The Muswell Hill studio is flooded with sunlight and all around are paintings of flowers in radiant reds, yellows and blues. I have come to visit Alicia Melamed Adams, the Holocaust survivor whose paintings and whose story I wrote up as one of the chapters of Justice, Politics and Memory in Europe after the Second World War published this summer. We did the interviews in this studio a year ago, sifting through her old family photographs and going over the details of her family’s horrendous wartime ordeal.
Alicia was born Alicia Goldschlag in Boryslav, in Galicia – in Eastern Poland - to parents who gave her and her brother Josef a happy childhood. But during the Second World War the Nazis imposed a reign of terror, with random shootings and disappearances a daily occurrence. Alicia’s parents and brother were all murdered by the Nazis. Her brother Josef – who had ambitions to become an architect – died in the Janowska camp in Lviv in 1942. Her parents were shot.
Alicia survived – the only member of her family to do so. She and her husband - also a survivor - rebuilt their lives in north London. In the 1960s - by now a highly-regarded artist – Alicia produced a series of oil paintings to remember the fate of her family. ‘Two Frightened Children’ recalls the brother who had been so close to her. ‘The Parting’remembers her family as they faced certain death in 1942. Alicia has an amazing memory and a wonderful way of describing her childhood. She remembers how as a little girl she would visit the homes of the Ukrainian farming folk near her home, and how the granny of the house always slept on a shelf above the stove for warmth – a special glimpse into the rural life of that time.
Two of Alicia’s paintings are now in the IWM’s collection, and her work has been used several times as the cover image of academic books on the Holocaust – including both volumes of Landscapes after Battle and Dan Stone of Royal Holloway’s Histories of the Holocaust.