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Painting by Sophia Kalski based on her experiences as a young girl hiding in a secret room as German soldiers search for Jews

Object | Accession Number: 2004.698.3

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    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Oil painting created by Sophia Kalski in 1988 about her life as a 9 year girl in the ghetto in Lwow, Poland (L’viv, Ukraine), from summer 1942 - March 1943. It depicts 2 soldiers with flashlights searching near a basement room hidden behind a wall of green bottles that conceals a group of people. In Sophia’s words: "Aktion in Lwow on fifth and sixth of Jan. 1943. I am hiding in a bunker (basement) among strangers without my parents. The bunker is divided into two parts and the dividing wall is made of thick green bottles. The flashlight that the Germans are holding while they are searching for Jews in the bunker brings terrible fright on me and it seems to me that they will discover in a moment and they will take me away to shoot me, and I have no one to trust and to rely on to take me out of this and to give me some reassurances."
    In early 1942, Sophia and her parents, Natan and Sarah, were imprisoned in the Jewish ghetto in Trembowla, Poland (Terebovlia, Ukraine), by the occupying Germans. Natan escaped to Lwow, and Sophia was sent to live with him. In January 1943, Natan, died of typhus. Ten year old Sophia was on her own in the ghetto until March when she was able to escape and get back to Trembowla. That summer, the Germans began to destroy the ghetto, killing or deporting its Jewish residents. Sophia and her mother escaped to Humniska, where a Gentile couple, Anna and Voitek Gutonski, hid them in an underground burrow until the Soviet army liberated the area in March 1944.
    Artwork Title
    Lwow Aktion on fifth and sixth of Jan. 1943
    Date
    creation:  approximately 1988
    depiction:  1943 January 05-1943 January 06
    Geography
    creation: Israel
    depiction: L'viv (Ukraine)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Sophia Kalski
    Signature
    lower right, Hebrew script, red paint : קלסק' סופיה [Sophia Kalski]
    Contributor
    Artist: Sophia Kalski
    Subject: Sophia Kalski
    Biography
    Sofia (Zosia) Korpoltz was born on January 7, 1933, in Trembowla, Poland (Terebovlia, Ukraine), to Nachum Natan, born in 1905 and Sidonia Sara Stern Korpoltz, born in 1910, also in Trembowla. Natan was a radio technician. The family was not particularly observant of Jewish traditions, though Sara had been raised in a Jewish observant home.

    After the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, Trembowla came under Soviet occupation for a year and a half. Then, in June 1941 Germany launched an attack on the Soviet Union, and the town was occupied by the Germans. In the second half of 1942, Germans forced the Jews into a ghetto. Natan Korpoltz managed to escape to Lvov, Poland (Lviv, Ukraine), while Sofia stayed in her grandfather's house in Trembowla, together with her mother. Natan found a family willing to hide Sofia, since she was blond and people would easily assume that she wasn't Jewish. However, the family soon decided that it was too dangerous and Sofia was sent back to her father to the ghetto. Natan worked as a forced laborer and they moved frequently around the ghetto, sleeping on stairs and in hallways.

    The Lvov ghetto was sealed in the fall of 1942. The long days when her father was at work were difficult for Sophia, as it was rarely safe enough for children to go out and play. When they did, as Sophie recalled later, they always played the same game, building bridges. And as she remembers them, the games “lacked the joy of childhood. Already then, the children didn’t know how to laugh.” Food was scarce. In early December, Sofia and her father sold all of their possessions to purchase one bowl of soup and a potato at the restaurant in the ghetto. There were frequent Aktionen, when the Germans would round up Jews for deportation to death camps. During an Aktion on January 5 and 6, 1943, Sophia hid, without her father, in a basement with strangers. They hid behind a dividing wall made of thick green bottles. Sophia could see the flashlights of the German soldiers as they searched for Jews, but they left without noticing the hidden room. The people in a nearby house refused to let the Germans inside, so the soldiers sealed the house and set it on fire. Sophia remembers watching them gather corpses for two days following this Aktion.

    At the end of January 1943 Sofia's father died of typhus at the Lvov ghetto hospital. Seeing her waiting there, a friend of her father’s told her to leave and to try to get back to Trembowla. At the end of March Sofia escaped through a hole in the fence of the ghetto. Friends arranged to have a non-Jewish woman help Sofia reach Trembowla.

    She was smuggled into the Trembowla ghetto where living conditions worsened substantially. About three months after her return, the Germans began the liquidation of the ghetto. During one of the round-ups Sofia and her mother escaped to nearby wheat field. The mother of one of Sofia’s non-Jewish classmates brought them food and water for several weeks until they were warned that it was too dangerous to stay in that area. They walked through the forest to Umniska village (Humnyska), where Sofie’s maternal grandparents, Meir Stern, b. 1882, and Rena Koppel Stern , b. 1885, had lived before the war. By 1943, they and their daughter, Bronia, had been deported and murdered in the Belzec death camp. The first few former neighbors they contacted were fearful and agreed to help them only for a few days. Anna and Wojtek Gutonski, a Catholic couple with 4 children, agreed to hide them for as long it seemed possible. Sofia and her mother hid on their farm for 8 months, often lying on their backs in a hole dug in the ground beneath the barn. The village was liberated by the Soviet Army in March 1944. Sofia and her mother eventually emigrated to Israel. Sarah died, age 83 years, in 1993. Sofia Kalski painted images depicting her wartime experiences. She died in 2012.

    Physical Details

    Language
    Hebrew
    Classification
    Art
    Category
    Paintings
    Physical Description
    Oil painting on canvas depicting, on the left, a partial view of a set of brown stairs descending into a small white walled room with a brown floor, window, shelf, barrel, and trunk. Two faceless men in green uniforms stand near the stairs; one is bent at the waist shining a flashlight at a wall made of green bottles. Behind the wall is a cramped, dark space. A small blonde haired girl stands with a group of faceless people. Diffused yellow streaks of light pass through the wall, stopping near the group. At the top left is a red slash. The artist’s name is inscribed in the lower right. It is in a wooden frame painted dark brown and white.
    Dimensions
    overall: Height: 19.500 inches (49.53 cm) | Width: 23.375 inches (59.373 cm) | Depth: 1.500 inches (3.81 cm)
    pictorial area: Height: 15.375 inches (39.053 cm) | Width: 19.375 inches (49.213 cm)
    Materials
    overall : canvas, oil paint, wood, paint

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The painting was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2004 by Sophia Kalski.
    Record last modified:
    2022-09-06 11:38:57
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn522804

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