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Abstract bronze statue of a concentration camp inmate made by a Czech Jewish survivor

Object | Accession Number: 2003.397.1

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    Abstract bronze statue of a concentration camp inmate made by a Czech Jewish survivor

    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Small bronze statue cast from the figurine made by Vera Meisels from a bar of washing soap shortly after her liberation from Theresienstadt concentration camp in early May 1945. This figurine was cast in 2002 because the original was drying out and losing its original shape. The work is based upon Vera's memories of the concentration camp inmates called Musselmann, prisoners near death due to exhaustion, illness, starvation, or hopelessness. In August 1944, eight year old Vera, her parents, Cecilia and Zoltan, and her 12 year old sister, Aliska, fled Ruzomberok, Czechoslovakia, after the Slovak National Uprising against the Nazi allied government. They hid in the mountains, but when they ran out of food, returned to town and were arrested by the Germans. Vera’s father was sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Vera, her sister, and her mother were deported to Auschwitz, but the train was redirected to Theresienstadt because recent actions by saboteurs had destroyed parts of the camp. On May 9, 1945, the camp was liberated by the Soviet Army. Vera, Cecilia, and Aliska returned to Presov where they were reunited with Zoltan.
    Artwork Title
    Survivor
    Date
    commemoration:  1944 December-1945 May
    creation:  2002
    Geography
    creation: Tel Aviv (Israel)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Vera Meisels
    Signature
    lower back, cursive, gold paint : Vera 2002 / underside of base, cursive, gold paint : Vera
    Contributor
    Artist: Vera Meisels
    Subject: Vera Meisels
    Biography
    Vera Meisels was born on June 11, 1936, in Presov, Czechoslovakia (Slovakia), to Cecilia and Zoltan Gardosh Meisels. Cecilia was born on July 5, 1909, in Trebisov to Malvina Gardosh. Zoltan was born on December 30, 1904, to Josef Meisels. Zoltan was one of seven brothers and sisters. Vera had an older sister, Aliska (Alice), born on February 24, 1932. They were an assimilated Jewish family. Zoltan and his brother, Moritz, owned a factory that produced nails for horse shoes.
    Nazi Germany annexed the Sudeten border region of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, and by May, the country had ceased to exist. The Slovakia region where Vera lived was ruled by the fascist regime of Jozef Tiso which was dependent upon and closely allied with Germany. In March 1942, Slovakia began to deliver its Jews into German custody for disposal per the terms of the Final Solution. Hungarian guards rounded up the Jews for transport. On March 27, 1942, while Vera and Aliska were in Trebisov visiting their maternal grandmother, guards arrived to arrest them. They wanted to take Vera and Aliska as well, but the Christian house maid persuaded them to allow her to take the girls back to their parents in Presov. They waited two days in her apartment, and then she took the girls home.
    Deportations also were taking place in Presov. Vera and Aliska, along with their parents, paternal uncle and aunt, Moritz (Marci) and Ilonka, and paternal grandparents were put on a cattle car headed for Lublin, Poland. At the station, they were told to get out of the railcar. After they disembarked, they saw a man named Joseph Lichardus standing with two German SS men. Lichardus had acquired the family business following its confiscation by the government. He told the SS that Zoltan and Moritz were essential for running the factory. The Meisels' house had been boarded up, so they lodged in a hotel. Lichardus sent the plant machinery to another factory he owned in Ruzomberok in western Slovakia. He moved the family there and settled them in an apartment. Both Zoltan and Moritz worked for him and were paid a salary. They had a special certificate from the local authorities stating that their work was needed for the good of the country. The family was required to wear the yellow Star of David badge to identify them as Jews, and the girls could not attend school.
    On August 29, 1944, the Slovak National Uprising against the Tiso regime began, encouraged by the approach of Soviet troops in nearby Subcarpathian Rus. The family fled to the mountains, bringing as much food as they could carry in backpacks. They lived in an underground, dug out bunker, covered with sail cloth. German SS units patrolled the area looking for Jews and partisans. Food was rationed and Vera often received only a piece of smoked salami, melted snow, and a sugar cube to eat. After about six weeks, their food supplies were depleted. They were sick and weak from the cold, so around early October, they returned to the nearby village. They were stopped by German soldiers who said that knew who they were and threatened to pull her father’s pants down to prove that he was Jewish. They were arrested and sent to wait in a church
    Next, they were put on a train for a five day trip to Sered labor-concentration camp. Shortly after their arrival, Zoltan and Moritz were sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp and Ilonka was deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp, both in Germany. Vera, Aliska, and Cecilia were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland on transport XXVI/1. When they arrived at Auschwitz, the camp was in chaos because some of the crematoriums and gas chambers had been destroyed through sabotage. Their train was redirected to Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp. The cars were not opened at all during the five day trip and there was no food or water.
    They arrived in Terezin on December 23, 1944. Eight year old Vera was sent to the hospital because her enlarged tonsils needed to be removed. They tied her hands and feet during the operation which was done with no anesthesia. The nurses promised her a prize if she did not move her head and she received a box of dominos for her excellent behavior. Her mother had a kidney removed. Vera learned of the prisoners who arrived at the camp after death marches. Some were known as Muselman because they were extremely emaciated and near death. She lived with Aliska in the children’s block, 410. Twelve year old Aliska worked in the garden run by the Germans outside of the ghetto; Cecilia worked in the kitchen. Vera performed in a play, Fireflies, took drawing classes, and classes on discipline and hygiene. On May 8, 1945, the camp was liberated by the Soviet Army. Vera, Aliska, and Cecilia returned to Presov and were reunited with Zoltan four months later.
    The majority of Vera’s family on both sides was deported to death camps and killed during the Holocaust. The family learned later that Moritz presumably committed suicide in Sachsenhausen, and his wife, Ilonka, presumably was killed in Ravensbrück. Another paternal aunt, Etelka Frei, and her two children, Gabriela and Katarina, were sent to Auschwitz on May 18, 1944, where they were killed. Vera’s maternal grandmother was murdered in Lublin.
    Her father started a new business. Aliska left for Israel with a Hashomer Hatzair group in February 1949. In April, Vera arrived in Israel with the assistance of Aliyat HaNoar [Youth Aliya]. Her parents emigrated to Israel in 1950 and settled in Nahariya. Vera lived in Kibbutz Kfar Masaryk while she served in the army until 1955. She then moved to Tel Aviv, and studied at the Avni Institute of Art and Design. Vera became a sculptress and poetess, and had two children. Zoltan, age 61, and Cecilia, age 56, both died in 1965.

    Physical Details

    Classification
    Art
    Category
    Sculpture
    Physical Description
    Small, oblong, abstract sculpture painted brown, mostly smooth, with chisel and pit marks. A small, round, skeletal head rests in a depression on the top. There is a trough like depression down the front center, resembling a cape being drawn over hunched shoulders, with a clawed hand emerging from within the left side of the cape.
    Dimensions
    overall: Height: 4.000 inches (10.16 cm) | Width: 2.250 inches (5.715 cm) | Depth: 1.875 inches (4.763 cm)
    Materials
    overall : bronze, paint

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The figurine was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2003 by Vera Meisels.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2022-09-09 09:00:02
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn514046

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