Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Rene Lichtman - August 13, 1998

Changes in Mother

Did your mother change when she came to New York?

Uh, uh, uh, she changed, my mother, my mother, um, it's one of the, it's one of the tragedies, but it's, I think it's kind of a personal tragedy. I don't think, uh, she never uh, accepted me or understood me, or accepted me, whereas my guardian, Mama Nana, always accepted me, in, in recognizing and um, and just the, just the drawings. I mean, just think about--I'll give you two images and I've never thought of them before, two images. Uh, my guardian saved these drawings all those years until I had them in '64. I remember she took them out. She was living in this little tiny, tiny, nothing little, you know, seventeenth century box and you know, very old little town, Maubec, in the south. She had saved these drawings. She had hardly anything else. And my mother, when we were staying with my, my aunt in Brooklyn when we first got there and my cousin was a witness to this, my cousin never forgot it uh, I was drawing pictures at my uh, at my aunt's house. This is in Brighton Beach, before we moved to Williamsburg. And my mother ran across the room and took up the drawings. And I have to say that my Uncle Sam, my cousin Sam, this is my, this is my, this is my mother's sister who had come to the United States, who was the intellectual, the Yiddishist, you know and a kind of left-wing Zionist, et cetera, she had raised these kids, they were very artistic, they were in theater and they were in art, including fine arts. And Sam had, had won Guggenheim Fellowships and you know, all kinds of accolades. He was making films. And he had visited us in Paris in 1950. And he was an artist. But in my mother's eyes, he was a bum, because he was a bohemian. And so here I was in my aunt's house, his own, his own mother's house, they had brought us over, we were there like uh, two weeks and I was drawing. And my mother runs across and she takes up all my drawings and she's, she rips them up and throws the pens across the room. And she says, you're not going to be like Shlomeileh, your Cousin Sam an artist. And it was the and my, my, my cousin, his sister, attested to this day, she's, she, she said she could not believe it. She had never seen anything like that. It was the only thing I cared about and she ripped it up. She hated the idea that I was going to be any kind of an, an artist. So that was a different, to, to, to the end of my life. That's why it was--the contrast between the way she sees my drawing, my activity, which is the only thing that kept, that kept me sane in some ways and the way-- and so that never, so my, my relationship with, with my moth...mother was never um, it never healed, because as soon as I had a chance to get out of the house, I did. I joined the military when I left high school. And um, and I think, I mean, I, I don't know what to attribute, you know, her feelings. I always thought of her as kind of a Polish peasant; ignorant. But what I had learned about Jews that I knew in New York were that, you know, culture and, and the arts and poetry and charity and, and caring for other human beings, you know and all those kind of artistic left-wing type of values was, was what I liked about Judaism and um, and was very proud of. And she didn't encompass any of those. She was like, she was just a tough chick. What she did that I respected was that she was able to come to New York and go into the sweat shops and, and work very, very hard and be very independent. Um, so she was like my first feminist model, you might say.

Your mother?

Yeah, because she was very independent, very self-reliant and a hard worker. And that's what she wanted me to do. She wanted me to just, just get a job, any kind of a job, but forget about this art, because you're going to starve and you can't have a family. And I guess she was concerned about me in some ways, but uh, she never accepted, accepted me. And uh, so we never really communicated until the very end when, when the grandchildren were born and she liked Kathy and she figured that was one, one good thing where I had succeeded. But um, and I think all of that is uh, I think she was terribly wounded by the Holocaust experience. You know, she was deformed. You know, she became, I think it made her terribly nervous, for one thing, very, very, nervous person, you know, uh. And I think it had to do with fear and rage and, and uh, she--if there was anything German on television, she could spit on the floor and run out of the room. I mean it was, oh, yeah. She was...

The pictures you, you have of her, that you, that we'll see um, she was a very attractive woman, wasn't she?

Yeah, a beautiful woman. Yep. Had a way with men, had four husbands.

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