On March 13th, a remarkable event occurred at Helping Hand Coalition’s Caesarea headquarters. Fifty survivors of the Holocaust from Akko, led by a woman named Claudia, attended an art exhibit organized by Artists for Holocaust Survivors and Alexander Dietze. As they arrived, the survivors were greeted with warmth and hospitality by the artists and Helping Hand Coalition’s team. Throughout the afternoon, the survivors connected with one another, shared their stories, and celebrated their hope for the present and the future!
Hosted by Andre and Bozena Gasiorowski, Co-Founders of Helping Hand Coalition, the event began with a short explanation of what the day would bring before the microphone was passed to Alexander Dietze, co-organizer of the event, to introduce himself. In his speech, Alexander shared how he met Jörn Lange, the founder of Artists for Holocaust Survivors. “Of course, what has connected Jörn and me is our history with you, the Jewish people, as Germans,” Alexander began. “We say every German family has something to do with the Holocaust, and when we find out… or when I found out that my grandfather was in the Nazi Regime, it was a shock for me! What can we do? This is the question. We cannot change the past. We cannot change what happened. But we can do something to change the future. And today, we believe this is a part of it. So, we hope you open your hearts and soul and let the art speak to you.”
Echoing Alexander’s words, Jörn explained, “We cannot change the past or act like it didn’t happen, but what we as artists want to do is to give some of the beauty taken from you and give it back to you. In 2015, I went to Auschwitz. I looked online beforehand, and I thought I’d prepared myself. We were there when the 70th anniversary of the camp’s liberation was celebrated. In the evening, I returned to my hotel and said to ‘God, How do I react to this? What do I do?’ I was reminded of a verse from your prophet, Isaiah. It says, ‘I want to give them beauty instead of ashes.’ And I thought, well, that sounds good, but what does it mean?
“[At the end of my five-day trip], the Lord gave me a very practical answer: that I should bring artists together from different nations who will paint paintings with a spiritual message and take them to Israel to gift to Holocaust survivors. We also would like you to understand that your God — the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — has not forgotten you. Another verse in Isaiah says that the descendants of your perpetrators will come and serve you. We, as artists, believe that what we’re doing with this exhibition is one small fulfillment of what your prophet said.
“[So today, we have] a group of eight artists — Marianne and Rod Billitt and Judith Beecham from Great Britain, Claudia Russ, Anne Burdenski, Waltraud Pircher from Germany, and Cornelia Ziemke from Switzerland — with fifty-five spiritual paintings for you to go through and see if there’s one that touches your heart.”
Gesturing towards the exhibit, Jörn invited the survivors to explore the paintings, read the descriptions, and select the one that held their gaze. After returning to their seats with their chosen paintings, Jörn offered the microphone to anyone who wanted to tell the reason behind their selection. Many survivors eagerly shared their interpretations, leaving the artists standing in humility and awe as they listened to each unique perspective.
After unknowingly choosing the painting done by Jörn‘s seventeen-year-old daughter, the first survivor explained, “In the beginning, I thought if I really should choose this one or not, but I chose it because it’s a picture of light. It’s a picture of the future and a young generation in the light – a happy, joyful background. There are butterflies which means that life is coming through. I know that butterflies come to life in spring because our youngest granddaughter is also an artist, and of course, I will send it to her to see as a sign of their future, which is good and full of light!”
Art connects with people in various ways. Take this picture of a pearl in a shell, for example. We might look at it and think of the beach or the start of a pearl necklace, but the survivor who selected it thought of an entirely different meaning when she saw it. She described, “I chose the picture with a seashell because I’m working with elderly people and always stop to tell them that it doesn’t matter how many wrinkles are on their faces; the most important thing is what is inside. Today, when I met you [the artists], I saw this light inside you. All of you doing this work are filled with God’s light, and I am very grateful to accept this painting.”
Each time the Artists for Holocaust Survivors come to Israel with their artwork, it’s incredible to watch how the survivors connect the paintings to their past grief and hope for the future.
Choosing the picture of a boat at sea, a survivor shared, “I came to Israel by boat. I love the sea. And, now, my grandson is a sailor.”
Another survivor noted the revival captured her painting. She told the group of her hometown’s destruction during World War II and again during the current conflict in Ukraine. She said, “We didn’t have a place to go back to. This is why I dedicated my life to constructing. I built up and never want to see someone destroy again.”
Also a constructor, the next survivor went deeper into the meaning of the painting he’d chosen. With raw emotion shaking his words, he observed, “I chose this picture because of its description. We were allocated to work in a factory during the war. We had a big family, but seven of our most beloved members were shot and died. I’m not ready to talk about my memories. The years of grief and pain are in the past, and something good is coming. Despite the destruction that happened and is happening right now, I’m sure that the new constructions will not all be ruined but remain to serve people and their lives for many years.”
Overall, a message of hope shone through the survivors’ descriptions as they admired their paintings. Looking deeper into the canvased image she’d chosen, the last survivor explained, “Despite all our difficulties and hardships, despite all the things people face around the world, the roots of goodness are very deep and strong, and we will overcome!”
Andre Gasiorowski ended the event by expressing words of love towards his wife, Bozena, on her birthday, celebrating the hope for the present and future. As a beautiful chocolate cake with a chandelier of candles was brought out, the room clapped and sang “Happy Birthday” in Russian. Bozena thanked everyone for coming and clutched her hand to her heart as she said, “Thank you for sharing this moment with me. You are a part of my family now!”
Helping Hand Coalition extends its gratitude to the Artists for Holocaust Survivors for returning to Israel with more magnificent artwork. It was an honor to have Claudia and her group from Akko join us in Caesarea for the first but certainly not the last time! We also appreciate Alexander and Cecilia Dietze for co-organizing the event, Uliana Istaev for translating, Orly for catering the hot lunch, and Helping Hand Coalition’s team for their work to ensure the event ran smoothly!
Do you have a passion for serving the survivors of the Holocaust as a musician, artist, or group? Follow the link below to discover how you can support and/or organize your own Shalom House event! The survivors’ time with us is limited, and your participation will serve as a heartfelt reminder that they are loved and not alone in their final years.
Click here to learn more about hosting a Shalom House event: https://hhcshalomhouse.wpcomstaging.com/host-an-event/
Click here to donate toward the project: https://hhcshalomhouse.wpcomstaging.com/support/