Archive for March, 2011


I was eager to meet Si to learn how art helps to heal trauma. But what I would learn from Si is that while art has created meaning for his life and brought healing, it does not erase trauma. And that more than any other aspect of his life, Si speaks of his relationship with Rennie, his wife of seventy years, as having been the singular greatest source of healing. Yet for all their closeness–which was evident when I visited with them–Rennie only learned about Si’s having been brutally beaten in Central Park and his experience at Buchenwald when she transcribed his memoir. And, like all the other liberators, he has never directly told his daughter about his time in World War II. “I only learned about it from listening to you give talks about it for your exhibition ‘The Journey’ (a seventy drawing depiction of witnessing Buchenwald).
Si’s silence confounded me, upsetting the theory that I so want to believe that art can heal trauma.
“Did you not tell Nina (his daughter) or Rennie because you wanted to protect them?” (This was my other theory: that the silence of veterans is to protect their families.)
“No,” he answered, “you just don’t talk about it.”

The way Si talks about his trauma is as though he can neither diminish nor dampen it. Rather than erase his trauma or cure him of it, Si’s art nourishes and fortifies the rest of him so that he can prevail in spite of the trauma. I think of the words of another liberator whom I met in January. Like my father, he was among the liberators of Nordhausen. At the end of our 75 minutes of talking, he turned to his wife and said, “”I have struggled to stay alive every day since Nordhausen.” For Si, creating art, living amidst color, is central to that struggle. During our interview, he showed me the wall of his bedroom that he wakes up seeing every morning. Fifty canvases of color. Deep, rich color.
“This is what I need to wake to. I need color as much as I need oxygen and water.”

Color is medicine for those who have suffered trauma. Si’s wall brought tears to my eyes, as it showed me why I crave color . Why I saturate my house in it.
I think of the words of Charlotte Delbo, a French resistant fighter whom the Nazis imprisoned in Auschwitz. In her remarkable book, Auschwitz and After, she talks about her trauma as always living alongside of her, contained in a permeable membrane.
I have often observed people resist acknowledging that they have been traumatized. As I wrote Gated Grief, I struggled with understanding this resistance. I decided that the underlying cause is that we do not want to admit that we have lost the pure spirit with which we were born, that our spirit has suffered an unalterable scar. Some call trauma a psychobiological wound- which connotes how the psychological wound changes us biologically, a fact that repels us. Who can bear to accept that forces beyond our control have altered us on a cellular level?
We become mute in the face of that horrifying alteration. A traumatized person literally cannot speak and must fight to regain the ability. Can we reclaim the voice we had before the trauma, if that voice was part of the self we lost?

I am still answering that question.

I do know that color has been essential to my own struggle to speak my history. Because before I could speak, I first had to enliven my spirit.

We non-veterans must do what we can to aid veterans in their struggle to speak their truths. While art might not be able to restore the lost aspects of themselves, it can support them. And it teaches and heals the rest of us. As Si wrote to me, “I believe in the healing power of art–and not just for the artist.  We need art to light up life’s dark moments.”

We need to understand healing is a journey, even while we cannot arrive at a destination of being healed.

Category : Uncategorized | Blog

An Interview with Artist and World War II Veteran, Si Lewen

I met Si Lewen’s art before I met him. A friend who learned about him through the documentary “The Ritchie Boys” suggested I go to his website to get a sense of his art. The art I saw amazed me: canvases exploding with color, vibrant, pulsing with life. The art became even more amazing when I read the story of Si Lewen’s life.
He grew up in Lublin, Poland and knew from the age of five that he wanted to create art. He fled Poland when Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, and through the good graces of Senator Byrd who was grateful to Si’s uncle for having sponsored the senator’s brother-Admiral Byrd- in his expedition to the Antarctica, was able to get to the United States. But Si quickly discovered the dark side of the new world, when, during a walk through Central Park, he was robbed at gun point and beaten by a policeman who hissed “You goddamn Jew bastard” in his ear.
When World War II began, Si enlisted and became a Ritchie Boy, a member of a special military intelligence unit chosen by the Army because of their fluency in German and familiarity with Germany. They entered Europe on D-Day and undertook covert operations. Si saw action from Normandy through France and back into Germany where he was among the liberators of Buchenwald. There he witnessed what could have been his fate.
But upon returning home, he did not feel able to create art. “When I returned from the war I was disgusted. I wanted nothing to do with that experience. I didn’t even want to paint.” But he found himself drawn to the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League in New York where he began taking classes and painting landscapes, still lifes and nudes. His work sold and was exhibited in the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

But scenes from his war experiences haunted him. “I would wake up with these nagging images,” Si said, “images that would not go away.” He turned to art, creating “A Journey,” seventy black and white narrative drawings that turn the viewer into a witness of Nazi concentration camp. The lack of color in the drawings expresses how in terrifying moments, color disappears. “Even blood was not red.”

The drawings convey the shock and horror the liberators experienced on a level that I had not experienced before, even after hearings over scores of veterans recount their stories. Towards the end of “The Journey,” the commandant of the camp invites the visitor to a dinner of death, and when the visitor refuses, they become another victim. But the last drawings show the visitor’s spirit flying away on the wings of a bird.

to be continued in Part Two

Category : Uncategorized | Blog
مبلمان اداری صندلی مدیریتی صندلی اداری میز اداری وبلاگدهی فروشگاه اینترنتی گن لاغری شکم بند لاغری تبلیغات کلیکی آموزش زبان انگلیسی پاراگلایدر ساخت وبلاگ بوی دهان بوی بد دهان