A meeting with Maria Jutasi- Coleman, Inspiration upon which to Thrive.
* The following is a testimonial written after I attended an amazing meeting with a wonderful woman, a survivor of the Holocaust, a sculptor, painter, singer, author and doctor. A mother, grandmother and friend. I pray this does her visit and the effort which she extended a small honor, though she certainly deserves a great one.
Maria gestures to the tallest piece, alighted subtle and imposing on the table near where she sits. I chose my seat before I realized whom, out of the extensive variety of unique Jewish women in the clubhouse our speaker was. The end of a table, farthest away with a perfect view of the art and the sculptor.
The students in the ceramics class were “disturbed” by this piece. She began working with the clay and as the form emerged and formulated she realized, ” it was the image I had in my head of the survivors.”
Maria, who now lives in a small and beautiful “artsy” town in Southern Arizona is here today to share her account of her Holocaust experiences and the art which the way in which she “….. is able to open up.” For sixty years she couldn’t share her story, “You don’t small talk the Holocaust.” The Holocaust is haunting. Maria doesn’t like to talk about it…. “I can’t see movies about it.”
The Sculptor: I look at the woman before us and listen to her clear, collected and poised words. I notice her intensity as she beings to speak but what strikes me is a certain brush of warmth woven into her retelling. Could she know the effect such a recounting will have on her audience? It is as if at once she understands even a tiny morsel of her pain will be a part of the lives of each one of us, those who listen with their hearts.
My eight year old daughter Kayalynn has been permitted to join me today. She sits much closer to Maria. I look over at her staring at the first piece on the table. Kayalynn has been taught about the events of the Holocaust, she has seen the images and heard the accounts which relate atrocities the human mind can not fathom, crimes for which the human race will never be acquitted. Those who exposed, abused, and murdered millions of humans among those who looked away.
Maria’s telling is breathtaking, and much like the ledge one clings to when the darkness closes in…..to keep from slipping and spiraling down into utter despair, it is filled with miracles and hope. Namely, the ability of her mother to advise her child in such a way that she would be enabled to survive. Her resourcefulness and bravery, the determination with which she approached the unthinkable situations is altogether inspirational. Being here with my daughter this day changes my life forever.
Maria’s mother’s family were all murdered in the Holocaust.
Maria grew up in Budapest Hungary. It was not a Jewish neighborhood. When she was six years old a law was passed that all Jews had to wear a yellow star on their garments. “That was a turning point. “Once I had the yellow star I was a target. They were spitting on me, calling me a dirty Jew, which really blew my mind because I considered myself very clean. ”
Her yellow badge pieces express, ” the feeling of having to wear a yellow star. ”
The Hate: We live and breathe in a world where anti-Semitism is alive. It is a sickness and distortion which must be identified and exposed and treated with the only remedy which will eventually defeat it, truth. We have the freedom to speak the truth about anti-Semitism, to make an issue of it, to require with justice an answer for it….these freedoms may not last much longer with the mirroring of many of the ideologies which were taking root before WWII once again rearing their detrimental attributes all over the world. If little boys in Paris are afraid, being told by their mothers to wear their tzit zits inside, so as not to expose openly their Jewish identity, and men walking down the streets can not wear their kippot without being spat on this is a problem which will swell, widen and escalate if we don’t stand firm against it immediately and profusely. Maria was not granted that luxury as a young woman, her mother gave her strong advice which probably then saved her from an even worse wound than that of the cutting remarks and stinging abuses she endured in Budapest.
Anti-Semitism: ” It’s an old, engrained, historical, feeling, situation. You are considered a parasite, you didn’t pray to the same God. Children hear it from their parents. Once you were a target you become a magnet for abuse.
I remember my mother sat me down and said:
“Don’t you ever respond. Don’t curse. Don’t fight. because if you do we’ll end up in the Gestapo. ” I grew up without saying anything and that was the hardest thing to do, you didn’t fight it because you couldn’t win. ”
The Mission: When Maria was between 8 and 9 years of age the Jews were to be moved to the Ghetto’s. They had to leave everything and move to a crowded area. Maria’s family knew something bad was going on, but they didn’t know what. “I remember listening to them from behind closed doors trying to figure out what we were going to do.”
Another law was passed which stated that all the women had to go to the camps too and the children were sent to the orphanage. Maria’s mother couldn’t even reckon with the thought of being parted from her child. “My mother didn’t want to leave me so she did a very brave thing.”
Maria’s mother took off her star and at night she went off, out of the Ghetto. “Which was a very dangerous thing to do because if you were discovered you were shot. Somehow, she phoned a High ranking officer in the Hungarian army she knew, and went to his office endangering him and herself greatly. She asked him,
“What shall I do?” He told Maria’s mother, “You have to go into hiding. This is the only way you and your daughter can survive. If possible get false Christian documents. ”
“I have no idea how, not the names of the people who helped….it is a painful ignorance…but we got false Christian documents which said I was 12 years old. I was only 9 years old but I was very tall so I passed for a 12 year old.”
There were many “righteous gentiles” who put their lives in danger during the horrors of the Holocaust in order to hide, protect and save Jewish people. Some were discovered and sent to the camps, some were killed.
Those who were successful in their efforts such as the Hungarian officer and all those who enabled Maria and her mother to obtain the Christian documents, have contriubted to the continued growth and endurance of a generation and new generations of a people who have over the ages maintained the ability and capability to bring about amazing contributions to the world and the human race, not to mention outstanding accomplishments in their personal lives (as you will later read as we continue Maria’s story.)
Perhaps one of the greatest tragedies of the Holocaust was the silence. The complaicency over the world “stage” and how much more could have been done, and said and acted upon.
I looked at the pieces from the exhibit online as soon as I got home from this experience in hearing Maria’s account. The one shown above is one of my ‘favorites’, though it is hard to choose, for they all tell a heartwrenching story and emote variant sensations, revealing different facets of the horrors of these events. I glanced over at my daughter as Maria was speaking . She didn’t look away, she didn’t move, she sat still and intent and I knew she was absorbing what was being related and connecting it with other images and lessons she had been shown and taught. This piece makes me think of my daughter and Maria and her mother. I can not fathom the bravery of Maria’s mother, the consequence of her being discovered would surely mean her end, but she must have had some driving hope for a better end for Maria and so she knew it was worth all the risk.
I can only pray for a fraction of the courage and selflessness Maria’s mother had, I know I will need it for the days to come. The telling of her tenacity and determination despite impossible opposing forces and paralyzing circumstances is something which will never leave me for as long as I live. Who knows how far reaching the effects of her resolve will be. I continued to look at my daughter as I listened, she didn’t remove her eyes from Maria….I don’t think she even blinked. Kayalynn is 8, about the age Maria was when they were forced into the Ghetto.
The Climb: Maria and her mother journeyed on foot and made an hour and a half climb up a certain mountain. This mountain “refuge” would become their hideaway until the war was over. “My mother knew of a place where there was refuge on top of the mountain. An anti Fascist ran the refuge, he agreed to have us stay.”
Hungary was on Germany’s side so it was relatively quiet, until the last year of the war. Maria recalls looking down from the refuge at night when it was dark, “You could see from the mountain, Stalin’s candle begin to light up the area. I remember it was like fire works, very beautiful and scary.”
A scary time was when Hungarian soldiers came to the refuge looking for Jews. ” They looked at me and were saying, “Oh, you…have such dark eyes and dark hair….” My mother said, “She’s Italian.” I was the typical beautiful Jewish girl and it was hard to hide it.
We were all very worried because there was a two year old boy there, and we were afraid he would be discovered somehow because of his circumcision. ”
During the Holocaust Jewish people hid wherever they could. Some were able to hide for a time in homes, barns, other buildings….others took to caves and even underground sewers. Often they were betrayed by local people, even people they had known for years. In some places to reveal the hiding places of any Jewish people was portrayed from the “pulpits” as being a service to perform.
In Hiding: In the end there was very little to eat. ” We would make potatoes on a little wooden stove. Once, the Russians came and stole everything. They stole my mother’s one treasure, a fountain pen. They raped the women.” Maria’s mother feigned tuberculosis, she violently coughed and was spared.
” She’s my hero. ” Maria says gently and thoughtfully. Her demeanor has become meditative. She continues.
The Descent: “At some point, things quieted down, and we came back down the mountain. That was a very difficult period . We were waiting for relatives to show back up and wondering what had happened to them. ”
Like many Jewish people who tried to go home after the war. They found nothing as it once was. In Budapest there was no food, Maria and her mother weren’t let back into their apartment and the mood was still very anti-Jewish. ” Anti-Semitsm was still very nicely there.” Maria says with a touch of sarcasm.
The piece above captures the desperation and fear. A frantic and fleeting grasp at the connection to family members torn from your reach. How will my family know where to find me? Where we again be reunited?
The Message: Maria steadily continues but a shadow has gathered as she recounts the bitter waste which is the putrid fruit of this bleak time in history. “While we were in Budapest, we were given a little piece of muddy paper written in pencil, it read:
‘ We are being taken to Aushwitz, we love you. ‘
My aunt had thrown the paper out of the wagon, someone had found it and mailed it.
Maria’s father’s two brothers were lost in the camps. Maria’s aunt, her mother’s sister along with her husband and twenty others were sent away to the camps and murdered along with the 1.5 million Jewish children, 6 million Jewish women and men and 5 million other human beings.
To this day, Maria says, “I can’t even go to the Danube because I can see their bones at the bottom…”
Maria’s aunt, sister of her father and family were in the ghetto in Budapest. ” Eichman almost got to it, but it was a little corner which was liberated in time. I still have one cousin in Budapest. ”
Where to go?: ” It was very difficult to support ourselves. I remember my mother sold a diamond ring for 5 kilo’s of flour. We took the train to the country to try and find food, my mother washed dishes in the kitchen and there we would sometimes find some food to eat.”
At this time there was still rampant anti-Semitism, ” Jews were beaten and abused. ” In 1956 when the revolution started people were more afraid of anti-Semitism rising up than of Russian tanks.
“Tanks come and take down a building….but if ant-Semitism rises up…..” The sensation of those, with horrors of the Holocaust still fresh, the description Maria gives is absolutely chilling as once again we see a “rise” in anti-Semitism.
Maria and her mother were stuck until in 1956 when the Iron Curtain came down. ” My mother was damaged. ” When Maria was 21 she said, “I’m going.” Her mother said, “I’m going too.” They moved to Austria. “Where to go?” Her mother asked and from there they went to Paris .
The Brilliance: Maria wanted to be an Opera singer so she auditioned at the Conservatory of Paris and was accepted as a French student with a full scholarship. She sang in French but did not speak it, but in six months she was fluent. She wanted to sing Italian opera so she auditioned in Milano and was accepted, she transferred over her full scholarship and graduated.
Maria imigrated to the United States in 1962. In 1963 she met Richard Coleman, a seventh generation Jew. She was going to Italy to help teach Voice Therapy, Maria is the author of Voice, Body and Emotions. She taught in Europe, Italy, Switzerland, France and Berkely a few years.
Maria continues now with a gentle and humble expression, relating these incredible accomplishments as if they were something one might see any day of the week. ” While in Italy, lying in the hammock, I read 200 books and got my PHD in Psycology at Union Institute and University in Cinncinati Ohio. ”
The Legacy: Maria’s son has two children, ” My grandaughter says ‘I’m mainly Jewish.’ ” Her daughter and grandsons were brought up Jewish. This is just an example of the many children and grandchildren who have come forth from the survivors of the Holocaust.
The light in the world which was stolen, transported, devastated and forsaken….has not suffocated, it has not been snuffed out. This light remains and will continue to shine forth.
There is a portion of the Torah when G-d is speaking to Cayin after he has murdered his brother Avel. G-d tells him, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.” The Hebrew word in the text for blood is plural. It is bloods. The crimes against the Jewish people weren’t only perpetrated against those directly effected….not only for the millions who were murdered or the relatives who survived them, but this penalty extends unrequited for all the unrealized children and grandchildren and great grandchildren each one of the souls who perished had the potential to bring forth along with all of the contributions each one of them could have redeemed the darkness with.
There is a period of time allotted for questions that Maria was willing to answer. I feel myself spinning inside with all the things I wonder and want to ask, but I contain myself because I know there are others who have this sentiment as well. There is a lul in the room for a moment and I am just about to raise my hand when seemingly out of no where Maria expresses, “This will be the last time I will speak….” Someone asks, “Why?”
“It is painful and tiring…. it is time for those out there to read history and learn because we are going going gone.”
This answer is bittersweet to me. I have been an advocate for education in History and current events, as all those who know me can attest to, but I feel a great loss if this is the last time Maria’s incredible account will be related. The generation of first hand eye witnesses to the horrors of the Holocaust is growing smaller as the years pass.
Maria’s story is profound and heartbreaking yet it is a story of perseverance and triumph, absolute victory as I see it. She stands before us shining and smiling, she laughs she connects and she is loving and kind. She speaks with Kayalynn and I briefly afterward, though I have so much to ask, I simply thank her and those words seem like cheap and passing whisps of mist when they cross my lips. This day will forever be etched in my being and I can not explain that to her right away. She holds my daughters hand and asks her, “May I kiss you.” She leans down and kisses Kayalynn’s cheek. A brilliant life intersecting with a member of a generation with the potential to rise above the pain of the past through the retelling and remembrance of it in sincerity and truth. The photo I take with my mind of this intersection will remain framed in a place of honor in the most valuable treasured caches of memories and tokens I have been blessed to witness, experience and now…testify to.
If this was the last time Maria will tell her story, I pray that this small insignificant effort will do a shred of justice to the lofty gift she gave us this day. I know for certain I will remember, and my daughter will too.
Maria’s art can be found on her website http://www.mariacolemansculptor.com/index.html
My retelling of Maria’s meeting with the Jewish Womens Group of Sierra Vista Arizona can be found here: