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Esther Lurie papers

Document | Digitized | Accession Number: 1995.A.0989.1 | RG Number: RG-24.022

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    Esther Lurie papers

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    The Esther Lurie papers include biographical material, restitution files, correspondence, subject files, and photographs relating to Esther’s wartime experience in the Kovno ghetto, Stuthoff concentration camp, and Leibitsch forced labor camp. The collection also includes correspondence, exhibition and publication development material, programs, and photographs relating to Esther’s professional career as an artist.

    Biographical materials include Esther Lurie’s British passport and copies of her curriculum vitae.

    Correspondence includes Esther Lurie’s personal and professional correspondence during and after the war. Personal correspondence includes post-war communication between Esther and her family. Professional correspondence includes material relating to exhibition development, recovering lost art, and general communications between various organizations and institutions.

    Subject files include Esther’s manuscript, passes and a certificate from Aversa camp, and letters relating to people looking for survivors. Also included are notes, programs, and speeches regarding the development and opening of exhibitions, including those of Esther’s art, at various institutions. This series also includes material relating to the development of several of Esther’s books, including Jewesses in Slavery and A Living Witness.

    Printed material includes newspaper clippings, articles, and magazines featuring interviews with Esther and articles featuring her artwork as well as wartime newspaper clippings and clippings from the Adolf Eichmann trial, where Esther’s drawings were used.

    Photographic materials consist of prewar photographs of the Lurie family and postwar photographs of Esther and some of her artwork and exhibitions. This series also includes photographic postcards.
    inclusive:  1919-1995
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Esther Lurie
    Collection Creator
    Esther Lurie
    Esther Lurie (1913-1998) was born in Liepaja (formerly Libau), Latvia, to a religious, intellectual Jewish family. Her parents were Josef and Bluma and she had five older sisters and an older brother. The family was forced to move to Riga during World War I (1914-1918), when Liepāja, a Baltic seaport which was then part of the Russian Empire, was taken over as a military port. Esther’s artistic gifts were nurtured from an early age. From 1931 -1934, she studied theatrical set design at the Instituts des Arts Decoratifs in Brussels, Belgium; in early 1934, she went to Antwerp, Belgium, to study drawing and painting at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts. Most of her family emigrated to Palestine in 1934 and Esther joined them there. She worked with the Hebrew Theater, producing set decorations, and by 1938, had her first one women art show, winning the Dizengoff Prize.

    In 1939, Esther went on a study-exhibition tour throughout Europe. She was visiting her sister, Muta, in Kovno (Kaunus), Lithuania, when World War II broke out and she was trapped in the area. In 1940, the Soviet Army invaded and occupied Lithuania and the persecution of Jews became widespread. In June-July 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union and soon occupied Lithuania. Almost immediately, German Einsatzgruppe (mobile killing units) and their Lithuanian auxiliaries began systematic massacres of Jews throughout the country. By November 1941, the surviving Jews of Kovno were imprisoned in a sealed ghetto surrounded by barbed wire. It was extreme overcrowded and there weresevere food shortages and frequent outbreaks of disease.

    Esther immediately began to record her experiences with sketches and written testimony on whatever little scraps of paper she could find. This was not easy and it could be dangerous – they were always under observation from guards. But other ghetto residents who saw her drawings thought it was important that someone should show ‘how it was’ and make a permanent record of their sufferings. Strangers would let her sketch the scenes from the windows of their rooms. When she was sent to do forced labor, the Judenrat [Jewish Council of Elders] made arrangements for her to be relieved, so that she could continue to record the life of the ghetto. As Esther noted later in her ife: “Pictures are both eye-witness documents and a memorial for the lost souls.”

    As deportations from the ghettos to the concentration camps increased, Esther became concerned about the survival of her work. She asked the craftsmen in the pottery workshop to make her large jars in which she would hide her work. In the autumn of 1943, the ghetto was converted to the Kauen concentration camp. In July 1944, they began to liquidate the ghetto, deporting the remaining inhabitants and burning the buildings. At this time, Esther was separated from her sister, Muta Zarchin (Zarhin). Esther was deported to Stutthof concentration camp; Muta, age 35, her young son, and her family were sent to Auschwitz, where they were killed on arrival. In August 1944, Esther was sent to the Leibisch forced labor camp, where she continued to document the people and scenes of her daily life. She drew on scraps of paper backing from cotton rolls from the camp infirmary and hid the sketches in her clothing. Occasionally, she was able to barter a drawing for a piece of bread.

    On January 21, 1945, the camp was liberated by the Soviet Army. She worked briefly as an interpreter for the Russians in Italy. Because she was a citizen of Palestine, a British protectorate, she was placed with a group of liberated British prisoners of war. She also met some Jewish soldiers from Palestine, including the artist, Menachem Shemi. They organized an exhibit of her sketches and published them as a booklet, Jewesses in Slavery: 15 drawing from a Labour Camp. In July, she was repatriated to Palestine and reunited with her family. She and her sisters participated in the Haganah, a defense organization active in the struggle for the establishment of the independent state of Israel. She married Joseph Shapiro and they had two children. She resumed her career as a professional artist, and, in 1946, was awarded her 2nd Dizengoff Prize. Some of her drawings of the Kovno ghetto were recovered by a friend, Avraham Golub Tory, who had been secretary to the Council of Elders, kept safe in the pottery jars in the secret, buried ghetto archives. Her artwork would be presented as evidence of the Holocaust during the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961. Lurie lived in Tel Aviv, Israel, until her death.

    Physical Details

    3 boxes
    1 oversize box
    1 oversize folder
    System of Arrangement
    The Esther Lurie papers are arranged as six series:
    Series 1: Biographical materials, approximately 1945-1989
    Series 2: Restitution files, 1954-1965
    Series 3: Correspondence, approximately 1939-1995
    Series 4: Subject files, approximately 1930-1980
    Series 5: Printed material, approximately 1945-1987 and undated
    Series 6: Photographic material, 1919-1986 and undated

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    There are no known restrictions on access to this material.
    Conditions on Use
    Material(s) in this collection may be protected by copyright and/or related rights. You do not require further permission from the Museum to use this material. The user is solely responsible for making a determination as to if and how the material may be used.

    Keywords & Subjects

    Personal Name
    Lurie, Esther.

    Administrative Notes

    Esther Lurie donated the Esther Lurie papers to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1995.
    Record last modified:
    2023-08-23 09:38:37
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