How did a non-Jewish Russian artist end up creating a Holocaust-related sculpture on the grounds of the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy?
Gregory Potosky, who has designed more than 80 monuments around the globe, had already completed one Jewish-theme piece of art in the area. Since 2011, his bronze sculpture of Uriah Levy, the 19th century Jewish Naval hero, has stood outside Congregation Mikveh Israel on Independence Mall.
Potosky expressed a desire to craft a monument that would honor Christians who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. He told Joshua Landes, a 1980 graduate of Akiba Hebrew Academy and one of the sponsors of the Levy statue, of his plans.
Potosky asked the New York hedge fund manager if he might want to finance another work of art.
Landes said he told the artist that he would get involved but that he also wanted the piece to honor Dr. Felix Zandman, with whom he’d had a deep, personal connection.
Zandman was a pioneering entrepreneur in the electronics industry and founder of Vishay, a global manufacturer of semiconductors. A Holocaust survivor, he died in 2011 at age 83. During World War II, he was hidden for 17 months by a Polish family, the Puchaskis.
The entrepreneur was also a well-known philanthropist who gave to Jewish causes, including to Barrack, which was then known as Akiba Hebrew Academy, where his children and grandchildren were students. One of his two daughters, Arielle Zandman Klausner, served as Barrack’s president.
Landes sought, and received, permission from Zandman’s family to have his legacy honored with a work of art. So the new sculpture, “Righteous Rescuers,” is dedicated to Zandman, the family that saved him, and all those who risked their lives to save others during the Shoah.
The stark iron work shows two hands — one belonging to a Jew, the other to a gentile — holding up a Star of David.
“Who saved the Jewish people during the Holocaust time? Kind people,” Potosky said at the ceremony that was attended by much of the Barrack student body. The artist doesn’t speak much English and his wife, Olga, acted as his translator. “In a flash, it came to me how to create this symbol,” he added. “When hands helped in the most dramatic time.” Risking all, under such circumstances, he argued, represents the ultimate kindness.