Prisoner number: 64464

Felix and the Dragon; 1994

Felix Tuszynski Age 21

Felix Tuszynski Age 70

Felix Tuszynski was born in Plock 1920. A Holocaust Survivor, distinguished Miniaturist and Painter, currently living in Melbourne, Australia.

Felix Tuszynski's Art Gallery

Felix Tuszynski Artistic Biography

by Felix Tuszynski

Friday, the first of September 1939, is a sunny, beautiful morning. Gold red leaves herald the first day of autumn. But at the same time, the sounds and sirens blend with noisy airplanes, the first bomb is being dropped on Lodz: the radio broadcasts the message of the president of Lodz: On this morning, Germans cross the Polish border, intense battles continue; there is general mobilization. We, the young ones, escape to Warsaw. We will be safe there. Together with all the others, not thinking of the dangers, we run day and night to the capital. It is only one hundred and sixty kilometres. We will fight, we will defend the motherland, after all we are taught in school how to shoot.

Roads are packed with refugees, families with small children, carts with pots and belongings. Nobody knows where they go, they all run from the war. We encounter the first victims, dead and wounded. We pass burning towns and villages. It is impossible to buy food and we are hungry. When we find a damaged wagon full of food I take two loaves of bread. The load that I carry on my back is rather heavy and awkward but there is something to eat. The road does not seem to end. We are tired and scared. German planes fly overhead, snipers shoot from machine guns at running people. We hide in a roadside ditch. Perhaps they will not see us, perhaps they will not kill us? Women scream, children cry, everybody is praying. As we go, we pass arms and legs, heads and torsos. All around are unburied corpses, gaping bomb craters and nauseating smells.

At last we arrive in Warsaw. All the residents are mobilized to defend the capital... It is then that I stop my carefree student life. In a few days I mature and learn the value of human life. I am hungry, dirty and ragged. My new shoes, so worn, fall off my feet. My uncle, a doctor in Warsaw, feeds us. He gives me a pair of shoes. Even though they are too small and I have to cut holes for my toes, their soles are new. We cannot stay in his house because his children have just come from Italy to spend their school holidays at home. When we reach a refugee centre we find a place to sleep and a bowl of soup. We volunteer for the defence of Warsaw and dig trenches where, in the nearby garden, tomatoes ripen and fruit trees bend under heavy loads of apples, pears and plums. The bombardment continues, the sirens never stop. After four weeks of battle, Warsaw surrenders... The city faces starvation. I decide to return to my mother's house in Lodz. On the way I find a dead horse. From a carving of meat I cook a stew in my canteen held in place with two bricks. The meat is tough and tasteless, but for once I can eat and not feel hungry.

Mother is well organised and doing well. She is required to feed her hungry children,Tola and Moniek. She sells her jewellery to buy food. Our father is dead. My brother Roman is lost and my older brother, Devi is somewhere in the army. Everywhere one hears German spoken and the heavy boots of Wehrmacht officers. Jews are put in a ghetto surrounded by barbed wire with German guards only a few metres apart. No one can leave the ghetto; the penalty for doing so is death. Food coupons are introduced for meager rations. On the black market a one carat diamond buys a loaf of bread. An epidemic of typhoid and dysentery kills thousands. The Germans order that everybody in the ghetto must work. At first I work in a clothing factory where I mend German uniforms, then at a post office as a mailman. My next job is as a labourer in housing demolitions. When I become too weak for the heavy work I am assigned to guard potatoes and fire wood.

The currency printed, the Jude-Mark, is for the sole use in the ghetto. It has no value outside and can be spent only for food coupons. All the ghetto residents have to carry identification which includes the yellow Star of David on the front and back with 'Jude' on it. I am always hungry. All I can think of is food. Mother, however, stops eating, giving her rations to the younger children. She drinks water instead. This beautiful women with big silken eyes becomes leaner and weaker. She risks her life many times, leaving the ghetto by night to trade her jewellery for food. Very often the Germans stage a 'round up'. Those caught are sent immediately to the death camp in Treblinka. My mother is caught in such a 'round up', but risking my life, I rescue her from the wagon bound for Treblinka. I hid her from the military police under a heap of doonas in bed, but in the end, she dies of starvation. I keep her bod for a few days in order to get food coupons. Our only thoughts are of food and survival.

In August, 1944, after the liquidation of the ghetto, my sister Tola, my brother Moniek, and I are sent to Auschwitz. The ghetto residents have been told that they are being taken to work in Germany. Everyone is given a loaf of bread for the journey and put into the cattle wagons. The trip takes twenty four hours; one hundred and forty people per wagon means that we are only able to stand. With nothing to drink some drink their own urine. The weak die standing up.

We finally arrive at the Auschwitz terminus, and the firs selection takes place; old women and children to the left the young and those able to work to the right. My thirteen year old brother, Moniek, is selected for the gas chamber. On saying goodbye, he gives me his piece of bread. My group is taken to the bath house. Everyone has to leave his clothes, shoes and jewellery. After the bath our heads are shaved. The clothes I am given consist of a pair of oversized trousers, wooden shoes and a small ladies' jacket with a red stripe on the back, to indicate my prisoner status. By this time the Germans have stopped tattooing numbers on forearms, hence I escape that indignity. We are transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Each barrack houses hundreds of inmates, pressed together on the bunks like sardines in a can. The daily food ration consists of one slice of bread, ersatz coffee and at night, a canteen of so-called soup made of water with turnip. The lucky ones sometimes find in this soup a piece of meat or a potato. I am assigned to work in a quarry. During every morning roll call another selection takes place. The weak and the ill are sent to the gas chamber 'to have a bath'. Some make for the electrified barbed wire fences to end their suffering. Here death is quick. Meanwhile, bodies burn in the crematoria, the sweet, nauseating smell of burning flesh penetrating everything.

During the winter of 1944, together with two other younger men, I am transported to Germany. I start working for Bissing Works - a diesel factory near Braunschweigg. Before leaving Auschwitz I am given the number 64464, this being my identification until the end of the war. I do not have a name, only a number. Again, we are housed in barracks. The conditions are unhygienic, and we are cold. At five o'clock in the morning, after being counted, we receive our bread and ersatz coffee, then we are marched for over an hour, in freezing weather to the workplace. I am still wearing my Auschwitz clothes; the ladies' jacket and the oversized trousers, with all of us infested with lice, millions of lice. Living on watery soup we work hard assembling car engines. I operate two machines. When

one of them breaks down I am accused of sabotage. Before the other prisoners I am heavily beaten with sticks and batons by a Kapo and SS guards. Fellow inmates help me back to the camp. It is not the end of my punishment. I am again beaten by the SS guards and the Commandant then I am further punished for sabotage.I am hung by my feet from the ceiling beam and lose consciousness. When revived, I am on the floor andaKapo is pouring cold water over me. As a result, I cannot walk and am sent to the hospital, where I can lie down. It is warmer here. Each hospital bed contains two patients. One night in Braunschweigg I am woken by other prisoners. The Oberscharfuer is looking for his dog, and for the prisoner responsible for the disappearance of the pet. If the dog is not found all the prisoners from the barrack will be shot. No one comes forward. Late that night all who had taken part in the conspiracy receive a piece of hot dog meat. I received a small bone which I suck for two days as if it is a sweet.

In Spring 1945 an order comes to evacuate the camp. Liberation forces are advancing on Germany. We are moved to Watenstandt and employed by the Herman Goering Works Factory. The front is drawing nearer. We are moved again. All who are ill and cannot walk are shot. A friend of mine, Henry Grundman finds a wheel barrow and I am wheeled to the station. The trip to the factory takes a few days. Whenever the train stops deadbodies are removed. During the trip we have neither food nor drink. We end up at a camp in Ravensbruck. We stay there for afew days and then are transportedtoWeberinLuswgslust. On the second of May, the American army forces liberate the camp. There, prisoners are given UNNRA food parcels distributed by International Red Cross. Many of the famished cannot restrain themselves from eating. They succumb to immediate diarrhoea. People drop their pants and never get up again. Death is quick. I cannot stop eating either, but it is only my strong will to survive that saves me from their fate.

I am among the living dead. I am twenty three years old, weigh thirty three kilograms and cannot walk unaided. On being examined by the first panel of Allied doctors I am sent to Switzerland for further treatment. I have advanced tuberculosis, my heart is enlarged and displaced. Also gangrene has developed in my left foot and I face amputation. The second medical panel confirm my critical condition but declare that I cannot take the trip to Switzerland. I spend three years in a German Sanatorium. There are no antibiotics or streptomycin. An old Polish folk remedy for tuberculosis is dog fat. But it is vain looking for a fat dog. After the war, even the animals are wasted.

After the war I met with surviving members of my family. They applied for emigration permits to Australia. I was too sick to be considered. Three years later, however, when my health improved, I was sponsored, and once in Australia, I underwent an operation - a pulmonary lobectomy - at Grewell Sanatorium at Mont Park. I spent eighteen months in the hospital. Thus, Australia gave me a new life, with perspectives I had never dreamt of. It gave me freedom, health and peace. I love Australia; it is my beloved country and whenever I return from an overseas trip I kiss Australian soil. Nonetheless, after all that I have been through I am still tormented by nightmares. Each night I dream of myself being killed by SS, I find myself amongst dead bodies, I scream, I cry, I escape. On the following morning, I feel extremely tired. No doctors can help me. My experiences are too deeply rooted in my subconscious.

I have always been interested in art. I grew up surrounded by art; our wise and dear mother taught us art appreciation. My grandfather and great grandfather were both artists, both creating miniatures and illuminating manuscripts on parchment. I have painted for forty years, and I am always searching. My first art teacher in Australia was Donald Campbell. We spent long hours discussing art. He shared his knowledge with me about history, painting techniques, and respect for the creative freedom of the artist. He was the first one to tell me, "Felix, you are different, you paint differently, do not change your style. One day, your paintings will hang in art galleries". After three years with Donald Campbell (1960-1963), I started participating in group exhibitions. I read a lot, studied on my own, began to paint in my own style. As making a living from art was difficult, I opened my own business

- first as a draper, then as a dealer of Fine Arts. I always had a little studio behind my shop where I spent every spare moment in painting. When I retired I became a full time artist. Through my art, I have always wanted to communicate my experiences. Yet, my painting does not frighten; it does not show war or war related tragedies. There are no dead or dying in them. Instead, I prefer symbols of peace: fish, birds and animals. My compositions do not represent any specific philosophy of life; they stem from the creative process. When I first began, my family and friends were concerned over my mental state and tried to make me see a psychiatrist.

Often, people meeting me in the street greeted me with: "Oh, you are still alright". The rumour was that something was wrong with me, because my paintings were so different. I was upset. Perhaps my reaction was a result of many years under stress and tension during the war. Perhaps my art was a 'scream' that would help me to dispel my memories. The truth is that painting does help. I always work without a theme or a plan. My paintings and drawings are spontaneously created; a translation of my subconscious. My brain comes up with fantastic visions that I try to capture on paper.

 *From the artist' catalogue: "Felix Tuszynski: a Survey exhibition of Painting and Drawings 1985-1995, published by Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, Victoria Australia 1995 ISBN 0 646 24319 5

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