The messages and memories of the Holocaust remain a prevalent and enduring part of the global culture. “This is a story that repeats itself over and over and over again,” says Lisa E. Mishler, author of “L’Chayim — To Life,” a new book that interprets the survival stories of her parents, Sol and Luba Kotz, in pictures and prose.
“We don’t seem to learn from past mistakes,” she said. “It’s happening right now, maybe not Jews, but Muslims. If not Muslims, it’s Christians.”
Mishler is a Tucson-based multi-media artist. In February, the Tucson Jewish Community Center featured a collection of her artwork, which served as the inspiration for “L’Chayim.”
Rabbi Stephanie Aaron of Congregation Chaverim and Mishler discussed how best to express the histories of Mishler’s parents: Mishler would develop the artwork and Aaron would reflect on those pieces.
Much of Aaron’s rabbinical work focuses on Holocaust education. She has chaperoned some 12 student trips to Europe, including many trips with the March of the Living, an annual education program in Poland and Israel, to teach students about stories like those of Sol and Luba Kotz.
“There are several Jewish teachings, and one is from the Baal Shem Tov, that speaks about ‘if something comes before you, then it’s yours to do,” she says. “If it appears within your past, then it’s yours to do. So that’s been a big part of who I am for many years.”
“Rise of the Forgotten,” one of the paintings in “L’Chayim,” had a special impact on Aaron. “[It] is just examining one’s own prejudices and stereotypes and I hope that it makes people really think about their own lives and what they hold as prejudice … what their prejudices are, what their stereotypes are, what groups of people or types of people do they mock, or make fun of, or don’t give full humanity to,” she says.
“It started with people, with one person and his prejudices, and then other people that were willing to say, ‘I share that,’ and coming together and creating a horror.”
“Bashert — Meant to Be,” which graces the cover of the book, depicts a chance encounter between the artist’s parents, drawing on elements of hope and love in a post-war society.
“On March 18, 1946, the train approached Lodz and pulled into the station at 3:30 in the afternoon,” wrote Sol Kotz in an unpublished memoir that is featured in “L’Chayim.” He was on his way to the United States. “As I was getting off the train, another train from the east pulled into the station on the opposite platform.”
Kotz saw Luba, a girl he dated before the war, get off that train. She was on her way to Palestine. “At first she didn’t recognize me and started to walk away,” wrote Kotz. “Then she realized it was me and she turned around and started running toward me. We embraced and kissed each other.”
Mishler was born a month after her parents came to the United States. Her earliest memories of her mother were seeing her crying over the family that she had lost.
“You know, they had PTS [post-traumatic stress],” she said. “I wasn’t aware of it, but it did come up with sadness and grief, and the High Holidays were very, very important.”
Mishler empathized with her parents’ stories even as she struggled to understand them. That history had such a profound effect on her that she put away a college paper about their experiences for some 30 years before reengaging in the process of telling those stories.
Sol and Luba Kotz dealt with their history in another manner: giving back to the Jewish community. Today, menorah sculptures commissioned by the Kotz family flank both sides of the pulpit inside Congregation Anshei Israel’s main sanctuary.
Michael Miklofsky is a freelance writer living in Oro Valley with his wife and three daughters. He also is a Realtor® with Realty Executives Tucson Elite and director of administration for The Shoe House, Inc.