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July 05, 1996 - Image 10

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1996-07-05

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

HISTORY page 3

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more ... exotic.
One afternoon, an art
appraiser called. He said
he had an unum iR1 paint-
ing which might interest
Mr. Prager.
"I knew as soon as I
saw it that I had seen the
Holocaust painting," he
said. "It is the most hor-
rendous, awesome thing
to come out of the Holo-
caust. It sucks the air out
of you."
It was the Angel of
Death painting: chilling,
haunting and even sen-
sual. The skin texture at
times almost glistened.
Hitler was half-nude,
with taut muscles, atop
hundreds of dead bodies.
It was dark and dead, yet
eerily alive.
Working with the
painting's owner, Char-
lotte Kluger, the apprais-
er made a cassette tape
that offered a provocative,
though limited, glimpse
into the history of the
piece.
The tape sketched a
fantastic tale about the
artist, a man named Aczel
from Hungary, said to be
an Auschwitz survivor
whom Charlotte Kluger
and her husband, Bern-
hardt, had rescued after
managed to find record
Top:
World War II. They
claimed to have found Kecskes' other art of a Deszo Aczel, origi-
reflected his skill, nally from Hungary who
Aczel lying in the gutter, but
nothing was of
ill from tuberculosis. To the magnitude of had been a prisoner at
Auschwitz. Could this be
hear the Klugers tell it,
the "Angel of
the artist, or mere coin-
the artist lived for months
Death."
cidence?
in a shack behind their
It would take a trip
Above:
home in Germany, rarely
abroad
before Ms. Sapir
Atilla
Aczel
and
leaving the tiny shelter.
Then one day in 1946, he Bara Sapir: "I'm would get her first big
break — and open the
was found dead — the the man you're
looking for."
door to yet another mys-
completed painting at his
tery.
side. Nearby was a note:
While traveling in Eu-
The work was a gift for the couple
rope
and
Israel,
where she went
who had given him his last home.
The Klugers brought the paint- specifically to learn more about
ing with them when they immi- Aczel's life, Ms. Sapir stopped at
grated to the United States and Yad Vashem, the Holocaust
settled in Boston. Then Bern- memorial in Jerusalem. She
hardt died and Charlotte reset- found nothing on Aczel, but she
tled in Miami, where for a time learned that the Klugers had a
the painting hung above her bed. son named Salo, who lived some-
Then Charlotte died, and the where in the United States. She
painting was sold to Mr. Prager. made a note to try and find him.
In Hungary and in Germany,
For Ms. Sapir, the tape raised
more questions than it answered. Ms. Sapir visited towns where
What had driven the artist to Aczel had lived and searched
make such a startling picture? through archives for information
Had he actually seen the bodies on his family history. She went
or painted them from imagina- to Weiden, Germany, where the
tion? What kind of person had he Klugers' tape said the artist had
spent the last months of his life.
been?
Then a chance meeting re
She began her research by con-
tacting experts on the Holocaust, sulted in another and another,
religious authorities, Hungarian leading her to someone who knew
art teachers — anyone who of two sons born to a Deszo Aczel.
might be able to help. She sorted One son had died at Auschwitz.
through hundreds of phone books The other was living in Budapest.
At last, Ms. Sapir was confi-
looking for relatives.
Her biggest clue was the last dent she would have the answer
to the project that had obsessed
name: Aczel.
After a great deal of work, she her for so long. She went to Bu-

dapest. The son was a pleasant
man, impressed by Ms. Sapir's
research into his family histo-
ry. Much of it he had never
heard before.
But he could not help her
with the mysterious painting.
"My father was a pharmacist,"
he said.
Deszo Aczel had never, not
even once in his life, so much as
lifted a paintbrush.

IT WAS THAT NAME —

could there really be another
Salo Ktuger? — which caught
Jack Schwartz's attention.
Mr. Schwartz, of Oak Park,
was reading The Jewish News, a
story about a U-M student
named Bara Sapir in search of an
artist and those who might have
had contact with him. One of
those with whom she wanted to
speak was a Salo Kluger.
Mr. Schwartz had a friend by
that name. The two were long-
time correspondents and shared
a passion for Judaica.
Mr. Schwartz put Mr. Kluger
and Ms. Sapir in touch with each
other. She was stunned. "He lives
just a hop away — 15 miles —
from my home in Edison, N.J.,"
she said.
Mr. Kluger confirmed the sto-
ry Ms. Sapir originally heard:
that the painting had been a gi
to his parents. He told her of his
father, a baker, and his mother,
the daughter of wealthy parents
who loved music and art. The two
had wed in Weiden.
But Salo Kluger knew little
else about the painting.
Dispirited, Ms. Sapir was on
vacation in the Southwest when
a letter arrived at her New Jer-
sey home. It came from the Wei-
den, Germany, archives.
The head archivist had found
a name that might be of interest,
the letter said. He was an artist,
born in 1921, a native of Hungary
who had immigrated in 1952 to
Canada.

HISTORY page 12

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