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The Fine Art of Survival

Barbara Bensoussan

Artist, author, and Holocaust survivor, Lola Lieber, has packed several lives into one lifetime. Her story spans continents, generations, and an array of emotions.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Lola Lieber’s second-story Boro Park apartment is a little jewel of a place, crowded with the antique furniture, chandeliers, paintings, and knickknacks that she did her best to squeeze in when she moved from a house in Flatbush. Lola herself has an aristocratic look and self-possessed presence. Not very tall, she’s attired in a style of Hungarian elegance common to Boro Park: blonde bouffant wig, well-tailored dress, bold jewelry.

Lola welcomes me warmly, introducing me to her son Heshy and daughter-in-law Pesi. Lola wants to brag about them — both are active in helping revive Yiddishkeit in Poland. Heshy, however, wants to brag about his mother.

“My mother’s done some very well-known paintings!” he says. “Some of them hang in Yad Vashem. Others are in museums.”

I’d perused Lola’s art on her website, and was struck by the vastly different styles she’s able to execute: Old Master-style still lifes; modern, geometric cityscapes; pastel gardens; grim Holocaust scenes in a simple, almost folk-art style. “Most painters stick to one genre,” I commented. “How do you move so easily from one style to another?”

Lola shrugs and smiles. “I like to try out whatever’s new.”

“I grew up with my mother’s war stories,” Heshy says. “We had her tell her story to the Stephen Spielberg Holocaust Foundation, then she began putting her story into writing, just to have it on record for the kids. But a relative read it and said, ‘You have to publish this! It’s not your typical Holocaust story!’$$separatequotes$$” And Lola did. Her war experiences are recounted in A World After This (Devora Publishing, 2010).

Heshy is the oldest of Lola’s three children, and she has twelve grandchildren and forty great-grandchildren. A crowded family photo I admire is an exuberant, triumphant retort to Hitler. Having made the introductions, Heshy and Pesi apologetically take their leave. “You’ll be well taken care of,” Pesi reassures me. “My mother-in-law is a wonderful hostess. She cooks the way she paints — no recipes, pure artistry!”

She’s right; once they leave, Lola’s live-in helper brings out delicious cake and coffee. But I’m hungrier for stories.


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