May 22, 2014

By Ted Shealy, 41, Springfield, Holocaust educator

A little girl’s eyes reach out to me across an ocean of time. She looks peaceful, at ease, as she must have been when the female artist painted her portrait in her little village in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The painting inspired me as a child, and my mother before me.

The year is 1912. The world is very different. Kings and queens still rule nearly all of Europe, and Europe dominates the globe through its empires and colonies. The little girl is proud to be Austrian, though ethnically, she is Czech.

She is the daughter of a wealthy family. She is Jewish. She is my grandmother. And she is a Holocaust survivor.

Her portrait journeyed across the countryside to Vienna, where she met my grandfather in the early 1930s, as she pursued her professional dancing career as a young woman.

The portrait was hanging in their apartment when Gestapo agents with pistols came to take my grandfather to Dachau.

Now the painting of my grandmother, who with her quick thinking enabled some of her family to escape Nazi rule, hangs in our dining room. As I hold my young son up to give him a better look, his blue eyes gaze across a century into her brown eyes. And I say to him, This is the woman who saved your life and the lives of all her descendants — and when you are old enough, I will tell you her story.

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