Monday, December 5, 2011

Artwork: Fallen Leaves

When I do an interview I begin with a basic history.  One of the questions is when their parents died and at what age, normally a routine question.  When I asked Boris, a Russian immigrant and survivor, when his mother died, I got the response "She was shot when she was 39."   With that, I knew this was not going to be an easy interview.   He then elaborated and told me that his mother, father and two sisters were in a concentration camp and building a bunker for Hitler.  When they finished, they were executed.  Boris was a child at the time.

How this child survived was a tale of chance. Through an interpreter he told me that when the war broke out they were put into a ghetto.   They had to survive somehow in the ghetto and the Nazis, the Germans warned them that if they make one step outside of the ghetto they will be instantly executed.  His father had many friends among the Ukrainians.  They helped them.  They brought food to help them survive. From there they were taken to the concentration camp.

We were scheduled to be shot because we were useless. My aunt who was pregnant and the older people, but my parents were driven to the site of construction every day.  We were loaded onto open trucks and as we were leaving to be shot one of the officers, a German officer stopped the truck and said the site was not ready for the execution. 

She (his aunt) realized that they had to run.  Someone pointed her to a man who helped to lead people out of the camp.  She had coins, golden coins sewed in and she made arrangements paying with those coins and that man who would take them out.  When they got unloaded from the truck because the site wasn't ready this man who was paid with the gold coins took them out of the concentration camp.

Boris was unconscious because he was beaten severely and lost consciousness.  The aunt couldn’t carry him so she paid for a woman to help, for him and for herself to be taken out of the concentration camp.  They were taken outside of the camp.  There was another family. The man gave directions to everyone who he had taken out and they just started walking. It was in the middle of the night. They started walking and they asked some peasants around the area to be hidden for the day or two.  It wasn’t far from their town.  There were small towns. That’s how they made it to Mogilev Podolsk. 

They were subsequently caught and sent back to the camp.  By that time the Germans did away with everyone in the concentration camp and the Red army marched in and they were freed.

After the war he searched for a picture of anyone in his family.  This painting is based on the one image he located, a sepia colored school picture of
his sister set in the shape of a leaf.  I decided to echo that form in additional leaves with the names of his family members who perished written in Russian.  I wanted the image to be muted as if seen through a glass.

This project has been made possible in part through the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on November 4, 2008. Administered by the Minnesota Historical Society.


  1. Susan,
    When you said that "he was beaten," I had trouble figuring out who "he" was. I'm assuming it was Boris, right? This is such a hard story to read -- but one we must.

  2. Yes, it was Boris. I went in and clarified that. Thanks for the comment as it helps me to assure that it is clear.