Chaya Lea Tried to Come to America
By J. Kott-Wolle
Oil on Canvas, 30x40, painted 2019
Original photograph taken – 1925
One of the legacies of descending from Holocaust survivors is that you grow up in a house without old family photos - a huge piece of your history is simply ‘erased’. By some miracle one precious photo made it through my family’s escape from the Nazis. This image is of my great grandmother, Chaya Lea in the 1920’s. Her husband had moved to New York and she was set to join him with their 5 children once he had earned enough money to sponsor them and pay for their travel. Chaya Lea had this portrait taken as part of her sponsorship application. A cruel twist of fate happened when her husband died suddenly. Chaya Lea became a widow and her immigration plan was thwarted. She and her five children stayed in Poland.
My mother recalls the day her grandmother was murdered. There was a raid on the Krakow Ghetto. My mother (only 5 years old at the time) was hidden with Righteous Gentiles. When the raid was over my mother was returned to her family and she remembers that everyone was crying and sitting shiva (mourning) for Chaya Lea. Chaya Lea was taken during that raid and was possibly transferred to the Auschwitz concentration camp or shot in the street. Her story was one of the ‘unspeakables’. Chaya Lea has no grave. Four of her five children did survive. The little girl beside her, my great Aunt Cecilia, was saved by Oskar Schindler.