Rosemarie Koczy, 68, who survived a childhood in German concentration camps and later spent years creating searing art infused with images of Holocaust victims, died from breast cancer Dec. 12, 2007.
Her works have been gaining increasing stature, despite her status as an art world “outsider,” that is, someone who was not believed to be formally trained in art and who did not travel in art world circles. Her art, including tapestries and pen-and-ink drawings, has been shown in the U.S., Japan and Europe.
A New York Times review of a 1998 “Outsider” art show said:
Yad Vashem, the Israel Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Jerusalem, this year bought her “Deportation Train of the Children,” a 16-foot pine carving of intertwined human figures.
According to the New York Sun, Koczy, three years old at the time, was transported to a concentration camp at Traunstein, the hometown of Pope Benedict XVI. She was sent to a second camp, where she spent the remainder of the war.
After the war, Koczy and a surviving sister lived with her grandparents, and then in a Catholic orphanage, where she trained as a seamstress. Koczy later studying tapestry at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs in Geneva, Switzerland. As her work became known in work became known in Europe, she came to know Peggy Guggenheim, the art patron.
Koczy’s husband, Louis Pelosi, told newspapers Koczy’s work went from decorative tapestries to addressing her heritage as a Jewish Holocaust survivor. She located family members, some in graveyards and some yet living, but most of the reunions ended up chilly, Pelosi the Sun.
She began producing pen-and-ink images of children and grotesques in the death camps and produced some 12,000 pieces by her death. Her exhibitions included the statement, “The drawings I make every day are titled, ‘I Weave You a Shroud.’ They are burials I offer to those I saw die in the camps.”
“Because surviving the concentration camps as a child, she was marked by that her whole life,” Pelosi told the Westchester Journal News. “She was burying each one of the people she had seen die in the camps.”
Koczy met Pelosi, a composer, during a fellowship at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. Koczy founded a community art school outside Geneva in the 1970s, and taught hundreds students at her Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., studio. She also taught elderly and disabled residents. She became an American citizen in 1989.
According to the Sun, she suffered from depression, was occasionally hospitalized, and had limited use of her hands due to repetitive motion trauma from her compulsive image-making near the end of her life.
A review of her work in a 2002 show at Swedish Prince Eugen’s Waldermarsudde Museum titled “Solitary beings – Art by odd persons from the collection of Eternod-Mermod, Lausanne,” published in a newsletter on schizophrenia said:
Koczy was given a traditional Jewish burial, despite eschewing most religious observances during her life.
“We used to light a Menorah every Friday night to remember the missing members of her family,” Pelosi told the Sun. “A rabbi told her, ‘With what you’ve been through, don’t you dare fast on Yom Kippur.”
Koczyis survived by her husband, as well as a sister, Gasela Grob, and a half-brother, Walter Wusthoff, both of Germany.