From a young child in the ghetto to a Tel Aviv artist
Born as Heddy Davidowitz in Elok, a small town near Zagreb, Yugoslavia, 1936.
In 1941, when the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia, Heddy's parents smuggled her and her brother, Shalom, to Budapest, where her mother's parents and sister resided. Later on, Heddy found out that her parents and her second brother, Eliezer, had been probably among the first ones to be murdered in the gas chambers in Auschwitz. Her only souvenir from them is a few black and white photos. Father, mother, three smiling children, lots of warmth, tenderness and care. A family which has been shattered.
Each month one of the family members went to the Hungarian Immigration Office to stamp the stay documents for the children. In one of these occasions, in 1944, when the children's aunt was on her way to stamp the documents, she was captured by a group of Nazi soldiers and taken to the Danube riverbank, where she was shot dead.
"The ghettos were already totally full. Thousands were brought to the riverbank and shot dead. The Nazis caught people in public places, took them out of the houses without letting them say goodbye to their families. They were ordered to take their shoes off and then were shot. The river was filled with bodies floating further south, with the stream. The water turned red".
She was 7 years old when she started painting for the first time. When the war began – she stopped. At a certain stage, the grandparents and two grandchildren were moved to the ghetto, into a crowded room in an open one-bedroom flat complex, which they shared with 30 more people. The severe hunger, harsh cold, lice and diseases resulted in an enormous rate of mortality. Ironically enough, the same complex, which is situated in the center of town, is currently considered as a prestigious real estate property. Decorated with flowers, re-painted and redecorated, it now houses students and local artists.
"The bodies of those who had not survived the previous day were thrown by the Nazis behind this complex. My brother and I used to stand by the window in our room and count the bodies. This was the most popular childhood game we had".
One day in the ghetto, an S.S. officer noticed the small earrings she wore, the last present from her parents. Three blue dots on gold. He rudely tore them off her ears while saying "They are very pretty and you won't need them anyway…".
Heddy admits that this is the reason she has never worn earrings ever since.
After the war, the grandparents took their grandchildren to Peks, a small village in the mountains, where they were the only Jews and where the family recovered from the trauma of the war. Heddy went to a local school where she enjoyed great warmth on the part of the local residents. Her school friend was a Christian girl by the name of Anna, who still maintains close friendship with Heddy. Her brother, Shalom, immigrated to Israel and was among the founders of the religious Kibbutz Sha'alavim. Today, he and his family live in Netanya.
It was during that time, as a young woman, that she started painting again. She painted the village and the landscape, and in spite of the horrors of the war, she expressed the optimism she harbored in the most vivacious way possible – flowers of all kinds and colors. Ever since then, flowers have remained her first, big love.
Her grandfather, who was aware of the rare talent his granddaughter showed, bought her first easel as well as canvas and colors.
In 1956, after the 20 year-old Heddy had graduated from the Budapest Academy of Fine Arts, she immigrated to Israel. Her grandfather died in 1960 while her grandmother immigrated to Israel in 1965, when she was 80 years old, and lived in Israel for 8 more years before passing away too.
Heddy made her center of life in Tel Aviv. She went to the big city with only little money and headed to a small shop for ritual articles in the south of the city which belonged to distant acquaintances of her family; the ball started rolling from there. Her relatives sent her to Rosenthal factory for plates and domestic utensils where she decorated plates for three years. One day, when she took a stroll in the white city, she noticed a man selling shirts from a cart, at a corner of a street.
"It occurred to me that if was to draw flowers on his shirts, we could both gain. He was enthusiastic about the idea, gave me the shirts and I painted all sorts of flowers on them. We made a good business out of it and till this day we are good friends. The man was Aharon Castro, the founder of Castro, one of the leading fashion chains in Israel…"
Since then she has not left Tel Aviv and shortly afterwards started painting and participating in exhibitions. Today she lives in a charming flat on Rothschild Avenue, which is full with her works. She got married, gave birth to two children – Shoshi-Or'el and Shai, and is now the proud grandmother of three granddaughters. Her son, Shay Kun, who is a painter too, lives and works in New York.
In 2009 she went to Hungary with an Israeli film director to film a documentary about her life. On the riverbank, where hundreds of Jews were killed, including her aunt, the Hungarians placed – as commemoration – thousands of shoes coated with metal, the same authentic shoes left by the murdered Jews just before being shot and thrown into the river. Small and big shoes, high-hill shoes and men’s fancy shoes, clogs and boots – a chilling reminder to a genocide which reminds us that each pair of shoes represents a human being.
"Near the river we were spotted by a young, skinhead Neo-Nazi. He came closer and hissed at me: 'Filthy Jew, it's too bad Hitler didn't finish the job'. At that moment I decided I would never step on the land of Hungary again".
Heddy Kun's artistic activity is varied and rich. For over 60 years she has been painting her optimistic, colorful and deep paintings, decorating them with flowers, rich-looking landscapes, beautiful houses and blue ocean, not allowing the war to rob her of her joie de vivre.
On March 2010, Heddy was granted a Lifetime Achievement Award, by the International Association for Civil Rights. The event took place at the "Ville Center" at Kfar Shmarihu. The prize was awarded for Heddy's contribution to noble causes such as Abraham "Abie" Nathan's "Peace Ship", helping wounded soldiers, sick and orphans. The exciting musical event was initiated and conducted by the international singer Mrs. Judi Bachar, whom connected several esteemed musical artists to honor Heddy by their presence.
More information about Heddys artistic activity is available in the page concerning her Oeuvre.