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An artist who emerged from the Holocaust

Into the Light: The Healing Art of Kalman Aron by Susan Beilby Magee, Hard Press Editions, (c) 2012, ISBN 978-1-55595-385-0; 220 pages including index of illustrations, $50.

By Donald H. Harrison

kalman Aron

Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO –This is an extraordinary biography of an artist who survived the Holocaust, wrestled with it in his paintings and drawings, and eventually liberated himself and his art.   Author Susan Beilby Magee is to be congratulated for painting a portrait in words to match those that her subject, Kalman Aron, portrays in colors and line.

Aron lived in Riga, Latvia, where most of his family was murdered in a mass action by the Nazis.  From there he was transported from ghettos to work camps to concentration camps, along the way learning how to make himself almost invisible from the Nazi guards in the assembly yards of the camps and in the fields.  At other times, however, he used the talent he had developed from the age of three as a portrait artist to trade for bread crusts.

Magee carefully documents Aron’s Holocaust journey, but the book — with its retrospective collection of art works — is only a little bit told with the liberation of the camps. The author, listening carefully to Aron’s words and closely studying his art works, next traces Aron’s psychological recovery from the Holocaust, and his emergence, as the book title says, “into the light.”

Not an artist herself, but rather a certified hypnotherapist and meditation teacher — with previous experience as an aide to a mayor in Seattle and as a White House fellow — Magee brought to her authorship an acute sense of empathy.   She helps readers understand how the Holocaust influenced Aron’s subsequent life, including his difficulty in keeping people close, as is evidenced by the failure of three marriages (he’s now on his fourth), and his contrasting ability, through his art, to peer deeply into the souls of others.

Magee had a special insight.  When she was a child of six, her mother commissioned Aron to do her portrait, one of the many of Aron’s art works that are collected in this book.    A half century later, Magee embarked on a decade-long study of the life of her portrait artist, researching his life so thoroughly that it transformed her as surely as it illuminated him.

Having time to look at the images, and reading Magee’s assessment of how they fit into Aron’s psychological journey, is a far different experience than reading the memoirs of other Holocaust survivors or coffee table books on other artists.  This book is uniquely insightful.  It may even help readers to understand how every survivor’s life is a continuing internal battle pitting memory of the past against the reality of the present.

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted at [email protected]

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Copyright 2013 San Diego Jewish World

2 Responses to “An artist who emerged from the Holocaust”


  1. […] Magee is the author of Into the Light: The Healing Art of Kalman Aron.  This article is reprinted with permission from her […]

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