Susan Weinberg
  Studio 409



This story took place in the Radom forced labor camp. One morning Dvora was ill so stayed behind at the apartment while her mother went in to work at the kitchen. Suddenly she heard the sound of boots on the pavement, soldiers! She desperately looked for a place to hide. The practice was to do an unannounced sweep of the buildings and to drag out those who were not at work. They would line them up and shoot every tenth one in front of the others. Not to hide meant a 10% chance of death and a 100% chance of terror.

She looked around in vain until she noticed a small space under the stairs. There was a small door, maybe two feet wide. I used a bit of artistic license and made it a hole with a more interesting form. It was too small for a person, but in desperation she slid her feet inside, then her hips and lastly she ducked her head and shoulders within.  Still in her nightclothes she crouched in fearful silence. Above her head she heard the soldiers' boots resounding on the steps as they ran up the stairs. Then shots of the unfortunate 10% soon followed.

Her mother returned from work fearful that her daughter was no longer alive. She too had heard the shots and knew what they meant.

After I painted this, Dvora told me that she had sat in a fetal position with her arms wrapped around her legs, exactly as I imagined and painted her.  It reminds me of either the form of an Egyptian sarcophagus or a fetus, appropriate for she was poised between life and death.

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When Dvora and her mother arrived at Auschwitz their hair was shorn and their clothes left at the door.  As they stood naked before Dr Mengele, he pointed their fate with his crop. Those who would live another day were sent to one side, the others to the gas chamber. The older women were usually sent to their death and their daughters cried out to join them. As they approached the immaculately dressed Mengele, her mother thrust Dvora ahead of her. They both passed his scrutiny, unusual for her mother who was over 40, an age considered old at that time and place. "Why did you do that?" Dvora asked. "I didn't want you to try to follow me" her mother replied.

Dvora asked me if I could do tears as her vivid recollection was of the daughters crying for their mothers.  I let drips tunnel through the paint like tears with three daughters in the upper left. She described the uniformed Dr. Mengele with white gloves, a long coat, boots and a riding crop.

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This painting was in the last Artists' Lab and more information is available on that page.  The story is of a   death march from Auschwitz towards Bergen-Belsen, a march that she did with her mother who was by her side throughout the war and in the camps.

They were given three things at the outset, a blanket, a can with a picture of a chicken and bread.  The cans soon littered the road as they had no way to open them.  The blankets hung like nooses around their necks. If you sat down to rest, you received a bullet in the back of the head. After two ten hour days of walking, Dvora asked a guard when they were going to stop.  He motioned to a village ahead.  When they continued forward after reaching the village, Dvora exhausted, prepared to sit down despite the consequence.

Her mother tried to dissuade her unsuccessfully and finally responded, "All right, we'll sit down together" to which Dvora replied, "Not you!!"   In that moment came the realization that their lives were bound together and they continued on.

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The setting is Bergen Belsen where piles of corpses mount, building from starvation and typhus. Dvora became ill. She recovered, but was still quite weak. One day she fell and was unable to rise. Her mother returned from work and found her missing. She had been taken to the infirmary which was but a way station to the pile of corpses. Two people lay in each bed, 30 inches across.

Throughout the war her mother had a pair of burgundy shoes, each with the heel hollowed out. Within each heel was a small diamond ring. Through Auschwitz, two death marches and Bergen Belsen they had held this property, often weighing if this was the time to exchange it for a loaf of bread. Now her mother pried off one heel and extracted the ring. She strode to the infirmary and held it out to the Polish woman who was in charge. "Give me my daughter!" she said.

How to paint this? I pictured the Polish woman with an attitude of resistance blocking the way, Dvora's mother with a firm line to her mouth forcefully thrusting her palm forward, the ring cupped within.  I wanted to show the shoes, but that would compress the figures. . The fact that she had walked in those shoes through two death marches without accessing the rings felt like an important part of the story.

Ultimately I put a figure in with the red shoes as background. The Polish woman's arm blocks the way. Behind it I added the figure of Dvora to highlight the idea of an exchange.

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noted that during the Holocaust, darkness often represented safety whereas light meant exposure and danger.  She recalled the smoke from the crematorium and how it spit fire into the night sky, tingeing it red..By contrast she recalled a different moment when they arrived at a camp.  It was the eve of her 21st birthday when they stepped from a boxcar into a pine forest.  She recalled the midnight blue of the night sky studded with stars and the trees dusted with snow.  That vision of beauty represented hope in a world which offered little.

This painting was exhibited as part of the Jewish Artists' Lab exhibition on the theme of light and more information can be found on that page.

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Dvora recalled the day of liberation. She had recently recovered from a bout of typus and was seated on the steps of her barracks. Her mother stood behind her and to the side was a pile of bodies.  It was a sunny bright day and she shielded her eyes from the light.  Suddenly she heard Polish being spoken and focused on a tank that had entered the camp.  A soldier held a megaphone to his mouth as he announced that they were free.

This was one of the most difficult paintings to do because of the pile of bodies which Dvora insisted I had to include.

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