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A Life Lived for Art - And Saved By It

Former student and lifelong friend of Ludovit Feld speaks at Glen Cove's Holocaust Memorial about artist's insurmountable passion for life and beauty despite suffering at the hands of an infamous Nazi.

"We were given several injections in almost all our organs, medications were administered and we have been subjected to countless blood draws. Almost every day has been experimenting on us. Mengele personally supervised the experiments and he was there almost every day and has issued instructions to us regarding the prison doctors. Also, if our lives were much better than [the rest of the prisoners], we experienced great mental anguish as we knew it that we would be killed sooner or later and our skeletons will be placed in a biological museum."

- Ludovit Feld, June 12, 1967

Sylvia Fishbaum met Ludovit Feld in Slovakia when she was 12 years old. The daughter of Holocaust survivors began studying with Feld in 1966, two decades after he was liberated by Soviet troops from the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland.

There he had been part of Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele's human experiments. Having stopped growing in childhood due to a medical condition, Feld attracted the attention of Mengele, who had an interest in dwarfs and twins.

Ironically, it was Feld's ability to create that saved him from his captors' wanton destruction. Mengele made Feld his "pet" artist, sitting for frequent portraits and making him draw renditions of the many subjects of his pseudo-scientific experiments.

The designation saved his life, though Fishbaum said Feld prayed many times for death. Once, when he was caught throwing bread to relatives over an electric fence, a guard recognized him and prevented him from being shot.

Feld's very presence at Auschwitz speaks to his character: he had been spared from the initial deportation list because the woman compiling it, a former student, omitted his name. After some lonely turmoil, he put on his small backpack and marched into the Kosice Ghetto, deciding he was better off being miserable with his family than miserable without them.

At Auschwitz, Feld was housed in the boys' barracks because of his size. He became a father figure to the youngsters, sometimes comforting one scared 4-year-old by sketching his picture.  

When the Germans announced to the children that release was imminent, Feld didn't believe it, Fishbaum said. He told the boys not to go, and 14 of them hid for ten days on the freezing ground under the barracks' lowest bunks until they were rescued.

"He was so sweet, so simple," Fishbaum remembered of the man she studied under as a child. She described a gentle loner who liked to pull on his "little jacket" and go for walks through the city, coping with the gawking of children by giving them candy from his pocket.

"He was satisfied with so little. He conveyed all his feelings through art," said Fishbaum. Feld preferred to paint landscapes before the war, and after it, the bustle of his city's populace. He taught his craft for free, content to be paid only in interaction with the young students he loved to teach.

Though he could recreate it purely from memory, Fishbaum said, Feld never again painted a picture of Mengele.

"That was his little revenge," she said.

Fishbaum was joined by Igor Pokojny, consul general of Slovakia, and S. Isaac Mekel, director of development at the American Society for Yad Vashem, at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center on Sunday afternoon for the opening of an exhibit of Feld's work, which has never been shown in the U.S.

The exhibit will run through June 30.

The audience of more than 100 included city councilmen Anthony Gallo and Anthony Jimenez and legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton. The reception was hosted by Long Island Press publisher Jed Morey.

The reception, held on the center's rear lawn amongst the blooming foliage of the Welwyn Preserve's grounds, was a fitting setting in which to honor the spirit of a man who found healing from one of humanity's most historic cruelties in the beauty and humble equilibrium of the natural world. 

"He was always looking for balance, and he found that in nature," Fishbaum said.

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