It was the last time my sisters and I were to see the number A-9103 tattooed on my mother’s arm. On December 12, 2006, Lenka Leah Moskovicova was laid to her eternal rest in the old Jewish cemetery in my hometown of Kosice, Slovakia, next to my father, Avrum.
After the shiva, we made a donation in her memory to the local shul and agreed to dedicate a window in my parents’ names at the old synagogue on Puskinova Street, which was being renovated. We visited that old building and marveled at the progress being made in restoring the synagogue to its former beauty.
As I stepped through the once-familiar doors, bittersweet memories from my childhood in Communist-ruled Czechoslovakia flooded through my mind. Before my eyes I saw the many Jews who had gathered there to pray, Holocaust survivors like my parents, all gone now, all deserving of recognition and a place in our collective memory.
I immediately thought of the late Ludovit Feld, artist, master art teacher and dwarf, whose frequent attendance at the synagogue provoked giggles among the children as they turned their heads away from his tiny form.
I had always been drawn to him and had rushed, at age twelve, to tell him when I won a prestigious national art contest. I studied with him for a short while; he was a true perfectionist when it came to his craft.
My prayers had been filled, in those days, with the burning desire to escape from Communism. After years of secret plotting, I executed a daring escape in 1979, fearing only that I might never see my family again. I began living my dream of freedom in the United States, eventually marrying prominent businessman Ari Fishbaum, a”h, co-owner of Broadway’s Jerusalem II in New York City.
At long last, in 1987, I was reunited with my parents. Ari and I and our two small sons, Charles and Benjamin, created quite a stir as we strolled through the streets of Kosice, for Americans rarely traveled behind the Iron Curtain.
We visited Ludovit Feld in his tiny apartment. At age 83, he was the size of my two-year-old son. Ari, who was deeply involved with the Holocaust Memorial Committee in Brooklyn, and I hung on every word as Ludovit told us that in Auschwitz he had been part of a special unit of twin children, even though he was 40 at that time.
“Dr. Mengele and his people experimented on me because I was a dwarf,” he said. “It was agonizingly painful. Because of my artistic talent, I was ordered by Mengele himself to draw the twins and other dwarfs. Mengele also loved to have his portraits drawn by me regularly.”
Ari wished to purchase Ludovit’s beautiful landscapes, but the artist was not ready to part with the few drawings he had left.
One of the many relatives we saw during our stay was an artist named Maximilian Finsterbush, a”h, who was a close friend of Feld’s. As I described to Maximilian our visit with Feld, he sighed and whispered about priceless original charcoal drawings by Feld that he happened to own. Pushing a heavy black armoire away from the wall, he pulled out two pieces of old plywood nailed together. Removing the nails, and the layers of protective paper, he lovingly uncovered two drawings.
Ari and I were moved to tears. Maximilian called the first picture “The Funeral.” Painted by Feld in 1944 and hidden by the artist, it depicted a mass funeral at the Teglagyar brick factory, which served as the ghetto in Kosice-Kassa. The second drawing, called “Father and Son,” was painted from memory by Feld after liberation. Set against the smokestacks of the crematoria, a boy leans upon his father, their faces etched with deep anguish.
We purchased the powerful drawings. As Ari said, “Six million cannot speak. The rest of the world must see their suffering.”
When we arrived home in Brooklyn, a neighbor broke down crying when I showed her the drawings. “I recognize that place,” she sobbed. “I too was there in Teglagyar!”
Photographs of the originals were displayed at the next Holocaust memorial gathering in Sheepshead Bay. Throughout the years I scoured art galleries and antique shops in my hometown, purchasing whatever I could find by Feld, mostly drawings of Kosice’s landmarks and landscapes, for which he was known. It was a rare find when I encountered a drawing titled “In Memoriam, Auschwitz,” and a lithograph of the artist drawing his surroundings in the ghetto, an SS man peering over his shoulder.