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Telling The Story Of How I Survived The Holocaust Through Art
Written by Sarah Bechor and Daniel Yaron.
Adapted from the original translation by Raphael Poch.
In this picture, you see Jenny Rosenstein a Holocaust survivor, with Daniel Yaron, a 26 years old first-year medical student at Tel Aviv University. In addition to his studies, Daniel is a participant of the IMPACT! scholarship program for soldiers who have recently finished their military service. As part of his requirements with the program, Daniel volunteers with United Hatzalah’s “Ten Kavod- Care With Dignity” project, which includes visiting elderly persons at least once per week. Ten Kavod volunteers assist the elderly participants of the program during these visits and provide a free medical check-up while alleviating their sense of loneliness. Through this program, Daniel was assigned to volunteer with Jenny Rosenstein, a Holocaust survivor, who today wants to share her story and artwork with the entire world because today is Yom Hashoah; Holocaust Memorial Day.
Shaindel Ettel was her given Hebrew name. She tells me this with pride as she begins to share her story of pain and betrayal from a country and home she thought was safe.
Jenny is now 87-years-old and lives in central Tel Aviv. She is a sweet woman with a very large heart and a lot to say! She also has an incredible amount of artwork; her house is full of paintings – abstract paintings, realistic paintings, portraits, and much more. Most of the paintings are on canvas but some are also on paper, painted with oil paints or watercolors. All the paintings in Jenny’s house – or at least the majority- are her own handiwork. The art is mainly inspired by her heartbreaking story; pain is behind her art.
Jenny was born in 1935 in a town called Chernivtsi, then part of the Soviet Union, which today is located in Ukraine. Jenny’s innocent childhood was very short. When she was only 4, World War II broke out, and when she was only 6, the Nazis came to her town. The experiences she had over the following 4 years until the Allied armies arrived to liberate the ghetto in which she lived, changed her life forever.
Her story includes an attempt to hide with Christians until she was discovered as a Jew, the Nazi soldier who abused and scarred her for life (physically and mentally) and the tragic end of the war, in which she brutally lost her grandmother and younger sister in front of her young eyes, just a few days before the liberation of the ghetto. These stories left me trembling and give me no choice but to take in the magnitude of how the Holocaust affected its survivors, even until today.
She shared stories of her brief happy childhood, about her grandmother who was a famous pharmacist/healer in her community, and the tragedy that came following the arrival of the Nazis. Her father disappeared in the middle of the war and found her and her mother only after many years. Her mother, although a survivor, was scarred for life after witnessing the execution of her own mother (Jenny’s grandmother) and her little daughter (Jenny’s sister) before her eyes. Jenny herself lives to this day in a severe post-traumatic state, but she also possesses inconceivable human force. Her journey of how she arrived in Israel, how she met her husband, (from Romania) and the establishment of a hair styling business with her own two hands, (which for years existed in the Dizengoff Center), is simply remarkable. With great joy, she speaks about her children – her son, Shmulik, who works as a travel agent, and her daughter, Galit, who works in the production of Israeli films for major television networks. The power that Jenny radiates in her ability to continue her life, have a family, and translate her pain and feelings into art, is nothing less than inspiring.
Jenny is also a well-known figure in the struggle of Holocaust survivors to improve their rights and gain the proper respect that the State of Israel needs to give them. A few months ago, Jenny was interviewed on the news because she was suffering and had to wait many months for a specialist doctor’s appointment – and as a result, the Minister for Social Equality came to visit her and made sure her appointment was prioritized. Jenny still feels neglected by the state.
She is the type of person who, in a brief conversation, provides a deep perspective on life. She survived one of the darkest moments in human history full of human pain, suffering, and tragedy. She survived points in history that were also some of the highest peaks of transcendence, that possessed a widespread belief in goodness, hope, and fighting for noble causes. Jenny is the epitome of human inspiration, whose voice which is reflected in the book she wrote, her paintings, her poems and her testimonies, should be heard worldwide.
Today, Jenny will be sharing her story on Holocaust Memorial Day to many audiences (on Zoom) as she does every year and all year round.
To read Jenny’s full story, read this article that was written on March 8th, 2019 by By Nachshon Ben
To learn more about the Ten Kavod project, click here:
***Warning: some of these descriptions, written by Jenny, are very difficult to read. Viewer discretion is advised.
1- Abuse of Jewish children made from Nazi waste
One of my drawings looks simple at the surface level, but behind it is a terrible truth. This is a drawing drawn on newsprint, with charcoal figures scattered on it. This is a drawing that I drew in the Mogilev-Podolski ghetto in Ukraine, showing the abuse of Jewish children by Nazi soldiers. The painting was painted with scraps of waste and feces from the Nazi soldiers’ restroom, and it remains with me to this day, and a copy of it is displayed at Yad Vashem.
2-. The last party in 1941, celebrating my 6th birthday
It was a beautiful morning; all my large family had gathered to celebrate my birthday. My family members brought me many gifts, but the best gift was my grandmother’s 200-year-old earrings, passed from generation to generation in my family. I was so excited that she had chosen to give it specifically to me (it was for a special reason!)
3-. Starvation forces us to seek food in the trash
On the night of Christmas, the Nazis and Ukrainians celebrated together. Some of us children had gathered together and silently went to the Nazi canteen to look for any sort of food. All that was left, we took in our pockets to feed the sick in the huts. As we returned, one of the children made a noise, and a German guard found us. They took us to the headquarters, and gave the order to take our shoes and socks off and put us on the ice for 12 hours; 5 children passed out from fear and cold. Instead of giving these 5 children assistance, the guards ordered them to dig a hole and they threw them in there. All the children were alive and cried for their mothers, but instead of helping, the Germans threw fire in the pit and set them on fire. That is how this picture was carved in my head for the rest of my life.
4-. The torments of the 7 and a half years old Jenny
This painting is based on a story that occurred in the camp when I was only 7 and a half years old. I was a blonde girl with a European appearance. One morning I sat outside on a tree stump, when suddenly a tall man approached me, wearing a black uniform with a Nazi symbol on his arm. He turned to me and asked what I was doing outside, probably thinking I’m one of the Ukrainian worker’s daughters. He asked for my name, and obviously, I answered, because I could speak German. He asked me where my mother is and I responded that I am here with my whole family. Then the Nazi soldier started raging and making me frightened. He started hitting my face, and he broke my nose causing massive bleeding. I begged him to leave me alone, as I tried to run and he sent his giant dog, larger than a donkey, to tackle me and throw me to the ground. He removed the skin from my hands and feet, as I screamed in agony. After the dog’s attack, the Nazi started burning my face, until I said I could take no more. The Nazi bastard took his genitals out of his pants, shoved it into my mouth and peed. I began choking and once my body couldn’t take any more, I passed out. To make sure he had killed me, the Nazi shot me in the leg and left me to my cruel fate. Luckily, it had all occurred in front of a monastery. The nuns saw a Christian-looking blonde girl, so they took me inside to provide me with first aid. When they found out I was from the camp, they brought me back there. Luckily, my grandmother cured people with herbs, so she gave me the best treatment she could, given these difficult circumstances, with no help.
5-. Infinite hell (the cremation of children)
A follow-up to the story of the children thrown into the pit alive.
I painted this painting as an older woman. Being 7 years old, a few children and myself were starving and we decided to scavenge for food in the trash bins outside the camp’s office rooms. We knew we had to be absolutely silent as if they would catch us we would pay heavily, perhaps even with our lives. I told myself to eat even a molded piece of bread since I was starving, and everything was edible back then. As we started running one of the children hit a trash can and made a noise – which caused one of the soldiers to come out and capture us. As a punishment, they left us out on the ice for several hours. Our legs were frozen and some children’s legs had swollen and they passed out. That was the moment hell descended upon us. Instead of providing them with help, the German commander was ordered to dig a hole in the ground where they would throw the children who passed out of the cold. The scared mothers had gathered and begged for mercy that they wouldn’t cremate their little children. The Germans started yelling at the mothers and shooting in the air to scare them off or they would be cremated as well. The children in the pit had begged for mercy and compassion, but the Nazis didn’t care. They poured petroleum and set the children on fire – a horrific sight. You could hear the mothers’ screams in the background, as skies gleaned and thunder screamed in the heavens from the mothers’ pain.
- The angels open the heavens gates to the children
A follow-up painting to the cremation of children. The children are existing as flames together with angels, ascending to the heavens, while the Nazi devil attempts to stop them from ascending to heaven, just as he falls himself into the pit he created; the flames of hell.
- The Nazi Asmudeus murders and the skies cry with blood
At the center of the painting is the angel of death. At the bottom of the painting, the Nazi soldier is shooting the Jew, who is lying on the floor dying. Next to the German is the starving dog trained to eat the children and elderly in the camp, with an innocent child’s blood pouring from its mouth. Death is everywhere, on every corner one will face (The dogs were not to blame for what has happened – it was the Nazis who starved them and trained them to eat human flesh).
- My sister if she was with me today (based on a dream of mine)
This is a fantasy painting where I tried to imagine what my sister would look like were she alive today. My sister, Reisal’e, was executed by the Germans in front of my eyes when she was only 4 years old. I was 9 at the time as I saw my sister being taken brutally from my grandmother, thrown to the rocks, as a German commanded for her to be decapitated with an ax. As a young girl, I asked my grandmother why did they murder my sister? Why do they do the same as was done with Isaac and put a lamb or goat instead of her? Why did they have to break my heart? From that day on I became a girl in a state of shock, and I did not speak between ages 9 and 11. Now as an older woman, I try to imagine a picture of her and myself maturing together. In this painting, we are mature and happy. This picture is full of colors of life and joy. I miss my little sister so much. Since I have no remnant of her, I went to the Ministry of the Interior and changed my birth date to 15/01/1941, since that’s the day my sister was born and I feel she is still a part of me, especially because every year I celebrate my birthday as a way to remember her. (My actual birthday is 11/04/1935).
9- A girl’s dream of becoming a flower
This is a dream of a girl in the ghetto of becoming a flower and escaping from the torments and hellfire of the ghetto.
- The lost paradise
There used to be a beautiful paradise here with nice plants and pretty birds. Suddenly came the ugly Nazi and ruined everything, making even the sun cry. That is me crying for my home. I used to have tress with apples, pears, and cherries, but the Nazis ruined everything with their bombs, even our lives.
- Ascending to God
This painting shows how cremated children ascend to the skies as pure angels taken by God under his wings from the evil demon. The demon himself falls into the pit.
- Monument for children who were murdered in the Holocaust
This painting presents a monument made of flowers dedicated to all the young children who were cremated. This is a fictional monument I made out of pain, to provide them with the honor and serenity they deserve. The painting illustrates children who were murdered ascending to heaven by angels.