Swiss Misses

Laura Noernberg Zizka needs an atlas to map out her life.

The 1993 graduate lives in Lausanne, Switzerland, a city of 250,000 that overlooks Lake Geneva—and sits a world away from Xavier University. But it was her time at Xavier that first gave Zizka a taste of life abroad and set her on an international course that has taken her around the world in the last 10 years. As a senior, Zizka earned a full scholarship to study in France and immediately fell in love.

“I knew I’d found my place in Europe,” she says. “I came back to the States for a few months, but I couldn’t stay.”

Moving to Lausanne, she took a job as an au pair during the day, studying French at night and traveling across Europe with German and Norwegian friends on the weekends. She met her husband, David, in 1994 during a Lausanne city festival, marrying him twice—first in a civil service in Jamaica, then in a Catholic ceremony in Spain. The couple soon found themselves in Prague, with David’s job, and then across the Atlantic Ocean to Chicago.

The call of Europe remained strong, however. After the birth of their son Daniel, the Zizkas returned to Switzerland. There, Laura worked for a finishing school in which, among other things, students learn which forks to use and how to seat diplomats. Two years later she found her current position as a teacher of communications and writing at L’Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne (Lausanne Hotel School), one of the world’s top schools for those entering the hotel industry.

Now 10 years removed from her undergraduate days, Zizka looks back with a sense of wonder.

“If I had written the story of a life, this is exactly the way I would have written it,” she says. “It’s been amazing.”

Letters to the Editor

Making Improvements
I believe that this letter is long overdue, but I feel that I must not keep my disappointment in Xavier magazine silent. After all, how else can one improve oneself? First of all, I was dismayed several months ago to see a feature on [Hamilton County, Ohio] Sheriff Simon Leis [“An Army of One,” Spring 2003]. As a Cincinnatian of 20 years, I am well aware of Si Leis as a public official who frivolously spends taxpayers’ money and widely discriminates against individuals both inside and outside of his own department. I am slightly ashamed to see the name of Xavier University, an institution committed to the Jesuit ideals of St. Ignatius of Loyola, attached to Sheriff Leis.

Secondly, I was disappointed when I read the article concerning President Graham’s visit to Managua, Nicaragua. As a student who studied in Nicaragua this past semester and spent much of the week with Fr. Graham, I am dismayed at the inaccuracies in this article, including misspellings and incorrectly named service sites. Were any of the actual students ever contacted for information or interviews?

My next criticism is purely a personal opinion, but I thought it would have been nice to see the article shed a little more light on the students, who spent not only that week, but the other three months in Nicaragua. This is a program that I feel fully embodies the ideals of Xavier University, a Jesuit institution (see the University’s mission statement, the new academic vision statement, and Fr. Kolvenbach’s speech at Santa Clara University in 2000, a founding document of this University, as appointed by President Graham).

As a student who cares deeply about Xavier University, I welcome any comments and correspondence. Thank you for your time, and I will continue to read, anxious for articles discussing issues that are happening on campus.
John Lavelle
Class of 2005

Common Knowledge
Having just finished Greg Schaber’s fine article on “cheating” [“Beating Cheating,” Fall 2002] by students, (I began to say college students but these remarks may apply equally in secondary school) I am moved to comment. The article is very justifiably distressed about plagiarism in papers by students. But a basic problem is not addressed at all, or even recognized. That problem is how much original research can be done by students? In some fields—physical sciences, marketing, psychology, perhaps even chemistry or physics—such research may be possible, although often not very sophisticated. Even in some areas of social science, original research is possible but likely to be sophomoric (or disdained) and not really what the teacher wants. In some other heavily literary fields—history, literature or classics—it is going to be extremely difficult; so demanding of student sophistication to be beyond most students’ courage. I trust they may have the imagination and abilities but do they have the self confidence to stand the criticism? Only a very few can successfully pull it off.

Classic research by many students will be so full of quotation marks and references to literature and sources, it will be nigh unreadable. (Always there is the genius, but how much “scholarly” research is truly readable unless it only skimpily admits whose original ideas the writer is elaborating upon?)

Exams are a different matter—it is what the student knows. He or she doesn’t have to give credit. He can say 4+2=6 without giving a citation to [who] first “published” the concept. Education and scholarly endeavor are closely related but not identical. This is a pedagogical problem with which only students and academics have to deal. Outside the academy, knowledge is the problem and plagiarism is for patent lawyers. A college must deal with the question—but its alumni magazine comments have to recognize that originators are entitled to credit and where monetary rewards are involved. But “knowledge” is common property. Intellectuals are not tradesmen. Once known, something is known. What are Plato’s royalties?
Ed Auchter
Class of 1957

New ideas?
Regarding John Feister’s article [“Branching Out,” Spring 2003], he remarks: “In past eras, attendance at Mass was mandatory. Today, Mass is voluntary—and more widely attended.” Granted, Feister holds master’s degrees in humanities and theology from Xavier, but this doesn’t give him authority to change dogma of the Catholic Church. Where “in God’s name” did he ever get this idea, and why wasn’t it caught before it was allowed to appear in your magazine? Please, please tell me that Xavier doesn’t teach this falsehood. Even Catholic elementary schools know better. Feister also says that “the weakest theology we taught was in the period of 1940-1960. It was all too frequently catechism instruction with more notes.” May I say it was through the catechism that children learned “and memorized” what we Catholics need to know about our religion? It is now, the present time, that many Catholics don’t know what the heck their religion teaches, as is proven by Feister’s article. [And] on the cover of your magazine [it states], “While adapting to new ages, Xavier still holds true to its Jesuit mission, keeping the faith.” Are you saying that it is the Jesuits and not the Pope who constitute Catholic dogma? When did you take over? I wasn’t aware of it.
Mary Ann Scheel
Political Education
Regarding “Education of a Republican” [Winter 2003], the article reinforced my belief that a Xavier education only produces right-wing politicians. Whether it is [John] Boehner, [Jim] Bunning or [Ken] Blackwell, they all represent a group of Xavier-educated politicians whose primary concern is to protect the rich and ignore the poor. Recently, both Boehner and Bunning supported legislation that gave huge tax breaks to the wealthy and no help to the poor. They also both supported the Iraq war which led to the deaths of many innocent people. Ever since I read the article on Boehner, I have been trying to figure out why Xavier produces such extremist politicians. Then Xavier magazine glorifies them. Could it be that the vaunted Jesuit education fails to produce students and politicians with a social conscience?
Bob Breving
Class of 1965

Indecent Coverage
Recently a friend loaned me a copy of Xavier magazine, Spring 2003. You publish a professional, top quality magazine, in some respects. I would like to comment, however, on some negative aspects of this issue. I was appalled at seeing the cover. I hope it does not reflect the views of the entire Xavier community, as your masthead declares. At first glance, one would think this was just another “tabloid-type” magazine. Using the chest of a female to show the crucifix is in poor taste. Why not on a young man or a young couple? Your art director designed this image to draw attention downward to the open shirt of a young woman. I find this to be shocking, appalling, provocative and, frankly, very disheartening.

In one article in the magazine, it states that the priests on campus today do not wear any clerical garb and cannot be distinguished from anyone else—leaving the impression that this is a good trend. But then we are to admire the wearing of a crucifix by a young woman. There is a double standard here. Wearing a crucifix to remind ourselves of our salvation is a good thing. I personally would like to see priests showing some such identification. But if priests do not want to identify themselves as priests, why do you admire a woman who does? Let us not be naive. The manner in which that cross is worn is not for religious purposes. If it were, it would have been done in a more modest manner.

One of the magazine’s articles speaks of having to be “engaged in contemporary culture” to spread the Gospel, but that does not mean joining into or approving all that the secular society does. We certainly need our Catholic universities, and I appreciate much of the work you do to keep the Catholic faith alive, but we, as Catholics, must lead the way to what is moral, right, just and tasteful, and discard what is not. It means we must be very discriminating about how we choose to adapt to popular culture, and to have the courage to just say “no” when warranted.

In the article “Branching Out,” you speak about the Catholic identity of Xavier University as having “taken themselves in new directions, but beneath the surface they’re still rooted in the Catholic tradition.” New directions—yes, but why is our Catholic identity a “beneath the surface” matter? Evangelizing calls for us to make our faith open and inviting to others, not vague and secretive.

On page 27, the caption under the photo is misleading. It reads, “In past eras, attendance at Mass was mandatory. Today, mass is voluntary and more widely attended.” Was the author referring to Sunday Mass or daily Mass? That should have been made clear in the caption. We as Catholics still see attendance at Mass on Sunday with our communities as an obligation for observing the Sabbath. And could it be that Mass attendance is up due to greater participation by the laity, for the Mass being in English, as a result of the terrorist attack of September 11 or the war in Iraq? Many things contribute to the result of greater attendance.

Again, I wish to state that I think your cover is in very bad taste, and I hope your editors will be careful in the future as to how you depict living our faith. Thank you for your attention to my letter. God bless the good work that is being done at Xavier University.
Mary A. Schilling
South Bend, Ind.

Words of Praise
Words of praise necessarily fall short of a desired goal as this note of praise comes to all of you from this grad (M.A. ’55) for your Summer issue 2003 (Xavier magazine). Diversified and well-written content within professional design/layout combined are superb!

Of special poignancy to me as a (St. Xavier High School) grad of ’44 and associate of Frs. Ed Bradley, Bill Topmoeller and Ted Thepe during the 40’s and early 50’s was the sensitive portrayal of Ed’s life and death. Words of praise here are by no means intended to detract even the slightest from excellence in any of the remaining content.

I marvel at how you people accomplish your task—each edition seems to outdo the quality of the previous one. Keep up the good work!
Sincerely,
Fr. John Donnelly

Honorable Endeavor

The University is enhancing its 50-year tradition of honors offerings—and raising its academic profile in the process. In February, it added a third honors program called Philosophy, Politics and the Public that is expected to add to the University’s academic reputation by offering a course of study unavailable at any other institution.

“It’s the only one in the world,” says E. Paul Colella, director of the new program. “Programs in public policy abound. But what makes this new program so unique and so intriguing is the third element: The public. It’s the arena in which human individuals can stretch themselves to become something more.”

It also stands out because it incorporates the traditional Jesuit teachings—theology, philosophy and ethics—required of all Xavier students.

Inspired by similar programs at Oxford, Yale and Penn, the program weaves the study of the public into all required courses.

“The program came about because of the dialogue we’ve had over the years concerning Xavier’s strategic role in community building and the way that role intersects with Xavier’s tradition for academic strength and rigor,” says President Michael J. Graham, S.J.

It’s the newest honors program in 30 years, and its students receive $3,500 toward summer study abroad.

He’s Going Back, Way Back…

Tom Fesolowich is setting baseball back 140 years. The 1989 graduate is captain of the New York Mutuals, a vintage “base ball” club that plays the game the way it was played when it was spelled as two words. They use replicas of original equipment, wear replica uniforms and play by authentic rules, which means no gloves, he says. Each summer, the Mutuals take to the road for a little barnstorming. Last year’s trip saw them go undefeated against teams from Philadelphia, Boston, Louisville, Chicago, St. Louis, Akron, Ohio, and Cincinnati.

Happiness Times Four

Tracee Leugers recently dropped out of the University just four classes shy of earning her M.B.A. But she has four very good reasons for doing so. Their names are Brennan, Gavin, Rowan and Morgan. Leugers is expecting quadruplets and, having already taken her statistics courses, realized the odds of doing her homework while changing four sets of diapers, feeding four hungry tummies and wiping four sets of teary eyes weren’t very good. “I can’t imagine doing it with four newborns,” she says. She’ll probably return at some point. Just don’t look for her anytime soon.

Following Father Finn

Benjamin Krause understands that education is about more than books. And it’s because of this understanding—and his willingness to share it—that Krause received the Francis J. Finn, S.J., Award at Honors Day. Marie Giblin, an associate professor of theology who nominated Krause for the award, says he’s “taken advantage of all the things that Xavier offers” and put them to work via such activities as the Xavier Votes campaign and missions to Central America. “He’s built a sense of responsibility,” she says. “He realizes we’re not just individuals, we have to work to make communities.”

Blessed are the Businesses

Don Waldy wants to put spiritual principles to work—and change the way America does business. So the 1970 graduate put his plan on paper, and the result was Veritas: A Gospel of Commerce and Spirituality. The Beatitudes of Business, a book about building business practices on ethical and spiritual ideals. The idea grew out of a reawakening he had eight years ago while volunteering at a hospice. “I realized that a healer has to heal the soul first,” he says. “That created an appetite for exploring spirituality and trying to integrate it into all facets of life.” A retired executive at American Airlines and The New York Times, Waldy wrote the book to challenge the traditional roles of religion, politics and business. “We’re just trying to open people’s thinking by dealing with topics that haven’t really been put together.”

West Word

Is David West the best basketball player to attend the University? We posed that question a year ago in Xavier magazine. The debate about “best” will continue, but as he wraps up his career at Xavier, we found a few other words to describe the University’s first national player of the year.

Well Armed | “West is a big-time player. He’s got those long arms, good timing and anticipates well,” says Dick Vitale of CBS Sports.

Unstoppable | “You can’t stop him. He’s just too good,” says CBS announcer Digger Phelps.

Tough | “The first adjective I’d give him is ‘tough,’ ” says Marquette coach Tom Crean.

Patient | “The kid has a great sense of how to play this game. And he’s patient. That’s an aspect of his game that people don’t realize,” says Temple University coach John Chaney.

Handy | He can squeeze a ruler between his thumb and pinky finger – lengthwise.

The Last 30 | The University retired West’s number 30 jersey on Senior Day.

A Billboard | “[David West is] a walking, talking billboard for what’s good about quasi-amateur athletics,” says Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty. “David West is whom coaches are talking about—or should be—when they tell you one of their players is a ‘good kid.’ ”

Marketable | This year, the University put his name or likeness on key chains, bobblehead dolls, notebooks and posters.

Smart | West graduated early, completing his bachelor’s degree in communications in December. He was given his diploma at a presentation before a game in March.

Rich | West currently drives a 1998 Intrigue with 70,000 miles on it. That will soon change. The average National Basketball Association player salary is more than $4 million per year.

Accomplished | West: • Holds the University record for blocked shots. • Ranks second in scoring. • Ranks third in rebounding. • Ranks first in free throws and attempts. • Is the only Xavier player besides Tyrone Hill to score 2,000 points and grab 1,000 rebounds. • Started all 126 games in his career. • Won the Atlantic 10 player of the year for the third time, the first player ever to do so. • Averaged a double-double this season with 20.4 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. • Tallied 68 career double-doubles. • Ranks in the top five in the A-10 in career scoring, rebounding, blocks, field goal percentage and free-throw percentage. • Won the Oscar Robertson Trophy as player of the year by the United States Basketball Writers Association. • Won the Rupp Trophy as the Associated Press player of the year. • Won the Senior CLASS Award as the top senior player in the nation. • Won the Pete Newell Big Man Award from the national association of basketball coaches. • Won the Basketball Times player of the year.

Goodwill Hunter

Mary Schoen clicks the control on her slide projector and a new slide drops into place. “These are going to be a little darker,” she says, rising to close a set of vertical blinds against the soft, early spring sunshine. In the new shadows, a vague image emerges on the light-blue wall—blasted concrete and twisted, steel reinforcement rods, all that’s left of Baghdad’s Ameriya bomb shelter.

Iraqi officials claim 408 people died there when the shelter was hit during the 1991 Gulf War. The government turned the shelter into a museum, lining its walls with shots of the charred human shapes pulled out in the aftermath. Some of the victims remain in the shelter in the form of three-dimensional stains, literally incinerated into the floor.

“This is what war looks like,” she says. “My whole life’s purpose is to put a face on this.” The faces of war are ones Schoen knows well. The tiny, dark-haired, 48-year-old has seen many of them in the 19 years since she first committed herself to serving others by traveling internationally to document human rights abuses and to put faces on a faceless world. Like many University alumni who volunteer  for service and mission programs, she found motivation in the desire to help people.

Passionate, determined and feisty, with a seemingly indomitable will and energy to match, Schoen has followed that calling to Central American jungles and desolate Palestinian refugee camps. She knows something of Iraq as well: She made two trips to Baghdad early this year, the most recent ending early on March 17, just before President George Bush drew his final line in the sand against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The combined impact of these experiences has led her to lead a life educating those who will listen about the devastation of war. But it has also given her an intimate perspective on the ever-shrinking world and the people who live in it.

“We’ve got to learn to respect people,” she says. “We’ve got to realize we’re one human family.”

The projector clicks again and again, and the images segue from the grim remains of the dead to the sometimes hopeful, often resigned faces of the living. Schoen first traveled to Iraq in January despite facing U.N. sanctions. She spent three weeks in Baghdad and the surrounding countryside as part of a peace team assembled by Voices in the Wilderness, a Chicago-based activist organization that’s had a presence in Iraq since 1996. In the markets, cafés and mosques, she got a firsthand look at life under Hussein. Her impressions of the capital—once one of the most Westernized in the region, she says—are vivid.

The sanctions did not hurt Saddam Hussein, she says, or  others in the upper class, who still maintained the majority of the wealth. While the poor had nothing to lose to begin with, it was the Iraqi well-educated and once prosperous middle class that bore the brunt of sanctions, disintegrating into abject poverty. Many were forced to sell virtually all of their possessions and work long hours at menial jobs to support their families. In one instance, Schoen hailed a cab driven by a physicist. He was one of the lucky ones. The overall unemployment rate hovered around 70 percent, with about the same percentage of the population dependent upon government rations.

There were hints, she says, that many Iraqis didn’t like Hussein, whose human rights atrocities are well-documented—gassing his own people, torture chambers, mass graves. Still, she says, many of the people she talked to preferred an Iraqi leader of any kind to Western occupation and influence. They also shared the view held by many in the Middle East that American actions were really an effort to seize oil, gain a strategic position in the region and attack Islam.

Despite those sentiments, Schoen says she felt welcome in Baghdad. “It kind of dumbfounded me,” she says. “But in the Middle East in general they’ve never had a representative government. So they really separate governments and people. They say ‘Well, your government’s one thing and you’re another.’ ”

Externally, Schoen’s activities took her all over Baghdad, to Karbala, which is southwest of the capital, and even on a flight through the no-fly zone to Basra. Internally, among the activists, she played several roles.

“She quickly proved herself to be the best facilitator in the group,” says Bret Davis, an Indiana activist present during Schoen’s first visit. “We really relied on her to keep our decision-making processes in motion. And she’s a lot of fun. Being in a war zone, it’s really important to laugh and try to have as much fun as possible to maintain your sanity. She was always a spark in the group—telling jokes or stories.”

It’s not hard to imagine Schoen telling stories in a Baghdad hotel. She’s a good storyteller. And today, as she clicks the projector from slide to slide, she recounts the story of each face—the young widow, the poet, the children in cancer wards, the young boy and his even-younger sister who asked for food and then insisted on sharing. By the time of her second visit to Baghdad in March, war was drawing nearer and the faces had changed. People were more somber and there was more begging on the streets.

Predictably, her efforts have won her admirers as well as detractors. Benjamin Urmston, S.J., director of the University’s peace and justice programs, places her among the foremost social and peace activists he’s met in terms of courage, determination and persistence. Rosie Miller, a member of the University’s theology faculty and a longtime Schoen friend, says she “in some ways embodies the Jesuit tradition, which embodies the gospel.”

In her philosophy, fear—both personal and between peoples—exists only to be removed. And she’s convinced that fear lies at the heart of much of the misunderstanding in the world, and that diplomacy, not war, is the answer.

The journey to this view—pockmarked as it is with detours into the worlds of death squads and bomb craters—began in Escanaba, Mich., where Schoen was raised in a “moderately strong Catholic tradition.” Interested in world issues from childhood, she majored in sociology at Western Michigan University with an eye toward making a difference. After graduating in 1976, she took a job as a social worker at an Episcopal community in inner-city Detroit.

“My life as I remember it kind of snowballed after I got out of college,” she says, “and it never stopped.”

Schoen’s snowball gained momentum in 1983 when she moved to Cincinnati to join the New Jerusalem Community, a lay Catholic group. She eventually took a job with a social services agency, but other forces soon altered her direction. The 1980s were a time of upheaval in Central America, and the New Jerusalem community became involved with the flood of refugees entering the United States.

“At one point, one of the refugees challenged me to go to Central America and really see what was going on,” Schoen recalls. That was all it took. Schoen packed a few belongings and headed for Nicaragua, which at that time was in the throes of U.S.-backed war and sanctions.

When she returned to Cincinnati and her job at the agency, her outlook was irrevocably changed.

“I sat at my desk for five days and could not make peace with what I saw in Nicaragua. On the fifth day, I resigned and asked the community if they would send me back to Central America.”

Her approach soon shifted from observer to activist, and her motivation from merely seeing to effecting large-scale change.

“Her intent is to bring about a change of consciousness,” Miller says. “That can happen at both the personal level and systematic level. I think she’s after both of those levels.”

Schoen eventually spent four years in Central America—a year studying languages in Guatemala, another year in Honduras where she worked with Catholic Relief Services in a refugee camp for Salvadorans, and finally back to Nicaragua to document what was happening there. Indeed, she made so many trips that the chronology is murky even to her. “There was one day when I woke up in the dark and couldn’t remember where I was,” she says.

She made periodic trips back to the States to speak, give slide presentations and tell stories about people. Ironically, she found that these trips often left her depressed. With all of the material distractions here, she found many Americans becoming complacent, especially when compared to the daily life-and-death realities of Central America. In one particularly memorable instance, Schoen was staying by herself in a house in Bocana de Paiwas when Contras attacked the tiny village. One family, aware that she was alone, sent two of their children to keep her company. She says such acts of thoughtfulness were common.

“It was all very humbling,” she recalls. “That’s where I really learned what Christianity was really about—what the authentic gospel message is, which is love one another, love God, take care of one another, watch over one another. In Central America, they didn’t have an option to have faith. God wasn’t optional because they had nothing else to hold onto.

“Sometimes they ended up comforting us because we would be despairing. But in some ways, those were the best years of my life because I didn’t have the trimmings of the U.S. culture. I traveled with a backpack packed with a journal, a Bible, a book, a change of clothes, a camera and a tape recorder. It was wonderful.”

Not everyone, of course, agrees with Schoen’s political perspectives or views on foreign policy. Her actions, though, are admirable, and they’ve captured the attention of a number of people, including Urmston, who brought the young activist to speak at the University and eventually hired her as the associate director of the peace and justice programs. His view of her has remained constant over the years.

“Sometimes people think if you’re working for peace, you’re kind of passive, you’re kind of meek, you’re letting people walk all over you,” he says. “Well, nobody every walked all over Mary. And she’s a spiritual person, too. She has, I think, a deep faith and deep spiritual roots. There’s depth to her commitment.”

Schoen spent two years with the peace and justice programs, during which she made a trip to Israel to monitor the effects of the Gulf War on the Palestinian situation. In 1993, she transferred to campus ministry. In an ironic twist, it was around this time, ostensibly safe on American soil, that she suffered her own personal atrocity, being raped in her Norwood apartment. In the moments following the assault, however, Schoen pulled herself together, called the police and enlisted a neighbor to help run down her attacker.

“I caught him,” she says. “Just as we were cornering him, the police pulled up.”

Drawing on her faith, her natural spunk and the lessons of the Central Americans, Schoen “refused to let anything like that have a negative impact on my life, and it didn’t. It actually strengthened who I was. It gave me a lot more resolve, made me a little feistier.”

After completing a master’s degree in theology at the University in 1995, Schoen resigned to start her own business in holistic health and spirituality. But within several months she faced another challenge: doctors discovered a brain tumor. She ultimately chose medication over surgery, and after a period of adjustment, spent the next six years building clientele for her company, now known as The Creative Breath Institute. Last year, she even took the giant step of buying a condominium.

“It was hard,” she says. “I’ve never owned anything.” But just as life was settling into a pattern, the shadow of war arose in the Middle East, and Schoen felt a familiar call. Late in the year she hooked up with a Voices in the Wilderness peace team, which was monitoring the effects of sanctions on the Iraqi people.

“I don’t believe anything I hear about most places—I go,” she says. “I didn’t know much about Iraq. So I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to go see for myself what’s going on.’ ”

Eventually the clicking ceases, and the slide carousel stops turning—at least for this morning. Since returning to the States, the slides and the stories they tell have commanded much of Schoen’s time. She’s juggled her schedule to shoehorn in as many speaking engagements as possible. She watches only enough TV news to find out what’s being said, then turns to the Internet for a broader view. She says the American press—like the Iraqi press—puts too much spin on the facts. And she’s adamant that Americans need facts.

“The problems facing us are not about Iraq,” she says. “To understand our place in the world, we have to go from being good U.S. citizens to being good world citizens. That’s going to be a long haul.”

She pauses. “I’m in for the long haul.”

Ghetto Art

Ed Adams pulls into the Golden Nugget Flea Market in Lambertville, N.J., just across the Delaware River from his gallery in New Hope, Pa. Searching for a way to fill part of his weekend and maybe find some interesting art, he slides out of the car and walks past the large cadre of temporary dealers who have set up their wares on folding tables outside the main building. He steps into the indoor market, where the Golden Nugget becomes more of an upscale bazaar where dealers pay for permanent booths and stock valuable antiques and quality collectibles.

Adams strolls between counters cluttered with old relics and booths stocked with furniture, rocking horses and used red wagons. His eyes dart from table to table, pausing only temporarily at the visual cacophony until they catch a glimpse of something different. He stops.

Spread across a dealer’s counter are six pencil drawings slightly larger than letter size tucked into plastic sleeves. The drawings have a certain quality to them—the subjects’ hands are oversized, the brows furrowed, the eyes looking away. There’s nothing pretty about these people. They are tired and overwhelmed, as if carrying a heavy burden. They’re dressed in outdated clothing that appears in some cases ill-fitting. The paper they’re drawn on looks old—yellowed with ripped edges and odd markings. On the whole, the drawings appear to be true representations of a time long past. They pull at Adams’ soul.

“Where did these come from?” Adams asks the dealer.

“The Warsaw Ghetto,” the dealer says.

The answer gives him chills.

Adams knows about the Ghetto. He’s well-grounded in Holocaust issues. His wife is Jewish, and in addition to being a psychologist, he’s an artist and sculptor working on a bust of Oskar Schindler for movie producer Steven Spielberg. Spielberg’s film, “Schindler’s List,” details the German businessman’s heroic efforts to save the lives of 1,100 Jews from the Nazi death camps.

Adams knows how the Warsaw Ghetto was a prelude to the death camps. The central section of Warsaw, the capital of Poland, was walled off by the German army in 1940 and designated for the imprisonment of Jews. Nearly 500,000 people from across Poland were stuffed into its 1.3 square miles, forced to live on top of one another and scramble for whatever food could be scraped from the streets to keep from starving. More than 300,000 were eventually deported to the Treblinka death camp.

When the remaining residents staged a bloody uprising in 1942, the Ghetto was burned to the ground. Soldiers marched through the dirty streets, setting buildings on fire and killing all who resisted. When the Ghetto was liberated, only about 50,000 residents survived the deportations and the burning. Few artifacts, not to mention art, survived at all.

“How did you get these?” Adams presses the dealer.

“From the estate of a family who knew the artist. They carried them out of the Ghetto.”

“What’s their name?”

“I can’t say,” the dealer says. Proprietary information.

Adams stands there, mesmerized, and studies the drawings—13 in all. The dealer asks $2,000 for the set, adding that he doesn’t want to sell them individually, but Adams can’t be sure he won’t. He mulls over the decision: spend too much on drawings that turn out to be worth little, or follow his hunch and preserve an important piece of history?

He thinks about it some more. Then walks away.

It’s been five years since Adams left the drawings on the table that afternoon, and a lot has happened to them since. They were appraised for much more than the $2,000 asking price. The Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., deemed them as historically priceless. And two weeks after Adams walked away from them, they were sold, creating one of the greatest flea market finds ever.

Fortunately for Adams, he was the buyer.

As soon as he left the flea market, Adams couldn’t get the drawings out of his mind. For a week the faces followed him, haunting him everywhere he went. So he returned to the Golden Nugget the next weekend and struck a deal with the seller for the right of first refusal. If anyone else tried to buy them, the dealer would call.

Adams went home and began looking for investors. It wouldn’t be enough to buy them by himself. He needed others to buy into his idea—rescue the drawings, research their origin and present them publicly as both art and education. Perhaps the artist could be identified, his descendants discovered and the art find a permanent home worthy of its value. So he turned to an organization of men he’d founded years before—a group that explores how to be better men, fathers, husbands, workers.

He presented his idea, and the group of 15, known as Men Mentoring Men, willingly opened their wallets.

Adams put in his share, returned to the market once again with money in hand and bought the set.

The drawings have since been authenticated as depicting scenes of life in the Warsaw Ghetto and appraised for at least double what the group paid. Their actual value is expected to be greater still. Curators of the Holocaust Museum told him they have nothing similar in their collections.

“They said they own no artifacts out of the Warsaw Ghetto because so few survived,” says Adams, who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1971 and a master’s degree in education at Xavier in 1972.  “And what few are on exhibit are on loan from European museums.”

They asked Adams to donate the art so it could be recorded and archived, but Adams declined. He has other plans. He carefully protected the drawings behind glass frames and put them on display at his art gallery in New Hope this spring. The unveiling was likely the first showing in the 60 years since their creation in the sad, crowded, impoverished neighborhood in the heart of the beautiful city of Warsaw. Other displays were scheduled to follow.

The group will sell them, he says, only if the buyer agrees to restrictions on their use: They must be kept on exhibit, made available for educational purposes and researched to determine their origin. Their historic value can’t be overlooked, he says. Consider the events through which they survived, says Michael Berenbaum, a psychologist and founding member of the Holocaust Museum.

“Anything that survived has a certain degree of importance because the Ghetto itself was liquidated in two major stages,” says Berenbaum.

“Whatever survived had a certain measure of importance. It’s a remnant of a remnant of a remnant, and when something has artistic quality, it is a matter of evidence and is useful to illustrate life within the Ghetto. So it becomes not only more valuable but more important as an interpretive tool. The more we find out about this artist, the more interesting this story will be because it’s an accident it was saved, and it was done for a purpose and the more we understand, the more we can be faithful to its intent.”

The fact the drawings survived is one thing. The fact that anyone had the time or energy—or courage—to sit quietly and sketch worried faces, while also keeping an eye out for German soldiers, is quite another. Very few items—and almost no art—survived intact. Two milk cans, unearthed from the ruins, contained journals, flyers, letters and memos placed there by residents who wanted the world to know what had happened to them. There may be other milk cans or even artists that haven’t been found, and they probably never will, Berenbaum says.

“People used the various skills they had,” Berenbaum says. “They understood they were living through historic times and were desperately afraid of one terrible thing—not the crime being committed, but that it would be forgotten. They were desperately afraid of a sense of oblivion that would come, and they used what tools they had to be sure that history would be recorded. That’s clearly what the artist was doing.”

There are many curious elements of the drawings that make experts certain of their authenticity. For one, they’re drawn on ledger paper that on the reverse side was used for a stamp collection. The stamps are German and there is German writing on the pages. The paper is heavy, the kind used at that time for record-keeping. And the people depicted in the drawings are wearing clothes and doing activities known to be common of that period and culture.

In one, a father, wearing a prayer shawl draped over his shoulders, and his son, wearing a scowl, appear to be heading to prayer. Another shows an old man carrying a book and also wearing a prayer shawl. His face wears a look of bewilderment. A third shows a man standing alone in front of a poster on a building. He’s wearing a heavy overcoat with the Jewish star on the right panel. His face is heavy and sad, his shoulders hunched. A fourth shows a group of men in conversation on a stoop who seem glad to be together, but no one is smiling.

Adams says nine of the drawings are like these—tight portraits of everyday life in the ghetto, and all the subjects are men. It is assumed the artist is a man. The other  four drawings are portraits taken from photographs of well-known local and Zionist leaders who advocated an independent Jewish state.

“You can get the feel of the artist sitting and sketching the pieces, looking at his subjects,” he says.

The artist signed his name Ben Kadai, where Ben means “son of,” but Adams and others believe it is a code name, because to record the events of the day by any method was to risk death.

“The art is good because they have an aliveness to them,” Adams says. “They are skillfully done by a skilled draftsman. They are sensitive, varied, accurate, and I have yet to show the originals where there aren’t goose bumps in the viewer. When art is good, it moves you, and these move you. They walk the edge between trying to hold on to life and deep sadness.”

Adams sees his group’s purchase of the drawings as both their rescue from the obscurity the ghetto residents feared and a new chapter in their journey. The men are not looking to make a profit, though they’d like to recover the approximately $10,000 they’ve invested in purchasing, appraising, preserving and framing the drawings, as well as the cost of making prints and staging the initial exhibit.

With his recent commissions for Holocaust art and his growing interest in its history, Adams says it’s as if he was meant to find them.

“This is the start of their new journey,” he says. “I don’t know where they’ll end up.”

He’ll make sure, however, they never see the likes of the Golden Nugget Flea Market again.