain artist died. Kalman Aron was 93 and was making art every day.

I heard about Aron from Saul Gonzalez at Public Radio International’s The World.

“When you step inside artist Kalman Aron’s modest apartment in Beverly Hills, a lifetime of creation surrounds you. The walls are covered in paintings and finished canvases are stacked on the floors, a dozen deep. The paintings range from portraits to landscapes to abstract works. They’re just a fraction of the roughly 2,000 pieces Aron says he’s created over the decades.

“Born in Riga, Latvia, in 1924, Aron started sketching when he was 3. At age 13, he won a competition to paint a portrait of the country’s prime minister. But then came the start of World War II; Germany invaded Latvia in 1941. … He was imprisoned in seven concentration and labor camps over the course of four years, not knowing if he’d be alive the next day.

“But Aron was able to survive when German soldiers discovered his skills as an artist. Camp guards and officers asked Aron to make small portraits of family members in exchange for scraps of bread. …

“After the war ended, Aron lived in a displaced persons camp in Austria and received a scholarship to attend Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts.

“In 1949, with only $4 in his pocket, Aron immigrated to the United States with his first wife, settling in Los Angeles. After a stint painting pottery in a factory, Aron started getting work by painting portraits for the city’s wealthy, like the family of Susan Beilby Magee. …

“Magee says you can trace how Aron came to grips with the trauma of his wartime experiences by studying how his work changed over the decades in Los Angeles.

“ ‘At the beginning of his time in LA in the ’50s, [the paintings] are all gray,’ Magee says. “There is no sunlight or people, there is nothing. That was his interior landscape when he arrived. Thirty years later he paints the Hollywood Hills and they are beautiful, full of color.’ …

“Aron says his art has saved him more than once — first, during the Holocaust, and now that he’s 93, it’s kept him from something many people his age struggle with.

“ ‘Dying of boredom,’ Aron says. ‘I’m still talking. I’m still working. They die of boredom.’ ”

The story I heard at PRI is here. And this obit appeared in the Washington Post.

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Members of a family separated for 77 years were recently reunited through the wonders of the Internet. Caitlin Gibson has the story at the Washington Post.

“The five women crowded together around the kitchen table in New Jersey, their eyes fixed on a laptop screen. It was 7 a.m., and none of them had slept well the night before; they were too anxious and excited for this moment. Jess Katz logged into Skype as her mother and three sisters watched.

“A face flickered into view: their cousin, the son of a long-missing uncle, the family they thought they had lost forever in the Holocaust.

“On the other side of the screen, on the other side of the world, Evgeny Belzhitsky sat with his daughter, his granddaughter and a translator in his home on Sakhalin Island, Russia.

The eight family members smiled at each other, speechless. Then, Katz recalls, they all started to cry. …

“More than 70 years had passed since Katz’s grandfather, Abram Belz, first tried to find his younger brother, Chaim. Abram last saw Chaim in 1939, the year their family was relocated along with thousands of other Polish Jews to the Piotrków Trybunalski ghetto at the start of World War II.

“The brothers died without seeing each other again, but on April 20 their families had been joyfully reunited. …

“ ‘My grandfather, because he was the oldest son, felt an obligation to stay,’ [Katz] says. ‘But it was important to their mom that Chaim try to escape.’

“With his mother’s help, Chaim slipped through a gap in the ghetto wall and fled across the border to the Soviet Union. The family knew he made it there, Katz says, because he sent letters and packages to his family. But then the letters and packages stopped coming. …

“In April, Katz — a tech-savvy 25-year-old who works for a software company in New York City and has blogged about her family’s Jewish roots — had extra time on her hands as she recovered from minor surgery at home. She decided to take up the search.

“After decades of tedious research and letter-writing, it took Katz two weeks to find Chaim’s son.

“It was a success born of an improbable alchemy: the serendipity of social media, the generosity of helpful strangers, and access to technology that allowed distant relatives to bridge thousands of miles, a 14-hour time difference and a language barrier.” Read the read the happy ending here.

Let’s hope that technology will also help the refugee families that are getting separated today. There is nothing in the world like the pull of family.

Photo: Jess Katz
The Katz and Belzhitsky families Skype together on Passover.

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