“In the very first days of the Ghetto, Esther Lurie set herself a wide-ranging aim: to preserve for posterity, by means of artistic drawings, the scenes and human types in the Ghetto, which are of value for Jewish history.” Avraham Tory, Surviving the Holocaust. The Kovno Ghetto Diary,
Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachussetts-London, England, 1990, p. 437.
Born in Liepaja, Russian Empire, in 1913. Died in Tel Aviv, Israel, in 1998.
Studied art in Belgium. In 1934, she immigrated to Israel, where she was active as an artist. In 1938, she was awarded the Dizengoff Prize for Painting. The following year, she returned to Belgium to further her studies. That summer, she traveled to Latvia and Lithuania to visit relatives. In June 1941, she was caught by the German occupation while visiting her sister in Kovno, and was deported to the ghetto. There, under orders from the Germans, Lurie began painting landscapes and portraits. At the request of the Ältestenrat, she documented ghetto scenes. To this end she formed a group of artists, among which Josef Schlesinger, Jacob Lifschitz and Ben Zion Schmidt. This activity began in the autumn of 1942 and continued until the ghetto was liquidated, in the summer of 1944.
In July of 1944, Lurie was transported from the Kovno Ghetto to the Stutthof Concentration Camp in Germany, and from there to the Leibitsch Camp, where she was assigned to write numbers on cloth strips. After her liberation, she reached Italy, whence she returned to Israel in July 1945. She married and had two children.
The portraits displayed in the exhibition were drawn at the request of the Ältestenrat in order to document the officials in the Kovno Ghetto. As part of the Ältestenrat's efforts to safeguard the artworks, they were hidden in pottery vases in October 1943, and thus many of her works survived. After the war, the drawings were discovered and later donated to Yad Vashem by Avraham Tory, who had served as secretary of the Ältestenrat.
While in the Stutthof Camp, the artist managed to obtain scraps of paper and a pencil from one of the secretaries. One of the Jewish doctors collected the wrapping paper from packages of cotton-wool for Lurie to draw on. She drew the portraits of the female prisoners in secret.
Yad Vashem holds 35 of Lurie’s portraits in its collection.