Selected Reviews and Articles
Art Exhibit Gives Faces to Holocaust Victims “Children of the Holocaust,” an exhibit by Holocaust survivor Miriam Brysk, memorializes children who perished in concentration camps.
By Jessica Nunez
When Miriam Brysk visited Eastern Europe in 2002 to see the ghettos and camps where millions of Jews died during the Holocaust, the emotions hit her hard.
Many people who visit those sites probably have a similar experience, but for Brysk, the feelings were even more intense because she had been there herself, as a 7-year-old who survived slaughter in Lida, Belarus, in 1942.
This trip was the first she had made back to the region since she moved to the United States with her family in 1947.
“I had such a strong emotional response,” she said. “And I decided I needed to express it through art.” From those emotions, “Children of the Holocaust” was eventually born, a photography exhibit that is currently being displayed at the Plymouth Community Arts Council.
The exhibit is a collection of photographs of children who perished in the Holocaust, and each photo is framed by a representation of a tallis, or a prayer shawl. The tallis is traditionally given to Jewish children when they turn 13, but the children in Brysk’s exhibit never reached age 13.
“In this exhibit, I gave them each a piece of a prayer shawl,” Brysk said.
She said she decided to do an exhibit memorializing children in 2007 after she finished a memoir about her own childhood called “Amidst the Shadows of Trees: A Holocaust Child’s Survival in the Partisans.”
“I feel very fortunate that I am a survivor,” Brysk said. “And when I wrote my book, I thought about all the other children who didn’t survive, and I wanted to shed light on them.”
Once she had the idea in mind, she began researching to find real children who died in the Holocaust, starting with fellow survivors she knew in Metro Detroit.
“I didn’t want to find just any children,” Brysk said. “I wanted to make sure I could confirm where they were born and where they died to help tell their story.”
Each piece includes the name of the city where the child was born and the site where they died. She also consulted Holocaust books with photos, most of which were taken by Germans.
“It’s a very powerful and moving exhibit,” said Tamara Trudelle, program director at the Arts Council. The Arts Council tries to have a new exhibit each month, and hosted Brysk’s first exhibit, “In a Confined Silence,” in 2006.
A few pieces from the exhibit are being shown alongside “Children of the Holocaust.” Three pieces from “In a Confined Silence” are a part of the permanent art collection of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, The Holocaust Museum of Israel.
Artist Explores Holocaust Horrors Faced by Children Exhibit in Maitland centers on boys and girls who died at the hands of the Nazis
By Michael W. Freeman
The Reporter Editor
January 18, 2009
MAITLAND | Sometimes works of art are created around images of spectacular natural beauty. Other times, art goes in the opposite direction and depicts terrible misery and suffering.
Holocaust Memorial & Resources Center of Maitland
That was what Miriam Brysk decided to do with her exhibit “Children Of The Holocaust,” which is now being displayed at the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center Of Florida. The exhibit opened Jan. 2 and runs through March 27.
In 2007, Brysk published her memoir, “Amidst The Shadows of Trees,” that recounted her terrifying childhood spent in the Lida ghetto in Belarus during the Nazi Holocaust. Brysk was born in Warsaw, Poland, in March 1935. Her parents escaped to Lida in then-Soviet-occupied Belarus after Warsaw was invaded by the Germans in September 1939, but Lida, too, fell in 1941 and its Jews got herded into a ghetto. On March 8, 1942, a Nazi Einsatsgruppe (mobile killing squad) shot most of the Lida Jews.
Brysk’s own family also had been selected to die, but at the last moment the Germans decided to spare them because they needed her father’s surgical skills to operate on wounded German soldiers.
The family was rescued by the Russians in December 1942, who brought them to the Lipiczanska forest. In early 1943, a partisan hospital was established in a remote part of the forest staffed by Jewish doctors and nurses, and Brysk’s father became chief of staff. The family survived the final years of the war, and later came to the U.S. in 1947. In her introduction to the exhibit, Brysk wrote that her memoir, which recounts the horrors she experienced as a small child, led her to think more about the brutal toll that the Holocaust had taken on the lives of so many innocent children.
“Dealing with the pain and emotions of my own childhood experiences led me to consider the plight of the one and a half million Jewish children who had not survived,” she wrote. “I thought of their disrupted rites of passage as beloved sons and daughters of extended Jewish families, and their ultimate and untimely deaths in Nazi-designated killing places.” As a result, “The idea for a new art series began to emerge,” she wrote. “I would focus on depicting children who had died, in the context of what they are likely to have experienced.” Art had enabled Brysk come to terms with an upbringing she said was “filled with hopelessness and darkness.”
“Children of the Holocaust” is made up of a series of stark photographs – of children thought to have died in the Holocaust, of the places where they were killed, and also some modern-day photos of what those places are like today. The photos were collected from books, the Internet and from Holocaust survivors who had asked Brysk to preserve through her art the memory of their late relatives.
The photos are put onto the imagery of the Tallis, or prayer shawl, that Jewish children wear at age 13 during their Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies. The shawls are used to frame each individual piece.
Noting that many of the children depicted in the exhibit died well before reaching the age of 13, “Each child is contained within his own Tallis, the one he never received, as a gift of remembrance from me,” Brysk wrote. The children portrayed in the pieces came from the major Jewish population centers in Europe. The images capture both the innocence of their small faces – and, in written notes accompanying each piece, the agonizing fate that awaited them.
There is Tsirele, age 5, a boy from Kupiczow, Poland (now the Ukraine), who was tossed up into the air and shot while descending.
Bernard was born on Feb. 4, 1933, and deported to Auschwitz in August 1942, where he died. At Treblinka, some 300,000 children died. As the exhibit notes, “They were beaten and whipped as they deboarded the packed cattle cars and ordered to undress. Some of the children were shot at an execution pit, while others were forced into ‘the bath’ – a misnomer for the gas chamber.”
At the largest Nazi camp, Auschwitz, the children were led to undressing rooms and ordered to strip, then were shoved into gas chambers, where they were poisoned with Zyklon B, their bodies later burned to ashes in crematoria. Brysk, herself, returned to the death camps of Eastern Europe in 2002.
“Throughout the trip,” she wrote, “images of my lost family were creeping back into my consciousness, while childhood fears reemerged as frightening nightmares. My entire being was shaking in horror as I sobbed for my own lost family and the 6 million of my people who had so inhumanly and painfully perished.”
It was the inspiration for this grim and powerful exhibit.
“I felt a deep inner need to portray their suffering,” she writes. “I wanted to express those feelings through art.”
Holocaust exhibit on display at art center
by Linda Jo Scott
Battle Creek Enquirer, April 15, 2007
When Miriam Brysk was toddler in Warsaw in the 1930’s her whole world exploded. As the tide of anti-Semitism rose, she and her parents fled Poland after the Nazi invasion. They settled in Belarus, where they thought it would be safe, but ended up in the Lida Ghetto.
Her family survived the ghetto massacre of 1942. They managed to escape and join the Russian resistance movement. Now 72, Brysk is creating unforgettable works of art to make sure the memory of the Holocaust lives on. She also published in January her memoir, “Amidst the Shadows of Trees”.
To complement Monday’s lecture by Holocaust survivor Gerta Wasserman Klein, Brysk has this month brought her latest exhibit to the Art Center of Battle Creek. The 33 original mixed media works are titled, “In a Confined Silence” For years Brysk had asked the inevitable questions, “Why me when 6 million Jews died?” She had come to realize that it is more important to live life than to question it.”
Brysk came to Battle Creek in the Fall of 2005. She was one of five panelists in a discussion held in conjunction with “Life in the Shadows: Hidden children and the Holocaust” exhibit at the Battle Creek Art Center. She also exhibited some of her work at the Kellogg foundation.
“This exhibit will give the community to see her work. Her presentation is different this time, even more powerful, adding a different dimension to the whole event. Brysk gas developed a unique style of creating Holocaust art, using authentic black and white photographs of her family and others.
Brysk stresses, she has no formal artistic training.
“It all comes from my soul,” she said
Brysk is a retired professor from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
But as Brysk sees it, her work in science has served her well for her artwork. What she did in laboratories, as well as what she has done with various media, has been experimental.
The grandmother of five has her life freed-up to do Holocaust art in retirement. As she explains it, she wants people to realize not only that 6 million Jews died, but each was a real person.
“They died one plus one,” she said, one by one.
“I don’t want to sensationalize those deaths,” she said. “I want to give their lives meaning. And for myself, I want to live the kind of life those who died, would have wanted to live.”
Remembering the Holocaust
by Lori Holcomb
Battle Creek Enquirer, September 11, 2008
The images themselves are not as disturbing as the stories that lie behind them. Although Miriam Brysk has seen these photographs thousands of times, the Ann Arbor woman still is moved when she talks about her newest art exhibit, “Children of the Holocaust”.
“What I wanted to capture was their innocence, their plight, and that they were just pawns in a killing machine they had no control over” Brysk said with an air of sadness, gradually building into antipathy.
The exhibit is on display, through Oct. 24 at the Kellogg Community College and is part of a reading and discussion series titled, “Let’s Talk About It: Jewish Literature—Identity and Imagination. It is in collaboration with Lakeview High School Library, Miller College and Temple Beth El.
She had two dreams in life she said—one to be a scientist and the other an artist. At this stage in her life, it’s the latter that’s helping her heal the painful memories.
“I have no art training she said, mind you, but I have a good eye and I have a mission”, she said. “I want even at this stage of my life…to have meaning. This is my last gift of time, I’m 73 now and I want to leave behind bodies of work that will remember the Holocaust because there’s a part of me in every picture.”
Brysk went to painstaking efforts to learn about each child she used, how they died and to keep the exhibit as authentic as possible—traveling as far as Israel for historical information and to Quebec to attain prayer cloth and clasps molded into the Hebrew word for “remember”. The concept was based on the idea that many of the children died before reaching the age to have a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah, where they typically receive a prayer cloth.
“They never had the chance to wear one and they never had the chance to go through this ancient rite of passage” “So I wanted to give a gift of remembrance to them in the form of the prayer shawl they never had.”
It’s a somber exhibit by design—the children are arranged by means of their deaths. The first of the children who died by gunshot, including one of her husband’s relatives, Tsirele.
There also are sections broken down by the concentration camps where they died. The former professor speaks about the horrific scenes as if giving a lecture in a university hall, but there is a slight shake in her voice.
“Miriam Brysk’s art teaches us more about the Holocaust from a previously untouched perspective—the children of the Holocaust. Her art is humanized with powerful meaning as well as personal significance for the artist. Each generation learns from the previous. It is important to make art that teaches current generations about the past, Specifically with her work, in order to educate in an effort to avoid such atrocities in the future.”
Although she used creative layouts with the images, she did not alter the children’s pictures. As a survivor, Brysk said she feels it her duty to present their stories in the most authentic ways possible and to educate those who deny the Holocaust or know little about the Holocaust, and to remember those who weren’t as fortunate as she.
Stories of survival: Holocaust central theme of Plymouth cultural push
by Brad Kadrich, Plymouth Observer, October 26, 2006
Always keeping an eye out for an art exhibit that would play well at the Plymouth Community Art Center. Nancy Pilon thought she had found one when she spotted photographs of Miriam Brysk at the Birmingham/Bloomfield Art Center.
Little did Pilon know how quickly the idea would bloom into a multifaceted tribute to Holocaust survivors, “Plymouth Remembers: Voices of the Holocaust.”
Not only does the PCAC have an exhibit by Brysk, herself a Holocaust survivor, starting Nov. 4, but the other cultural organizations in town have now gotten into the act. The Plymouth Symphony Orchestra, Plymouth District Library, Plymouth Historical Museum and the Penn Theater all now have Holocaust-themed events scheduled.
It started when Pilon spotted a couple of photographs by Brysk, born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1935 and whose work is spurred by her childhood experiences in the Holocaust. Pilon was struck by the quality of the mixed-media photographs of Holocaust survivors.
The exhibit, “In a Confined Silence,” strives to tell of the Jewish suffering and “the artists attempt to restore to them their dignity as Jews.”
First on board according to Pilon, was the Plymouth Orchestra, where conductor Nan Washburn has been itching to put together a concert featuring music composed by Holocaust-era composers such as Mendelssohn and Shostakovich. The PSO contribution to the event, the “Music of Remembrance” concert in the auditorium at Northville High School. Opening the concert will be Calm Seas and Prosperous Voyage Overture by Nazi-banned Jewish Composer, Felix Mendelssohn. Shostakovich’s Symphony No 13, subtitled Babi Yar featuring a male chorus and bass-baritone Donald Hartman. The program will also showcase PSO concertmaster Mark Schuppener, who will solo on the evocative and hauntingly beautiful Three Pieces from Schindler’s List for Violin and Orchestra by illustrative film composer John Williams. “This is an opportunity to perform one of these beautiful pieces that historically had been suppressed or destroyed, specifically Mendelssohn and Shostakovich, said Philpot-Munson, the PSO’s executive director. “Miriam Brysk is in many ways the driving force behind this. Meeting her inspired us all to do our level best to present something as thorough as possible. Even though (the Holocaust) was a tragic event in world history, we wanted to celebrate the triumph in human spirit, Miriam Brysk embodies that.”
The Plymouth District Library is also on the band-wagon, offering two screenings of the Emmy Award-winning documentary, Nicholas Winton: The Power of Good. Winton was a young British stockbroker in 1939 when a trip to Prague spurred him to action. Over the next year he organized eight trips to take children from Prague to foster homes in Great Britain. His effort saved 669 children.
Other events: The Plymouth Historical Museum presents a panel discussion of Holocaust survivors and the Penn Theater will show films in conjunction with the project.
All this, according to Pilon is being driven by Brysk and her amazing story.
Survivor explores memory through words and art
By Leon Cohen
Special to The Chronicle in Milwaukee
March 28th, 2010
When she was a teen, Miriam M. Brysk (nee Miasnik) decided she wanted to be a scientist. She fulfilled that dream, becoming a biochemist, but could not shake the nightmare of memories of her childhood in Nazi-occupied Poland. So after her 2000 retirement from the University of Texas Medical School, she turned her attention to those memories. She decided to not only speak about her experiences but also to explore the Shoah through art.
“I wanted to become an artist” whose subject would be the Holocaust, she said during a telephone interview from her home in Ann Arbor, Mich.
In both capacities, Brysk (pronounced “brisk”) will be featured this year at the Milwaukee Jewish community’s Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) “Memorial to the Six Million, Remembrance of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and All Resistance.”
Moreover, the event will be preceded by something new this year, an Intergenerational Program titled “Hiding from Hitler: A Child’s World in the Woods” that will take place from 1-1:45 p.m.
At that program, which is aimed at students in grades 5-8, participants will get to meet Brysk and hear from local children who participated in the Remember Us program, which pairs b’nai mitzvah celebrants with Holocaust victims who did not reach the age of bar or bat mitzvah.
Brysk, 75, was born in Warsaw in 1935. Her father was a surgeon who managed to move his family out of the city at the time Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union partitioned Poland between them.
They ended up in the town of Lida in the Soviet zone, but couldn’t flee from there when the Nazis suddenly attacked the Soviet Union in 1941. In December 1942, they escaped from the Lida ghetto into the woods to live with a partisan group until liberation in 1944.
Brysk was 12 when her family moved to the United States and found the adjustment difficult. “In many ways I was an adult, rather than a child,” she said, referring to the Shoah’s effect on her. “Puberty was a bad time; high school was an awful time.”
She earned a Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1967, became a scientist and married Harry Brysk, a physicist and survivor. They have two children and five grandchildren.
But she didn’t have the time to speak about, or feel she had a receptive audience to listen to, her Holocaust experiences. Not until she was nearing retirement did she begin going to some schools to relate her story.
But in 2002, she went on a group tour of ghettos and camps, and that “shook me to my core.” Now she decided she had to express something about the Holocaust through art.
“I never had an art lesson,” she said; but “where there is a need, you figure out a way. It clearly was a need for me.”
Her work has been exhibited in JCCs, museums and universities, and three of them are now in the collection of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Jerusalem.
After that, she decided she had to write her story, and so created “Amidst the Shadows of Trees: A Holocaust Child’s Survival in the Partisans,” published in 2007 by Yellow Star Press.
While writing that book, “I really returned to the raw pain of the memories of my experiences as a child,” she said. And that led her to create works for an exhibit devoted to the children of the Holocaust, “how they lived and died,” which was first exhibited in 2008.
Recently, Brysk completed another book, “The Stones Weep: Teaching the Holocaust through Art.” But she is determined to keep on speaking about the Holocaust “until my last breath.… When my generation dies, there will be no more survivors. God only knows what will happen then.”
Survivor’s story helps fight hatred
By Betsy Lopez
Rockford Register Star, May 02, 2011
Miriam Brysk is no stranger to emotional turmoil and tragedy.
The 76-year-old author and artist witnessed ghoulish atrocities and managed to overcome her demons associated with growing up in fear that the Nazis would kill her family.
Brysk, chosen as the Jewish Federation of Greater Rockford’s featured speaker for Sunday’s annual Holocaust Memorial Observance, said the hardest part and the greatest triumph is reaching out for help and learning to regain confidence. She spoke to about 160 people at Rockford College’s Fisher Chapel.
“I was meant to die, and the fact that I have lived and reached this age and had a full life is something to be celebrated,” she said. “I was born in 1935, and the war started in September 1939.
“At 12, when I came to America, the nice kids didn’t want anything to do with me. I was weird. I didn’t have a normal life, and I didn’t know what that was like. Finally in college, people wanted to be my friends.”
By age 45, Brysk felt out of sorts with her life. She had obstacles to overcome and knew she couldn’t get older with them by her side. She advocates for people to ask for help to reach happiness.
“It’s important to deal with it — to have less drama in your life,” she said. “I suffered major depressions in life. I questioned if I wanted to stick around anymore, but I went to get help. I regained my confidence and it’s protected me in the last years of my life. It was a lot of hardship and a lot of triumph.”
Born into a Jewish family in Warsaw, Poland, Brysk’s life quickly became one of escape, moving from place to place for protection. She lived in a ghetto, saw those she knew killed and, at not even 10 years old, was forced to shave her head and dress as a boy in her family’s attempt to shield her from sexual abuse. Her family was liberated in 1944.
But for all that she had seen and endured, it was education she wanted most. She lives in Michigan, a retired scientist and professor, having most recently worked at the University of Texas Medical School. In June, she will celebrate her 56th wedding anniversary with her husband, Henry, also a Holocaust survivor.
“Life is good. I had two big dreams in life — one was to become a scientist and the other was to become an artist,” she said. “I lived my first one and now I’m living my second. To live your life and live your dreams, what else do you want?”
The mixed media include bravery: Amster Gallery draws on painful experience, knowledge
Art Review by John Carlos Cantu
Ann Arbor News, April 11, 2004
Miriam Brysk’s 19 mixed media prints “In a Confined Silence” cannot hide her hurt. But this extraordinary exhibit at the Jewish Community Center does illuminate how she surmounts her pain. Her work “Ghetto Uprising” for example features vividly realized archival images of the Warsaw Ghetto burst into flames. But Brysk also personalized this work by inserting photographs of her cousin, Sara Rosenboim, who died fighting in the conflict. The composition speckled background differs from the mournful images of Brysk’s young relative, and this contrast gives “Ghetto Uprising” a context that acknowledges the large scale genocide that occurred in Poland’s capital city while also mourning the loss of a loved one.
“Shattered Childhood” on the other hand, is heartbreakingly private. A semi-abstract work whose ghostly photographic image of Brysk as a girl was taken prior to the outbreak of the war in the summer of 1939, the print speaks volumes of her subsequent sense of vulnerability and loss of personal identity.
An enlarged acetone transfer from a photocopy of her family’s original print, “Shattered Childhood” is a mottled portrait that has been quite nearly erased. Its frayed condition gives the impression of a jagged sense of self esteem. The exhibit’s masterwork, “The Stones Weep” has undergone no fewer than 10 revisions ranging from an acetone transfer reversal of the original source material to the strategic amplification of key compositional elements. This remarkable visual document links the Hebrew language to the permanence of stone; it carves the visual image of a mother and child out of the same earthy material.
The “Stones Weep” is hopeful in its fortitude and sheer will to survive. Brysk’s impassioned linking of her people’s past to their future is enshrined in this artwork with a thorough determination. In doing so, Brysk has crafted a pictorial memorial of her deceased family and friends with a guarded optimism. It is with profound courage that she illustrates this past for us today.
The Muskegon Chronicle
By Paula Holmes-Greeley
The room was dark; lights out, the better to see the art work projected on the screen.
The big room at First Evangelical Lutheran Church, where as many as 300 of us gathered Monday night as a community of faith for the first Shoah Remembrance Committee of Muskegon’s Commemoration Dinner, was eerily and utterly silent.
Only Dr. Miriam Brysk spoke.
A survivor of the Holocaust, her voice was hoarse; her emotions, spent. For two days in Muskegon, at a prayer service and in interviews with high school students, and finally at a community dinner, Brysk tried her best to put the enormity of the Shoah — the Hebrew word for Holocaust during which 6 million Jews were killed — into perspective.
“Remember, they didn’t die all at once,” Brysk said. “They died one plus one plus one plus one until they got to 6 million.”
Even words weren’t enough. They couldn’t tell the whole story. They didn’t do justice to the story Brysk wants to share, the mission she feels called to complete.
“I want to return the dignity the Germans took away from them,” she said. “They are not shadows … they are real people.”
She was 7 years old when she was ripped from her home in Warsaw and sent to the ghetto with her parents, sentenced to die until the Nazis learned her father was a surgeon. Later, her family found refuge in the forest populated by other escaped Jews and Russian partisans. Her father ran a hospital, makeshift and crude. To keep her safe, Brysk’s parents disguised her as a boy. On her eighth birthday, they strapped a pistol to her side. After the liberation, they escaped to central Poland, and later made their way to the United States where for the first time, Brysk went to school.
“A shattered childhood,” she whispered into the microphone. A retired professor now living in Ann Arbor, Brysk decided she had to do something to bring the memories of the people who died in the Holocaust out of the shadows of time.
She began to gather photographs like the ones her mother carried close to her heart throughout the war, hidden for posterity, rescued from obscurity. Brysk found a photograph of a rabbi, who died in Auschwitz; photographs of relatives, separated and killed in extermination camps; a picture of children in the Warsaw ghetto in Poland, where she and her family had lived, children she called by name.
“Remember, once these children had smiles,” she said.
She found a photograph of her grandmother, whom Brysk saw last, loaded on a train to the Treblinka death camp. Her grandma stretched out her arms, reaching toward the little girl and implored: “Miriam, remember us.”
Brysk took the images, added fragments of their past as background — photographs of tombstones and Torahs left behind, pictures of their homeland — and created a collection of art she calls “In A Confined Silence.”
The room was dark Monday night when she showed her art work: faces of a rabbi, her grandmother, the children once laughing. She called them by name, and in a room uneasily silent, she gave them life again.
And when the dinner was over, the speech complete and the last image had disappeared from the screen, Brysk stayed on, talking and autographing her memoir, “Amidst the Shadows of Trees: A Holocaust Child’s Survival in the Partisans.”
“Remember,” she signed on the first page, echoing her grandmother’s last command. “Remember.”
Yom HaShoah: Survivor’s art memorializes children of the Holocaust
by Keri Guten Cohen, Story Development Editor
Detroit Jewish News, May 1, 2008
Miriam Brysk of Ann Arbor was 4 and living in her native Warsaw when World War II started and forever changed her life. A child of the Holocaust, Brysk cannot forget her experiences; nor does she want to. Instead, she expresses her thoughts and feelings through art.
Her newest work, “Children of the Holocaust,” can be seen in the auditorium of the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills through June. The emotional work is a fitting tribute as Jews world-wide mark Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) on May 2.
“Children of the Holocaust” features a series of symbolic tallisim (prayer shawls), complete with Tzitzit Brysk knotted herself. Each tallis is a blend of photos that include present-day memorials now standing where Nazi killing machines operated, haunting images of actual children and historic photos of these sites during the war. Text at the bottom gives information about the children and about the killing going on around them.
“I have recently published my memoir, “Amidst the Shadows of Trees,” Brysk said. Dealing with the pain and emotions of my own childhood experiences led me to consider the plight of the 1.5 million Jewish children who had not survived. I thought of their disrupted rites of passage as beloved sons and daughters of extended Jewish families and their ultimate and untimely deaths in Nazi-designated killing places.
“The idea of a new art series began to emerge; I would focus on depicting the children who died, in the context of what they are likely to have experienced.
“One of the rites of passage from childhood to adulthood is the bar/bat mitzvah at age 13,” she said. At that event, children traditionally receive a tallis from their parents. Most of the children who died in the Holocaust, however, were too young to ever have a bar mitzvah, or to ever have worn a tallis. I, therefore use the imagery of the tallis to frame each piece. Each child is contained within his own tallis, the one he never received as a gift of remembrance from me.”
All the images of the children come from authentic photos of Holocaust victims; 10 of the children’s photos came from survivors who asked her to preserve through art the memory of their relatives who perished. Others come from books or the Internet.
The children depicted in Odette and Ralf have Detroit ties. Odette, was the cousin of local child survivor Giselle Feldman. Ralf was born in Amsterdam; he and his parents were killed in Sobibor. He is the cousin of child survivor Esther Posner.
Brysk’s own Holocaust story is unusual. After Warsaw fell to the Nazis, she and her parents, Bronka and Chaim Miasnik, left for Lida in Soviet occupied Belarus. When Lida fell, they were herded into a ghetto. In Russia, most of the Jews were simply shot. In one day, Brysk says, 80% of the ghetto was liquidated that way.
Her father was a much-needed surgeon. Partisans rescued them from the ghetto and took them into the forest, where her father ran a partisan hospital. He earned the Order of Lenin for his work after liberation.
Brysk remembers having her head shaved and dressing in boys’ clothes to protect her from being raped. At 8, she was given a pistol, which she proudly wore by her side.
The family moved to Brooklyn when she was 12. In America she says, she was able to live her dreams. A book about the exhilaration of discovering things led her to become a scientist. She sat up a laboratory at the medical school of the University of Texas at Galveston and worked there for many years as a professor.
She also dreamed about going to museums and one day expressing herself through art. Now three of her pieces have been added to the permanent collection at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem
Brysk, 73, is married to Henry, a survivor from France. They have two daughters and five grandchildren.
As a survivor, she is very involved in speaking to groups about the Holocaust. In September, at Judge Edward Sosnik’s request, she will address 400 students at the Oakland County Courthouse in Pontiac.
“I bring in a few pieces of my art, and I emphasize that I was able to overcome my handicaps and have a successful life,” she says. ” I teach about the Holocaust, but it’s also about empowerment.”