Death Is Muse for Israeli Artist Pesi Girsch

Daughter of Holocaust Survivors Sees Beauty in Morbidity

Kobi Kalmanovitz

By Dalia Karpel

Published April 03, 2014.
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She says that her nanny in Germany took her and her brother to church without her mother’s knowledge. “I preferred walking to the nearby cemetery. On one of the crosses there was a photograph of a boy my age with blond bangs and a round face, and I didn’t understand how a little boy could die. At home we didn’t watch television and there were no newspapers, so that we wouldn’t be exposed to the cruel reality. But they said that a boy named Timothy disappeared and half a year later they found his body in a cave. I was sure that one day they would kidnap me too.”

When she was little her father called her “dumme Gans” − stupid goose. In the 2006 book “Natures Mortes” Girsch wrote: “Each time the ‘dumme Gans’ grew and spread inside me until I was filled with it. Eventually I met a taxidermist who had caught a pair of geese. I asked his permission to photograph them. I was happy that they had each other. I placed them gently on my pillow and the dumme Gans fell asleep along with them.”

In 1967 her mother decided that the family would move to Israel, arrived with the children for a visit and didn’t return to Munich. Until his death her father visited his family once every three months. “Here in Israel it was wonderful. The children played in the street,” says Girsch, “but I didn’t know Hebrew and it was also hard for me to fit in socially. I felt rejected, foreign and strange. I was shy and had a poor self-image, but I was certain of my Zionist-patriotic identity.”

One of the teachers in the art class in which she participated as a young girl suggested that Girsch go to study with Rudi Lehmann, an artist and sculptor who had taught art already in Berlin and was one of the first to establish modern sculpture in Israel. She studied sculpture with him from the age of 15 to 21, and under his inspiration found her place as a young artist. Afterwards she studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich.

“I studied for almost three years, and then when I was 21 Father contracted cancer. He was brought to Israel and underwent surgery and the entire family helped out. I stayed to take care of him and didn’t finish my degree. His death was traumatic.”

The summer of Kaipo

Later she went with her first husband Shlomo Cohen to Zaire, where he established a fishing farm. In December 1978 their daughter Kaipo was born. She became famous at the age of nine when she played the lead role in the film “The Summer of Aviya,” based on the autobiography of actress Gila Almagor. The trip to Africa ended in divorce. As the mother of a toddler Girsch knew that without a profession and a steady job she would have difficulty functioning, and she registered to study at the Art Teachers’ Training College in Ramat Hasharon.

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