Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Great-Uncle Isaak Rescued from the Holocaust

Isaak painting a familiar face

Isaak ploughing: art students had to plough on Sunday

My grandfather, Percy Zelikow, left Lithuania in the 30s to move to South Africa. He was able to escape the pogroms and the Holocaust. Many of his brothers and sisters were not so lucky. From the safety and prosperity of South Africa, he spent many years looking for family who might have survived the war. After he had moved to Ottawa, Canada, he discovered his nephew, Isaak, living in Chicago. Below is a minibiography of his nephew (copied from page.)

What this biography doesn't say is something that Isaak told me. Isaak and his sister escaped when some Allied soldiers who had to leave town in a hurry, held their hands out and told Isaak's parents to pass their two children up into their truck and they would take them to safety. Isaak never saw his parents again, but, due to this simple act by these soldiers, he did manage to survive the war.


A painting by Isaak of a street in Vilnius
Born in 1930 in Kaunas, Lithuania, Isaak Grazutis has a storied past worth noting as an antecedent to his paintings. In 1941, at the age of eleven, Isaak was forced to flee his native village in advance of Nazi occupation. After his parents were taken away by the invading forces, he was brought to live in an orphanage in Ural, and later, Moscow where he spent his formative years. During this time, he enrolled in art school at Moscow City Art College. In 1950, at the age of 20, Isaak returned to Lithuania for advanced study in the fine arts at Lithuania State Art Institute in Vilnius. After graduating with a Master of Arts Degree in Fine Art (1956), he was given the official assignment of traveling to Tadzhikistan. There, he painted in tribal villages surrounded by the vast mountain vistas. This experience of 'plein air' painting in such a unique environment would help Isaak to develop the signature impressionist style that typifies his landscape painting today. In 1957, he returned to Moscow and later to Lithuania where he worked as a graphic artist. Within a year after his return he was exhibiting his art in Moscow and also in Vilnius. By 1970, he had been granted membership in the prestigious Union of Soviet Artists. The subsequent unraveling of the Soviet system opened the door for emigration, and in 1979 Isaak made his way to the United States. Settling in the Chicago area, he landed a position as a graphic designer for the international publisher, Encyclopaedia Britannica Educational Corporation. In 1985, he left Britannica to pursue his interests in book design and oil painting. Isaak Grazutis' artwork is in private collections in Lithuania, Russia, Israel, Canada, and the United States. He is currently active as a fine artist, painting primarily in the medium of oil.

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