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Tribute to Child Survivors of the Holocaust

BY Margot Gorski | 16-Mar-2017
A new exhibition of portraits at the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Elsternwick honours child survivors of the Holocaust.

Tribute to Child Survivors of the Holocaust

Jewish Holocaust Centre, Monday 3rd April to Sunday 16th April

A new exhibition of portraits at the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Elsternwick honours child survivors of the Holocaust.

When artist Jeffrey Kelson was working on Tribute, an exhibition of portraits of Holocaust survivors held at the Centre last year, he was moved to explore more deeply the stories of those who were children when the war began. Theirs is a journey of innocence surrounded by evil and of building a life from a lost childhood.

Less than 10% of Jewish children survived the Holocaust.

‘Tribute: Child Survivors of the Holocaust’ shows the lives of child survivors through the medium of a painted portrait and a sketch of the sitter as a young child.

Among those painted was Melbourne psychiatrist and trauma specialist, Dr Paul Valent. Born in Slovakia in 1938, he and his parents fled to Hungary in 1942 to escape deportations. His parents were caught and handed back to the Slovaks. Abandoned in the street, the 4-year-old boy was eventually taken to his uncle’s farm where he was hidden for two and half months. After his parents miraculously escaped a cattle train bound for Auschwitz, they returned to Hungary, where they and Paul survived the rest of the war in Budapest pretending to be Aryans. 

Dr Valent’s professional work has been informed by his own experiences. Prior to retiring, he had spent more than four decades working with Holocaust survivors as well as victims of other traumas. He founded and is past President of the Melbourne Child Survivors of the Holocaust group.

"Rather than concentrate on the enormity of Child Survivors of the Holocaust traumas, I suggest that we use them to shed light on the widespread abuse and subsequent distress of children everywhere,” says Dr Valent.

Richard Rozen OAM also had his portrait painted for the exhibition. Four years old when war broke out, Richard and his parents spent 13 months not seeing daylight, hidden in a metre-tall cupboard where the two adults couldn’t stand. When their money ran out, they were forced out of their hiding place and moved to the Lublin Ghetto. In transit to the Treblinka Extermination Camp the family was smuggled out by the Partisans because Richard's father was a doctor and the Partisans in the forest needed doctors. Richard and his mother lived in a Polish village where Richard was disguised as a little girl. Later he joined his father and the Partisans in the forest, where he remained for 18 months until liberation. Richard’s father was taken by the Germans in 1944 and never seen again. Richard was eight and a half years old the last time he saw his father.

Richard tells the story of receiving a whole loaf of bread on his ninth birthday. It was made mostly of sawdust, but he kept it in his shirt and when hungry he would scratch a piece off and eat it. That loaf lasted for many weeks. He says, “I’m very disappointed that the Shoah wasn’t definitive for future generations and too many similar holocausts have occurred since. I thought that when you have such a huge disaster, the world would take note and not let it happen again.”

“In these portraits and sketches I have tried to describe the sitter’s journey: what’s been lost and also what’s been found,” says Jeffrey Kelson.  “This exhibition is a tribute to the children these survivors once were and to the lives they went on to build. I hope it also raises questions about children in war zones and suffering persecution today.”

Tribute: Child Survivors of the Holocaust Is showing at the Jewish Holocaust Centre, 13-15 Selwyn St, Elsternwick from Monday 3rd until Sunday 16th April. Further information is available at www.jhc.org.au or by calling 9528 1985.

What: Tribute: Child Survivors of the Holocaust
By: Jeffrey Kelson
Where: Jewish Holocaust Centre
13-15 Selwyn St, Elsternwick
When: Monday 3rd until Sunday 16th April 2017
Opening hours: Monday to Thursday 10.00am to 4.00pm
Friday 10.00am to 2.00pm
Sunday 12pm to 4pm
Further info: www.jhc.org.au or 9528 1985