When 12-year-old Frania (later Shulamit) was stepping off the ship from Poland after the two-week journey with her Aunt Leosia, her mother’s sister, and Uncle David Hofnung, she did not know what life would bring her in that January in 1950. She only knew there were oranges in Palestine (as they still called the fledgling State of Israel) and that she would live with her other uncle, her mother’s brother, on a kibbutz.
She heard that a kibbutz was like a poor village. It did not promise a joyful future. But it was what it was, and after the already complex and difficult past she’d had, she was open to the new experiences.
FRANIA (FRYDERYKA GODLEWICZ) was born in the Polish port city of Gdynia in 1937. She was the only child of Shlomo and Cypra. Her father had a store with bicycles and motorcycle parts. Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, they all fled to Warsaw; later on, they were forced to move to the Warsaw Ghetto with the rest of their relatives. Fortunately, using fake IDs under the new name Piasecki, they managed to escape to the Aryan side. For some time they were in hiding next to Warsaw. Frania was being taken care of by different people “who were paid as babysitters,” says Shulamit.
She was passed from hand to hand until Mrs. Katarzyna Domanska, a volunteer of the RGO (Rada Glówna Opiekuncza, the Central Welfare Council), took Frania to her home. Domanska was told she was going to take care of a child of a Polish political prisoner, but the moment she saw the little Frania with red hair and brown eyes, she knew she and her husband Marian were housing a Jewish child. They did not hesitate for a moment. Their daughter Lila, at that time 18 years old, treated Frania as her younger sister.
“We did not hide her, we raised her,” said Lila in 2012. In saving her life, they risked their own. In Poland there was a death penalty for helping Jews. Leokadia (Lila) Domanska was awarded the Righteous Among the Nations title in May 2012 for herself and on behalf of her parents.
Although they did not hide Frania – or Ania, as they used to call her – in a closet, they did have to hide the fact that she was Jewish. They dyed her red hair black and told her to always keep her head down, even when she was going with them to church for Sunday mass.
“I always knew I was different,” says Shulamit. “I did not belong there, and I was missing my parents.”
Mrs. Domanska told her only after the war that she was Jewish and that her parents were dead.
“Two horrible items of news at once. But I had to accept them both,” recalls Shulamit.
SOON AFTER the war, her uncle and aunt found her and adopted her. Together they made aliyah in 1950. As they arrived to Israel, Uncle David decided she should change her name to a Hebrew one.
“Fryderyka is like ‘frayda,’ happiness, in Hebrew Simcha. Simcha sounded like a boy’s name. The closest to happiness was peace – shalom, said my uncle, so he called me Shulamit.”
Shulamit Carmi, the elegant lady; the mother of three children and six grandchildren; retired art therapist (30 years at Harzfeld Hospital in Gedera as art instructor and art therapist); and talented artist with many exhibitions (individual and group) in her life seems to be so far from the little Frania who endured such a difficult childhood. But inside she is still this same red-haired person. The red hair she had to hide as a child came back strongly in her painting, especially in the last decade, when her art became very intensive in colors.
Shulamit first started to demonstrate her artistic talent at Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet in the North, where she lived from the ages of 12 to 21. After serving in the army she went to Jerusalem and passed entrance exams to the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design.
“The kibbutz upbringing was difficult, although it was good for me and for my future,” she says. “But I did not belong there.”
After four years of studies in Jerusalem, she continued her education at the Oranim Seminar with Marcel Yanco (1958); the Artists’ House with John Byle (1959); and at Beit Berl College, where she studied treatment and education through art (1960).
Apart from art, the thing that finally gave her the sense of belonging was starting her own family with a student of physics, Israel Carmi (this month they will celebrate 60 years of marriage). When he began work at the Weizmann Institute, they moved to Rehovot with their two sons, Irad and Hadoram. They lived there until they both retired and then moved to Tel Aviv, to his family house, built in 1922. Her husband is the seventh generation born in Israel in his family. Their apartment is like an art gallery. On the walls there are paintings by various artists, but mostly by Shulamit.
Her painting went through different phases. Her early works were influenced by Impressionists. Even the portraits of her husband and daughter Shmirit were painted in this style. Nowadays, she paints in a much more abstract manner (“People think it is abstract, but I have a concept behind each painting,” reveals the 83-year-old artist) with intensive acrylic colors. The styles have changed, but there are motifs in her paintings that are repetitive: movement, industrial development (her paintings and graphics could be a documentation of Israel’s development) and cats. Often those motifs get connected – for example, in a cat watching construction.
When asked why people don’t have faces in many of her paintings, Carmi answers, “Details don’t matter; the movement does.” Listening to her Holocaust stories, memories that are very blurred, one could think this is the reason for what we see in her paintings. Apart from portraits, no faces. But certainly that may be only an interpretation.
ALTHOUGH SHE is not famous, as she says herself, she often meets people who have bought her paintings and have them at home. She adds, “I have also worked as a graphic designer. I was doing posters, for example, for Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (JNF) and they are still at the Eretz Israel Museum.”
Shulamit Carmi is a very active person. You can often meet her on the streets of Tel Aviv’s Kerem Hateimanim neighborhood. She paints and studies Russian, and when her friends visit her and her husband, he plays piano and she sits next to him, assisting with turning pages of music.
Shulamit’s first language was Polish, not Yiddish, and she still speaks Polish fluently (the interview for this article was conducted in Polish). Yet despite that, Hebrew became her language and the State of Israel became the place she belongs. ■
Shulamit’s latest individual exhibition took place in 2017. Certainly there will be another one at some point. www.shulamitcarmi.com