An Artist’s Story: From War-Torn Krakow to the Hills of Binyamin

Everyday I work along side the people of Judea & Samaria. More specifically the engine behind the local economy – the small business owners.  My wife and I lead a marketing company which promotes more than 2000 businesses in Judea & Samaria. Everyday we are amazed by the drive and strength of these people. Personally, I get so much inspiration from them, it would be unjust not to share.

Here is a story about an artist, Greta Koznikov; From War Torn Krakow to the Hills of Binyamin.

images of her work found below…

Greta Koznikov was born in Krakow, Ukraine. At the age of eight months, when the Nazis invaded Russia, the family fled to Siberia. Only her grandfather, a Rabbi, stayed in the city. He believed that the Nazis would not behave as the Soviets did which was to close synagogues, Jewish institutions and to exile Jews to Siberia. Eventually the Nazis were the ones who killed him.

Greta has been painting ever since she can remember. She never wanted to play with other children. Instead she chose to sit inside her home and draw.

After the war Greta’s family returned to Krakow. The whole city was devastated, and painting equipment was scarce. Due to her father being an engineer, he was able to bring home paper to her. A supply which was not so accessible.

“Meet” Greta here:

Greta began to study at an art school for children. From the age of 14 she studied both art and the traditional curriculum. In 1964, ranking second in her class, Greta wanted advance her art studies at the local academy, but was told by the principle, to her face, that she could not be accepted because she was Jewish. Another such story happened later during an exhibition of her work. Visitors to the exhibition complained that Greta’s paintings must be depicting other countries because her works were of landscapes and not the standard portraits of Stalin or the Soviet flag. Even her father, a communist, claimed her paintings showed her as a traitor. Greta responded that she could not possibly paint something that did not come from her soul.

Greta realized that Ukraine was not the place she could develop her artistic talents. A good friend of hers advised her to return to Siberia. As her parents stayed in the Ukraine, Greta made her way back; the year was 1968.

Despite the infamous deep cold of Siberia, Greta managed to develop and enjoy her work. Lacking any awareness regarding the meaning of her Jewish identity, she married a local gentile, and the two had a daughter named Dvorah.

When Dvorah was 9 years old, doctors recommended they leave Siberia and so they returned to the deteriorating Ukraine for another 10 years. Although the country was crumbling around them, Greta’s father was an idealist and did not want to leave.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, by chance Greta’s father met a cousin in the city. This cousin was about to move to Israel. In Dvora’s excitement upon hearing this news, she managed to convince her grandfather that their family should move to Israel as well.

In the winter of 1991 the entire family moved to Israel. Greta, along with numerous other family members lived all together in a small apartment Jerusalem. This situation caused constant tension amongst the family.

Greta also found it difficult to learn Hebrew, being that she was 50 years old and had to study with much younger people. In coming to Israel she had hoped to experience an improvement in her life than that of the Ukraine. To her despair she felt things getting progressively worse. Greta fell into a deep depression. She felt that she did not want to continue to live. Then, one day, she met a woman in their community. She was arranging a tour group to a religious town in order to experience Shabbat. Greta agreed to join, and a few days later found herself traveling to the community of Shilo located in the Binyamin Region.

In Shilo, Greta suddenly came face to face with the actualization of all her hopes for life in Israel. She felt as if she were in a dream. She says: “People were smiling, speaking to us with respect. The families who hosted us did so with such warmth! The town streets were quiet and pleasant, as were the Shabbat prayers.. I remember the whole event as so magical. I have almost no words to describe it. I can only share that I walked streets so happy and excited- crying and laughing.  Anyone seeing me must have thought I was crazy! But I knew then- this was the promised land, this was the light I was looking for.

On the spot, Greta decided to move to Shilo. Following her coming to Shilo, her parents followed and the came her daughter. In Shilo and newly inspired, she sought to learn Hebrew as well as become more connected to Judaism. Within a year and a half her Hebrew was fluent and she was much more connected to Jewish life.

Greta continued to paint, and says: “In Ukraine, I painted on black pages; colors were very sparse and very expensive. Starting out as an artist in Israel, I went to the craft store for the first time and I thought I was dreaming: they had all the colors I had always wanted! Setting aside money for the bus, I used every last shekel to buy art supplies. At the start, white pages seemed so strange, too bright. I used to come home and painted them all black. How can you see color on black pages? You have to understand, my paintings express the place where I was – physically and mentally. My Ukraine works are tragic – reflecting the tragedy of life there: difficulty and sadness are the center of each painting. That explains the black pages. My Israel creations, however, are all happy and hopeful encompassing the Jewish state, Torah and soul. Today, I’m in a place where even when using a white page it’s impossible for me to express all the light of Israel.

Anyone who is familiar with Greta’s paintings, knows what she’s talking about. Her paintings are not just a way of expression, but rather a telling of her personal life story, and the story of every Jew – of the journey from darkness to light.

In her home in Shiloh, Greta gives private painting lessons, through which she tries, in her words, to “bring about the expression of the Jewish soul of every student.” She says: “Painting is a wonderful tool with which one can express one’s uniqueness, and with G-d’s help, the uniqueness of all the people of Israel. It’s only in this way that we will all merit true salvation, and merit seeing the true hidden light infused in the world.”

Together in Light Channuka in Jerusalem Priestly Blessing

Click HERE to view more of Greta’s Work.

About the Author
Gedaliah's life's focus, whether raising children or empowering small business owners, is to create new realities on the ground within Israel's Heartland. Director of the Bikurim, an "Economic Zionism" initiative, Gedaliah is attracting global support in order to take part in boosting the reestablishment of the Jewish people within their ancestral homeland.