'Creating Beauty from the Abyss': Christian writes book on Holocaust

Book review: "A riveting memoir that should be required reading for this generation."

 The entrance of Auschwitz-Birkenau (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
The entrance of Auschwitz-Birkenau
(photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)

It has long been my conviction that everybody should read at least a couple of books on the Holocaust to understand the depths of human depravity, to understand the sufferings of the Jewish people and also the consequences of the insidious loss of human freedoms. 

Creating Beauty from the Abyss is a riveting memoir that should be required reading for this generation. It is a biography of Auschwitz survivor and Israeli artist Sam Herciger, with each chapter of one man’s story set within the context of brilliantly researched historic narrative. 

The book traces the journey of an aspiring young artist who embarks on a passionate quest to find artistic freedom during the danger-filled period of Nazi hegemony in Europe. Herciger’s life is caught up in some of the most dramatic events of the 20th Century.

It’s remarkable that Lesley Ann Richardson, an Australian now living in Canada who worked with Christian organizations in Israel for two decades, has penned this monumental volume on the Holocaust. 

The book grew out of a friendship in Jerusalem between Richardson and Herciger’s daughter Annabelle who had translated her father’s notes into English. Annabelle asked Richardson if she would be willing to turn the notes into a book. 

“I considered it a very great honor indeed,” Richardson remarked, “that Annabelle - as a Jewish woman, and indeed, herself a rabbi (rabbanit) - should ask me to do so.”

The gripping tale of an artist describes the heroic spirit of Holocaust survivors and the supernatural strength often imparted in the direst circumstances. 

The 491-page book is to be published by Amsterdam Publishers on April 28, on Yom HaShoah this year.

“I feel that Sam's story is especially relevant in the perilous times in which we are presently living,” Richardson said. “Sam's adventures at one point took him to Tarnopol (another jail!). It was then in Poland, but now is part of Ukraine. It is an area which American historian Timothy Snyder later called “the Bloodlands” because of the vast loss of life in the area during the years leading up to the war and in the war itself.” 

Time after time, as a young teenager and then into his married life, Herciger was persecuted for simply being a member of the Jewish race. 

He was incarcerated many times before the war and during World War II. But the most horrendous ordeals he endured were Nazi concentration camps and Nazi death marches. 

 From where did Herciger receive the will and the strength to keep living when he was reduced through starvation and hard labor to only 35 kilos? 

Particularly inspiring is a central theme of the power of positive words. 

From time to time, he had remembered a chance encounter with a stranger in his youth, somebody who looked like a biblical prophet and whom he referred to as “the Prophet,” whom he met on the banks of the Vistula River in Poland. 

The Prophet spoke words of life and had predicted a future for Herciger, telling him that he would become exactly what he wanted to be. This mysterious man would reappear in many of Herciger’s later works of art. 

Creating Beauty from the Abyss is a triumph of the human spirit and a testament to the endurance of God’s covenant to His people. 

Not only did Herciger survive the infernal ordeal of the suffocating train to Auschwitz and having his wife brutally torn from his side upon arrival, never to see her sweet face again, his second wife also died an excruciating death from multiple sclerosis. 

Herciger and his third wife, Edith, emigrated to Israel in 1969 and established an artist’s colony in the Negev, drawing many thousands of visitors and where he worked until his death in 1981. 

We need these Holocaust survivor stories to illustrate the power to overcome the depths of evil and to remind us not to cling very tightly to this world, for throughout the narrative there is a Higher Power reminding us of the world to come. 
Richardson has painstakingly given us a monumental work of historic fact and power.

Amazon link to pre-order the memoir.

The book is also available to be read online for a brief period.

Christine Darg is the founder of the Jerusalem Channel.