Elka Weber ● Segula Magazine
This sweet, tough, and charmingly amateurish memoir is the story of a tenacious woman. Sylvia Fishbaum grew up in Slovakia after World War II. Her parents braved anti-Semitism and maintained a traditional Jewish lifestyle in a country where Jews were nearly extinct.
After the rise of Communism, life became harder both materially and emotionally, but Fishbaum’s irrepressible confidence served her well. As a young woman, she sewed clothes and sold them on the black market in the Ukraine to finance her escape to the United States.
A chance meeting with a Jewish family on its way to Israel alerted Sylvia to the existence of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in Rome. After careful, clandestine planning, Fishbaum left behind an apartment and a job,made her way to Rome, and eventually moved to New York. There she married a co-owner of an iconic kosher pizzeria in Manhattan, raised two sons, and lived the American dream.
After her husband’s early death from heart disease, Sylvia dedicated herself to reviving Jewish life in Slovakia. Fishbaum’s wellsprings of willpower and self-deprecating humor make for a compelling read.
Debbie Weissman • Times of Israel
In the mid-20th century, the great American Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel credibly wrote “Judaism today is the least known religion.” But recent decades have seen Christians making impressive efforts to fill in the knowledge gap. For many years, I have had the privilege of teaching groups of Christians who come to Jerusalem from throughout the world. Many of them are priests, pastors and nuns on sabbatical; some are lay people. They come from anywhere from a week to a year and my involvement varies, depending on the length and depth of the program. The programs are held at Christian institutions in and around Jerusalem.
I teach them about Judaism and about Israel. I give introductions to the Christians who visit our synagogue on Friday nights for prayers, and we sometimes also provide them with home hospitality for Shabbat dinners. It is fascinating to note what questions they ask. In one case, a young woman was surprised that our sanctuary was not decorated with pictures of Moses. Once, I told a group of seminarians that they were imposing Christian questions on Judaism; what interested them almost exclusively were Read the rest of this entry »
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The unusual bespectacled face of a little 40-year-old man with a black cap atop his head leaving Auschwitz together with surviving children is captured in one of the most famous photographs of the 20th century. His tiny body is seen onscreen leaving the camp every day in an endless loop at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.
Far from being forgotten or remembered only as prisoner A-7740, Ludovit Feld (or Lajos Baci – Uncle Lajos) is, twenty-five years after his death, widely recognized and even revered.
This little giant of an artist spent his entire life painting and portraying the people and daily life in his beloved Kassau (Kosice) – the second-largest city in the eastern part of Slovakia, known for its rich Jewish history. He was also an art teacher who taught children how to draw with their heart and many of his students made names for themselves in the world of art.
Feld had three strikes against him: He was a Jew, a dwarf, and poor. The ninth child in his family, he was the only one stricken with a handicap. As an adult he barely reached a height of four feet and the bullying he suffered during a time of growing anti-Semitism was almost too much for his small shoulders to bear.
In the spring of 1944, when he turned 40, Feld’s family and the other Jews in Kosice were loaded onto truck beds and driven to Teglagyar (“brick factory” in Hungarian) on the outskirts of the city, which served as a Jewish ghetto. Nearly thirteen thousand Jews were crammed into that small area.
As it turned out, Ludovit’s name was not on the deportation list due to the intervention of an art student of his who happened to work as a typist in the local Gestapo office. She deliberately omitted his name in the hope of sparing him from almost certain death.
Family was very important to Ludovit, so after a sleepless night he filled his little backpack with art supplies and walked to the brick factory ghetto. His family was happy to be reunited with him but knew his chances of survival were much greater outside the ghetto gates. Every day he would sit on his little stool drawing countless scenes of daily life in the ghetto, portraying the despair and the grief and the ever-present armed guards.
When they were deported to Auschwitz, Feld, because of his size, was assigned to the children’s barracks housing the twin boys known to history as the “ Twins of Auschwitz,” victims of the unspeakably sadistic experiments of the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele. Although he never had any children of his own, Feld became a father figure to all the twins. He rescued fifteen boys he believed wouldn’t survive the last death march by hiding with them for ten days and nights under the lowest bunks on the frozen ground. The boys in their testimonies all referred to Ludovit as their savior.
Feld’s entire family, with the exception of a sister and a brother, perished in Auschwitz. After the war he returned to his beloved city where he lived alone until his death.It was in Auschwitz that Mengele discovered Feld’s talent and, together with Czech artist Dina Gottlieb and Polish photographer Wilhelm Brasse, became part of the team drawing and documenting the doctor’s hideous experiments. Because Feld was a dwarf he was also subject to Mengele’s depravity. Adding insult to injury, Mengele demanded that Feld draw portraits of him so often that Ludovit could practically do it with his eyes closed. Read the rest of this entry »