In the month of May the Benson Memorial Library is proudly displaying the poem “May 31, 1944,” by Isabella Leitner and illustrated by Gus Leiber in the Wentz Reading Room at the Benson Memorial Library. Many thanks to Lynn Cressman of the Titusville School District Board of Directors for arranging this for our library. I love it when public libraries are filled with art, and even more so when a small rural library like ours has a chance to bring a wonderful work by a internationally known artist to their community. Libraries are great connectors, and in this case we’re connecting our community to not only some great art but also to an important subject matter. I hope to do more of this kind of stuff for Titusville, PA while I’m the director here.
“May 29, 1944, the day after Isabella Katz’s twenty-third birthday, she, along with her family and all the Jews in the ghetto in Kisvarda, Hungary, were rounded up by the Nazis, loaded into rail cars, and transported to Auschwitz. Her mother and younger sister were immediately gassed upon arrival at the camp. Three of her siblings survived their days in Auschwitz by supporting each other with determination. Her father managed to get to the United States and tried to obtain visas for them. Eventually she was reunited with her father, who, although he had escaped the concentration camp, lived the remainder of his life feeling he had let his family down. Isabella used her experience to write two accounts, Fragments of Isabella and The Big Lie.
Titusville native Gus Leiber has, in his modern style, illustrated a poem by Isabella Leitner entitled “May 31, 1944,” which is the day she arrived in Auschwitz. This poem hits very close to home because Gus’s wife, Judy, a Hungarian, was at one time on the list to be sent to the concentration camps. Instead, a friend added Judy’s name, as well as her sister’s and mother’s names, to the schuss pass (travel pass). A teenager, Tommy Baroth, hunted until he found a typewriter whose font matched the type on the schuss pass. He carefully added “and family,” to Mr. Peto’s pass, saving the family from a horrible fate. Tom and his sister Agnes reside in New York City today.
Sadly, both Gus and Judy Leiber passed away Saturday, April 28th within six hours of each other. Their art and love will be missed by many. Read their obituary here.
The poem by Isabella Leitner, “May 31, 1944,” illustrated by Gus Leiber is on display from May 1 until May 31 in the Wentz Reading Room at Benson Memorial Library. The public is invited to visit the library to see this special exhibit.”
ABOUT Gerson “Gus” Leiber (1921-2018)
Gerson Leiber, of the Titusville High School Class of 1939, was a Modernist painter who resided in New York City with his wife, Judith. As a student in Titusville, he showed great artistic promise; however, WWII took him to Hungary, where he met his future wife, Judith Peto, who was a handbag master. Upon the conclusion of the war, they moved to New York City, where Gerson attended art school while Judith pursued the design and creation of handbags. She eventually founded Judith Leiber, Inc., creating exquisite handbags, ranging from alligator leather bags to dazzling beaded clutches.
Mr. Leiber has exhibited in over 300 national and international exhibitions as well as 20 one-man exhibitions. He is past president of the Society of American Graphic Artists and a member of the Audubon Artists, the National Academy of Design and the Art Student’s League. He is also the recipient of many awards, including Tiffany Fellowships in 1957 and 1960.
Several years ago, Mr. Leiber donated a considerable number of his art books to the Titusville High School library for student use, furnishing the library with a fine collection. He followed with a piece of his own entitled The Smoking Man, as well as high quality prints of the work of Rembrandt and Albrecht Dürer, and a Picasso portfolio. He went on to purchase a collection of Japanese prints by artists Kunisada and Hiroshi for study and display at THS. He has also donated beautiful collections of Persian miniatures and French prints of various subjects.
Currently we have approximately fourteen different collections by different artists. We hope to use this artwork to help educate students and give the entire community a chance to experience very different types of artwork. Both Gus and Judy Leiber passed away on Saturday, April 28th, 2018. For all of the Leibers’ contributions we are deeply and sincerely grateful.
Read more about The Leiber Museum here
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