Every night before Dr. Martin Kieselstein falls asleep, he conjures up an image
of his mother from the deep recesses of his mind. He imagines her dressed in
white, sitting on her bed and praying out of her worn prayer book.
I can’t forget,” says Kieselstein, 86, a Holocaust survivor, speaking in his
home in the Beit Hakerem neighborhood of Jerusalem. Though the retired
doctor-turned-artist says he does not know how to pray, he talks to God each
night, expressing his still fresh anger that the Nazis murdered his mother and
sister among the six million, and admits that he does not understand and doesn’t
event want to know the exact circumstances of their deaths.
As for the
prayer book, Kieselstein returned to his childhood home after surviving the war
and found it strewn on the floor. Today he cherishes the precious possession of
his mother’s and intends to incorporate a page from it, as well as a photo of
his mother and a photo of his sister into a sculpture he is working
“I am two people,” he says. “One who lives, raises a family, and one
who lives in his past.”
Kieselstein is among 62 artists displaying their
work in the Muse exhibition, which opened last month and runs through December,
at the outdoor Alrov Mamilla Avenue. Kieselstein’s elegantly sculpted bronze
piece entitled Musicians in Auschwitz
recalls the gaunt musicians who played for
the prisoners on their way to work each morning and entertained the German
soldiers with song in the evenings. Kieselstein’s sadly sweet drummer,
clarinetist and violinist play with vacant expression, frozen in time and for no
“I don’t know why exactly they did it,” he says of the band.
“This remains in my head.”
A husband, father of two sons and grandfather
of six, Kieselstein says his glass, wood and bronze sculptures are rooted in the
cruelty he witnessed. They express an unwavering desire to preserve and honor
the memory of his family and all the Jewish lives lost in the Holocaust. He says
he works in glass as an ode to his father, who worked with the material in his
Kieselstein, who lives with his wife, Eva, in the Ahuzat Beit
Hakerem retirement residence, works largely in a studio at the facility, where
he also teaches other residents how to sculpt and work with glass.
studio stand some of Kieselstein’s poignant glass sculptures, many brilliantly
colored. Scenes of mothers and children standing before the crematorium; Josef
Mengele, the so-called Angel of Death doctor in Auschwitz leading selection; men
crying out in fiery agony; and fathers carrying their young sons are featured
among his pieces.
He recalls with horror the soap he used in Auschwitz in
a sculpture that depicts people being churned through a yellow machine to turn
them into soap.
Born in Romania in 1925, Kieselstein was an active member
of the Zionist youth movement Shomer Hatzair before the war. He says he intended
to make aliya, but he and his family were deported to Auschwitz in
Kieselstein attributes his survival to luck – he could speak
German, was young and friendly, and won a potato-peeling contest against other
kids, securing him a spot in the kitchen cooking for the German
After the war he returned to Romania, where he studied
medicine, completing his degree in 1952. He made aliya in 1959, seven years
after his father. In Israel Kieselstein took a position at Kronim hospital as a
geriatric doctor so he could be by his father’s side every day after he suffered
a stroke. Kieselstein served at Kronim for 30 years, and in 1996 was honored
with the Worthy Citizen of Jerusalem award by former mayor Teddy Kollek for his
extraordinary service to his elderly patients.
“I did things in the
hospital that no other doctor did,” Kieselstein says, such as bringing
chocolates, flowers and art supplies to patients, helping them stay warm during
the winter by bringing them down to the bottom-floor synagogue where the heat
worked well, and significantly increasing their physical and creative
Kieselstein’s wife recalls one patient who would never speak to
She had wanted to be an artist. Kieselstein gathered flowers for
her on his way to the hospital, and she began to paint them.
to paint flowers, and it returned her to life,” says Eva.
Kieselstein himself turned into an accomplished artist. “I’m a doctor, I’m not a
sculptor,” he says. “But suddenly a new path to art
Through sculpture, Kieselstein found an avenue for freezing his
memories and conveying truth. “I learned the suffering of people,” he
Kieselstein has exhibited widely in Israel and abroad, in countries such as Germany, Spain and Hungary. He says he has Muse exhibition curator Tzipi Vital largely to thank for making him an artist. “Tzipi actually raised me from being a simple man to an artist,” he says.
All 120 works featured in Muse, including drums, bells, wind, string and percussion instruments, relate to music and motion and are made from stone or bronze. Other Israeli sculptors featured in the exhibition include Roth Golan, Betty Moller and Reuven Scharf.