Cheder (Hebrew School) at the DP Camp
Oil on Canvas 16x20
Original Image Taken: 1948
At 15, this was my dad’s first real experience with education. In his memoir he explains that, in all, he had 2 years of formal education in his youth: He had completed the equivalent of first grade before the Holocaust (during which time he and his family fled to the forest to hide for 19 months). When the war ended and they were in Russia, my dad had to work to help the family stay afloat. It was only when his family arrived in the DP camp in Poland, that he finally had one year of education. My dad was 16 when he finished 7th grade in 1949. The war and post-war years in Europe had robbed him of his entire youth. He never had a bar mitzvah nor did he receive an education.
This painting is based off of a photo that I used to study as a child. When I was growing up, I had some understanding of the Holocaust but I couldn’t figure out why all those kids looked so ‘old’. There’s my father in the front row. He was so eager to learn and he told me that he loved that one year he had in school. (My report cards always said that I 'talked too much'. I think he would tell me this to inspire me to take my studies more seriously!).
As I painted the faces of these 14 and 15 year olds I couldn’t help but compare them to my own child who is 14 today. These children struck me as so haunted and profoundly exhausted. I wondered what they had witnessed and who they had lost. Who looked after them? Did they rebuild? How did life turn out for these children?
When my dad graduated law school and was called to the Bar in 1960 one of the senior lawyers at the firm where he articled remarked “it’s a long way from the forests of Poland to the halls of Osgoode Hall Law School”.