Artist-psychologist brings hurt of
Holocaust to life
“Portrait of a Holocaust Child: Memories and Reflections” by Rita Kasimow Brown. Gefen Publishing (Jerusalem and New York, 2010). 79 pp., $14.95.
Reviewed by Eugene J. Fisher
Catholic News Service
Rita Kasimow Brown describes herself as a psychologist, art therapist and artist. All three of these skills are used to great effect in “Portrait of a Holocaust Child: Memories and Reflections.”
Kasimow Brown tells her story both in words and in the dozen or so paintings and an equal number of family photographs included in the book. It is the narrative of a 10-year-old girl who hid with her family for 20 months on a farm in Poland, in a pit that they called “the Grub,” hidden by a Catholic farmer who fed them meagerly. The story is told from the point of view of the mature woman playing with her grandchildren in a sunny apartment in Tel Aviv, Israel, writing in her diary, remembering the past, enjoying the beauty of the world around her, analyzing her dreams and exchanging letters with a dream friend. She utilizes the method of active imagination developed by Carl Jung, a powerful method of coping with profound personal trauma.
The book has moments of terror and joy, the ugliness of the worst of human depravity and the best of human kindness. It moves the heart as it enriches the mind. It ends with a poem and a question.
The diary was written in Tel Aviv from June to December 2001. We thus see 9/11 from the perspective of a Holocaust victim. Kasimow Brown’s family was placed by the Germans in one ghetto in 1942 and ordered to do forced labor. A Catholic priest came one day and told her father that all Polish Jews were to be sent to the concentration camp in Breslau, where the word was that most would be killed. Her father took the family into the woods, on the run, staying for weeks or months at a time with Polish peasants, who accepted their money and the risk of death, since the Nazis would kill any family they found harboring Jews.
In the entry from her diary for June 19, 2001, Kasimow Brown notes that she sleeps on the couch in the living room, since it reminds her of the position in which she spent most of the 20 months in the Grub. With no room for anyone to stand, she slept on her back with her feet in the passage leading to the hole dug by her father that was their toilet. Her father would put straw over the hole/toilet, but she hated to use it, being exposed to the bugs and rodents crawling in it. So she often relieved herself right where she lay. Her father, understanding, would change the straw as often as he could.
Lying on her couch in Tel Aviv made her feel safe, as she had felt safe in the darkness of the Grub, or while watching the television accounts of the intifada, or of Jewish mothers and children waiting for school buses, or Jewish students relaxing in a cafe being blown apart by suicide bombers, forcing her to relive the trauma of the Holocaust over and over again.
And so Kasimow Brown turns to her imaginary Jungian friend, and tells of her dreams, and hopes, and tries to keep going, amid horror and beauty, understanding and chaos, so that she can tell this story, her story, the story of the six million and of the lesser few who survived genocide, a word that had to be invented in 1945 to describe what happened to her and so many others.