In April of 1945 Geza Weiss weighed under 80 pounds, had typhus and scarlet fever and wasn't sure if he was dead or alive. He was at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.
On May 5, 1945 the men of the 11th armored division of the US third Army liberated the camp. Geza Weiss was so far gone he was originally overlooked and left for dead.
One of the medics found him as he was sorting bodies for burial and couldn't believe somebody in that condition was still clinging to life. He made it a priority to see Geza didn't die. Every spare minute he had he spent taking care of him. It was days before Geza was out of immediate danger, weeks before anybody was sure he would live. That entire time the medic did everything he could for him, he treated Geza like a brother.
After six weeks the army moved on and the medic went with them. Geza was moved from the hospital to the rehabilitation ward and finally after several months was sent to a Displaced Persons camp where he met his future wife Rozsi Frank who had somehow managed to survive Auschwitz.
Of course, Geza knew the medics name but after the war when he and Rozsi returned to Hungary they were behind the Iron Curtain. There was no way for Geza to even try to contact him. He never forgot and swore that someday he would find him and thank him. It took over 40 years.
Rachel Weiss was born and raised in Israel by Rozsi and Geza Weiss.
Her parents had somehow managed to get the better of the Nazi's. Then the communists who took over their country. Then the Hungarians who revolted against the communists, and finally the Russians who showed up to put a stop to that nonsense. In the end they made all those people unhappy simply by staying alive. They were good at not getting killed.
Rozsi and Geza were married in 1946. They spent the next 10 years trying to put their lives back together in Budapest. They had two boys, Gyuri in 1949 and Miklos in 1951. When the Hungarian revolution rolled around in 1956, they figured enough was enough. Between the anti-Semitism, the bad economy and the fact the Russians showed no signs of calling it a day and going home. Geza and Rozsi packed up, took the boys, and in all the confusion snuck across the border to Vienna.
They contacted the Jewish Relief Agency and were in Israel within six months.
They settled in the resort town of Netanya which is on the coast just north of Tel Aviv.
Geza became a professor of economics at the University of Tel Aviv. His wife stayed home and took care of the boys. As the kids got older, she went back to college to get her degree in accounting. For 5000 years when other people might kick up their heels if they had a little free time, Jews go back to school.
Rachel was born in 1972. To say she came as a complete surprise to her mother and father was an understatement.
She was born to be an artist. Rachel was one of those lucky people who knew what she was going to do with her life from the moment she could think. All through school she paid no attention to anything that wasn't directly related to becoming a painter. Of course, this left a long line of teachers, tutors, school administrators, and finally her parents totally pissed off.
As a child Rachel was willful, difficult and downright unpleasant if anybody was trying to make her do something she didn't want to. She truly had the artistic temperament. Her parents had learned early on there wasn't much use in arguing with her once she'd made her mind up.
Maybe it was because Rachel was so different from her brothers it took a while for her mother and father to figure out how to handle her. Her brothers were both good boys who instinctively understood what was expected of them and just did it.
Fortunately for everyone involved she'd been bought up in a traditional Jewish home, full of love and patience with a large dose of guilt thrown in for emergencies. Her parents were masters of this age-old child rearing technique and finally used it to steer their daughter in the right direction.
Because it was necessary, and because it didn't seem there was any other way to get through to her. Geza and Rozsi slowly started the great wheel of guilt turning. It was made very clear to her she was becoming a disappointment. That it was her responsibility to start doing well in school even if she didn't like her other classes. Her mother and father had not suffered the way they had in order to bring up an irresponsible daughter. Science may never prove it but there's something in the genetic makeup of East European Jews that goes off like a tuning fork being rung when that perfect pitch of guilt is hit.
So, Rachel did start to do better in school and as she got older, she even conceded her parents might have had a point. But that didn't mean she wasn't going to be a painter. It just meant she would get a job until she could support herself as one.
Rachel was a real artist. Most people don't understand there's a difference between people who have some talent, and people who are so crazed by the creativity inside of them they keep trying to impose what they see on the inside, to what's happening on the outside.
Since Rachel had been brought up by Holocaust survivors, people who were always looking over their shoulder for the next shoe to drop, she had a bedrock belief if there was a way for something to go wrong it would. She'd grown up in Israel, a country bursting with optimism about the future that was surrounded by about 1 billion enemies. The combination of all these factors had made Rachel about the happiest miserable person you would ever meet.
At 18 she was a small woman, 5 foot 4 and with what her mother told her was a “decent enough figure”. She had short reddish-brown hair and striking hazel eyes. Her nickname growing up had been Shana Punim which meant “pretty face” in Yiddish. Rachel really resented that nickname. She thought she was more exotic than pretty. That was the year she started her mandatory two-year tête-à-tête with the Israeli Defense forces. She completed her duty, and by age 20 was put on reserve status.
At 24 years old Rachel had a job as an art director at a midsize advertising company, her own apartment in Tel Aviv, and about 15 paintings even she thought might not be bad. She also felt she had paid her dues to her parents, her country, and anybody else who thought she might owe them something. It was time to get on with her life.
In her own way she was as resourceful as her parents. She'd had her own small shows in Tel Aviv which got good reviews, but not raves. Rachel was after bigger fish, she purposely kept her best paintings back, she wasn't going to waste them on such a small market. She wanted them to be seen by the right people and to have an impact.
She had been a very busy girl over the last year or two, making friends with the secretaries at all the major art galleries in New York, London, and Tokyo. She would read the brochures of the gallery she was stalking at the moment. Check to see what artist was showing and call. She would explain her position as art director and ask about acquiring the rights to photos of some of the paintings. What Rachel was really after was the comings and goings of the gallery owners. She chatted up the secretaries to keep the information pipeline flowing. She knew the art scene in Israel was heating up and some of them were unofficially stopping by to see what was happening.
The art world is a pretty small place and through her compulsive networking she learned Abraham Rosenthal of the Rosenthal galleries in New York was coming for a “vacation” to Israel.
Gallery owners are constantly on the lookout for new talent. They will steal each other’s artists without batting an eye. A lot of business is done under the guise of vacations or casually stopping by in some country where there are rumors of good work being done.
Abraham Rosenthal was about to be ambushed and didn't know it. Rachel didn't know how good he was at not being ambushed. He'd spent a large part of his life ducking artists and wanna be artists who were always trying to find ingenious ways of meeting him. At this point in his life it was second nature for him to not be found unless he wanted to be. Rachel was up against a professional. The most she'd been able to find out was that Mr. Rosenthal was staying at the Sheraton Hotel in Tel Aviv.
She would not have spent all the time and effort she put into trying to find and meet him, but he had one of the best galleries in New York and was known for nurturing new talent.
Rachel had a plan A, a plan B. and even a plan C. to run into him and have him look at her paintings, but absolutely none of them had worked out. She finally had to admit defeat. It wasn't in her nature to get discouraged, but she was disappointed. She knew she had the talent; it was just a question of getting her break.
Since it was Friday night Rachel was on her way to her mother and fathers house for Shabbat dinner. The driveway was already full with her parents and brother’s cars. They would be there with their wives and children. When Rachel opened the door, she stopped dead in her tracks. Her father was sobbing uncontrollably into the arms of a giant bear of a man. In a family with her history this could not be a good thing. But her mother, her brothers, and their wives all had the strangest looks on their faces, but they were happy looks. Her father just couldn't get control of himself. She turned with a questioning look to her mother who had tears streaming down her face. Her mother said to her “Rachel, you know your father and I don't like to talk about what happened during the war, but I'm going to tell you a story.”
She then told Rachel about the medic who had saved her father's life. She held her daughter. “Rachel, your father found him, and he's come to visit us. I want you to meet Abraham Rosenthal.”
Three months later she was on a plane to New York for her first real show.