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‘Transforming Suffering into Blessing’

North­eastern Uni­ver­sity stu­dent Emili Kaufman has been selected to receive the 2011–2012 Gideon Klein Award to study the art­work of German sur­re­alist painter Felix Nuss­baum, who died in the Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camp at Auschwitz in 1944.

The award — which includes a $5,000 prize — honors the memory of Gideon Klein, a bril­liant Czech pianist and com­poser who died in a Nazi death camp in Jan­uary 1945. North­eastern dis­tin­guished pro­fessor of chem­istry Bill Giessen, who grew up in Nazi Ger­many and passed away in 2010, estab­lished the award in 1997 in memory of his mother, Gustel Cor­mann Giessen.

For Kaufman, win­ning the award car­ries a con­sid­er­able amount of per­sonal sig­nif­i­cance. Her father, a Jewish pro­fessor of illus­tra­tion, recently passed away.
“By win­ning this award, I feel like I will be able to honor my father as well as those who were per­se­cuted in the Holo­caust,” said Kaufman, a senior com­mu­ni­ca­tion studies major with a minor in Jewish studies.

Lori Lefkovitz, Rud­erman Pro­fessor and director of the Jewish studies pro­gram, was a member of the selec­tion com­mittee that chose Kaufman. Lefkovitz saidKaufman’s pro­posal was par­tic­u­larly heart­felt and sincere.

“She studies art and Jewish studies partly to sus­tain the memory of her own father,” Lefkovitz said. “This poignant con­flu­ence of memo­ri­al­izing tes­ti­fies to Northeastern’s ongoing com­mit­ment to cre­atively incor­po­rate the past into the future, trans­forming suf­fering into blessing through art and scholarship.”
As part of her project, Kaufman plans to con­duct research on Nussbaum’s body of work and create an artistic tribute to the painter under the guid­ance of art pro­fessor Mira Cantor. Kaufman will present her find­ings and her art­work during Northeastern’s Holo­caust Aware­ness Week, in March 2012.
According to Kaufman, Nuss­baum com­mu­ni­cated his fear of being cap­tured by the Nazis through two famous paint­ings — “Self Por­trait with Jewish Iden­tity Card” and “Tri­umph of Death”— that he cre­ated while in hiding. Shortly after, Nuss­baum was dis­cov­ered by German armed forces, sent to Auschwitz and murdered.

“He’s inter­esting because he went through phases like Picasso,” Kaufman said. “Based on the colors he used, you could tell when he was happy or when he was sad.”

After grad­u­ating next spring, Kaufman would like to work in a fundraising capacity for the Jewish Museum in New York City. “I’m driven by the incred­ible his­tory of Judaism,” she said. “I think their story says a lot about humanity and what people are capable of doing.”

– by Jason Kornwitz

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