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Holocaust in colour


A “whirlwind romance” in a ghetto in German-occupied Poland saw two lovers exchange vows amid the devastation of the Holocaust.

They were the parents of Masterton’s Helene Carroll, 70, who uses art to fill in the gaps left in her family history.

The Holocaust was a genocide in which Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its World War II collaborators killed some six million European Jews.

Carroll’s parents survived, but other family members were not so lucky.

“All the Jews were required to leave their homes and go into ghettos,” Carroll said.

Her father, from the town of Auschwitz, and her mother, from Tarnoff, met in the Tarnoff ghetto where they had a “whirlwind romance” and married.

“After that they were both taken to the camp Plaszów, which is where Schindler actually took people and saved them, but my parents weren’t the lucky ones.

“My mum went to Auschwitz; my dad went to Gross-Rosen.

“They said, if we survive this, let’s go back to Krakau or Tarnoff, and we’ll find each other there.

“And that’s in fact what happened, which is a bit of a miracle.”

After the war, Carroll’s parents tried to resettle in Poland, “but that was very difficult after the war”.

“All their property had been taken, and a lot of the Poles weren’t happy to see them back anyway as Jews.”

They moved around Europe for a while and settled in Germany where Carroll’s mother found out she was pregnant.

“She freaked out – she didn’t want me to be born in Germany, and so they went to Paris, and I was born in 1947.

“She wasn’t supposed to have children at all because of what she had gone through in the camp.”

Two years later, the family moved to New Zealand with Carroll’s grandfather – he was the only other relation who had survived the war.

“My mother only told me very sanitised versions of what happened, and it was always in tiny fragments.

“My father didn’t talk about it at all. He internalized it all.”

Carroll said even though the Holocaust happened a long time ago, “it’s a really important part of our history”.

“I just don’t want these stories to be forgotten, and so I paint them.

“It’s a response to not really knowing who my family are because they were all kind of wiped out.

“I’ve got no artefacts; nothing that was handed down from my family.”

Can't Your Mother Remember Her Phone Number?, Helene Carroll, 2014. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Can’t Your Mother Remember Her Phone Number?, Helene Carroll, 2014. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

One of Carroll’s paintings being exhibited at Aratoi Museum of Art and History in Masterton, is of her, her mother, and a childhood friend sitting at the kitchen table eating.

“This here refers to a childhood memory of what it was like growing up in New Zealand.

“My mum had the Auschwitz number on her arm and a friend who was visiting said, can’t your mummy remember her phone number? It was a perfectly valid question.

“I didn’t like looking at it as a child. I always knew it was from a bad time so I wouldn’t bring myself to remember the sequence of numerals.”

On Saturday Carroll took Polish Ambassador Zbigniew Gniatkowski through her exhibition at Aratoi.

He was moved by the artwork, saying he could “only express our sadness at how many people perished”.

Aratoi Regional Trust chairwoman Barbara Roydhouse said she admired how Carroll had chosen to paint the “severe and hard topic” of the Holocaust using “such beautiful, bright imagery”.

Carroll, who is red-green colourblind, has practiced art since the 1980s, doing printmaking, ceramics, and paintings.

“Through my art, I hope some sense of redemption, beauty, irony, and humour can shine through.”

Carroll’s exhibition will run until October 8.


  1. Mr Przedzienkowski,
    It’s important to point that ghettos and concentration camps were organized by Germans . When Germans were occupying Poland.
    So many years after war and media/journalists are still making this error. Thank you for your comments.

  2. The term Polish Ghetto is offensive and incorrect. It was the German Nazis who established the ‘ghettos’ on occupied Polish soil. The ghettos were not Polish as implied by ther comment. Please correct the error.

    • Mr. Przedzienkowski: My father-in-law is Joseph Predzin, aged 92, living in Springfield, VA. He is from Scanton, PA originally and was given your name through some colleagues of his. His name was shortened from the spelling you use. His grandparents and some other relatives came from Poland, near the Baltic, back in the 1890’s and emigrated to PA, NY, and OH. He is thinking that perhaps he is related to you? Perhaps way back? In any case, he’s interested in corresponding with you. I’ve also contacted you through Linked-In. If you are interested, please contact me. Happy New Year!

Comments are closed.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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