‘Life masks’ created by Arizona artist to keep stories of the Holocaust alive – TucsonSentinel.com

Posted By on March 12, 2022

Posted Mar 10, 2022, 5:00 am

Samantha ChowCronkite News

SCOTTSDALE Would you like to breathe out of your nose or your mouth? Robert Sutz asked.

Either is fine, replied Werner Salinger, a survivor of Nazi atrocities.

Sutz considered this for a moment, then reached for a plasterbandage, dunked it in water and laid it over Salingers lips. TheScottsdale artist continued applying the casting material until onlySalingers bright blue eyes could be seen.

Forty-one minutes later, Sutz ran his fingers beneath the moldshardened edges and peeled it away from Salingers face, now preserved ina life mask.

Over the past 30 years, about 200 other Holocaust survivors,liberators and righteous gentiles many of whom have since died havesat in Sutzs chair and had their faces preserved.

It was cold, but I dont mind cold, and it was wet, Salinger said,laughing. It wasnt hurtful in any way, it was just anotherexperience.

Sutz will spend the next month or so painting Salingers mask to look lifelike hence the name life mask".

Along with casting their faces, Sutz captures his subjects storieson video and paints scenes they recall from the Holocaust the genocideof an estimated 6 million people in Adolf Hitlers Final Solutionfrom 1941 to 1945.

Salingers story goes back to Kristallnacht, or the Night of BrokenGlass, in 1938. On Nov. 9 and 10, Nazis torched and vandalized thousandsof Jewish synagogues, homes, schools and businesses across Germany.About 100 people were killed and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested andsent to concentration camps.

I remember very vividly the broken glass I could see it from ourapartment across the street and the smoke from the burning synagoguewas just a block away, said Salinger, 89. It was a very vivid memoryfor me; I was 6 years old.

Roughly two months later, on Jan. 12, 1939, his family fled to the U.S.

Im doing this really for my parents, Salinger said. They would be very proud to know of my involvement today.

Sutz, who is 92, said his inspiration for creating life masks comesfrom his father, President Abraham Lincoln and film director StevenSpielberg.

His father, who was Jewish, was born in Bialystok, Poland, but movedto Chicago when he was 12. Years later, when Hitler began his rise topower, Sutzs father returned to Bialystok to warn his family andattempt to persuade them to move to the U.S., but they refused.

They thought that Hitler was a crazy man and that people arent going to pay attention to him, Sutz recalled.

So Sutzs father packed up and returned to the U.S. without them. The rest of his family later died in concentration camps.

Many years later, shortly after Sutzs 13th birthday, he visited an exhibit where a life mask of Abraham Lincoln was on display.

I got the chills because I felt his presence. It was something thatreally excited me, Sutz said. I told myself at an early age that Iwould like to learn how to make life masks.

He eventually began making masks of family members, but it wasntuntil the 1990s that Sutz found a deeper purpose for creating lifemasks.

He came across an article in the Chicago Times recruiting people tojoin the visual history project run by Spielbergs Shoah Foundation.Sutz was accepted into the group and went through a three-day trainingon how to interview Holocaust survivors.

Sutz then connected the dots and began making life masks ofHolocaust survivors, liberators and righteous gentiles, as he puts it.Some of the first life masks in Sutzs Holocaust collection came fromdoing these interviews.

Its a funny thing, Im doing this now and Spielberg is unaware ofwhat Im doing, but he kind of introduced me to survivors, Sutz said.

For nearly 20 years, Sutz took the masks on a traveling exhibitacross the country, but eventually it became too difficult. Now, about200 masks are in his art studio east of Old Town Scottsdale.

Sutz recently found a new home for his collection with the ArizonaJewish Historical Society although it wont be on display for at leasta couple of years.

The society plans to build a museum to educate people about genocides throughout history.

This would give people a place to go here locally to learn about theHolocaust (and) learn about other atrocities, as well, said LawrenceBell, director of Arizona Jewish Historical Society.

So far, the society has raised $5 million toward its goal of $15million to build the museum. Bell said the goal is to finishfundraising in 2023 and then maybe build it in 2024.

Sutzs life masks, along with some of his other Holocaust artwork, will be featured.

I think the total grouping will just be awesome reminders that inone way shape or form these people went through some tough times,Salinger said of the mask collection.

Sutz plans to keep creating life masks for as long as he can.

I want to keep doing what Im doing, he said. I just hope I can stay well enough to do more.

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'Life masks' created by Arizona artist to keep stories of the Holocaust alive - TucsonSentinel.com

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