Silvia Fishbaum, author of the upcoming Dirty Jewess, remembers her mentor Ludovit Feld

February 14, 2017

9789655242775The 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 »


Review of A Forgotten Land

September 22, 2014

By Susan Freiband, AJL ReviewsForgottenLand_fullCover-resized

This fascinating memoir of life in the Pale of Jewish Settlement is the author’s grandmother’s story. It is based on recordings made by the author’s father of his mother’s tales of her early life. The cassettes recorded in Yiddish were translated, the recollections supplemented with information from questioning other family members, historical research and background reading. The book includes maps of the Ukraine, the Pavolitch area, as well as an abridged family tree. It is divided into four parts, from 1835 to 1925, beginning with great grandfather Akiva. Included is a section of old photographs of the family, a glossary of Yiddish terms and a bibliography. The book’s easy reading style captures interest and attention, like a novel. The author is a journalist, from Cornwall, England; this is her first book. It is a useful addition to Judaica collections in academic and public libraries, as well as of interest to Temple and synagogue library users.

 This excerpt is from the Association of Jewish Libraries 


Nowolipie Street: A Review

May 2, 2013

by Emily AdamsNowolipie Street

Nowolipie Street, a fantastic memoir of how one young Polish man’s life was changed forever by the horrific events of World War II, will deeply impact its readers. The author begins by tracing memories of his childhood, the early years of his education, and the years leading up to the Second World War. He then recounts his family’s heart-wrenching experiences.

The horrors of war are dramatically highlighted by Hen’s descriptions of the simple beauty of Polish urban daily life during the ’20s and ’30s. However, the author does not merely speak in generalities. Hen uses a generous smattering of anecdotes to give readers a glimpse into the life of his family. For instance, he writes, “When I was very young, the rhythm of life in our courtyard was determined by holidays. Later, in the thirties, more and more families surreptitiously began avoiding the tradition, and many forms of religious life disappeared.” In this way, Hen skillfully shows the reader the life of the average Jewish Pole during this time in history through the lens of his specific experience.

The author’s style is quiet and nostalgic. He effectively portrays the innocence of a Jewish Polish boy’s pre-war world and the drama of a child’s universe through charming descriptions of episodes of daily life. For instance, he tells of a play during which he was so taken by the stage set that he forgot to play his part and, instead, stood stock-still, amazed, in front of a surprised audience. He writes, “Eventually, I was jostled off the stage. Mother blushed for the shame of it all, and Mr. Director gave me a talking-to. I know I cried after that, defeated again. Life could be unbearable sometimes.” The emotion and pettiness of this story and others against the backdrop of the actual events that followed, highlights the tragedies Hen describes.

The author also effectively utilizes foreshadowing throughout his story. Read the rest of this entry »


Na’amat Woman Fall 2012 Waltzing With the Enemy

November 4, 2012

 

Waltzing With the Enemy: A Mother and Daughter Confront the Aftermath of the Holocaust  (Penina Press). 

Rasia Kliot and Helen Mitsios, mother and daughter, respectively, tell the story of Mitsios’ Catholic upbringing in Arizona and Kliot’s Jewish life in Lithuania where the Nazis murdered her father and imprisoned the family in the Vilnius ghetto.

– from Na’amat Woman Fall 2012


Historical Novel Society review of Waltzing with the Enemy

April 22, 2012

by Ken Kreckel

This is another memoir from a survivor of the Holocaust, but one with some crucial differences. First off, it is written by both the survivor, who relates the facts, and her daughter, who must come to terms with the reality of her mother’s life against her own sheltered upbringing. In this sense it is a dual journey, which mirrors how we relate to the enormity of the historical event. Another difference is Rasia Kliot herself, who grew up in a upper middle class home, and, when the Holocaust hit, was exceedingly resourceful in surviving it. Not your typical death camp story, it is instead a celebration of the human spirit, but one that reveals a hidden, and perhaps unexpected, cost.

As Kliot and Mitsios are hardly accomplished authors, the book at first reads as a cold matter-of-fact recitation of events. But what initially feels like somewhat shallow writing begins to be something more. The story itself reveals the emotional cost for the survivor, the burying of emotion, the denial of her essence, as if in denying her very Jewishness she can spare her daughter any possibility of being exposed to such danger. The daughter’s narrative then becomes a journey of discovery in understanding her own middle class non-Jewish childhood and her mother’s motives in building such a life. It is a complex story, one that is thought-provoking and universal in appeal. Only when we come to understand our parents as people are we able to fully take our place in the world as fully functioning adults.

This review appeared in the August 2011 Historical Novels Review Issue 57.