Columbus Sculptor Inspired by Experiences as a Holocaust Survivor

Alfred Tibor with "We Are the Living."
Alfred Tibor with "We Are the Living."

This week in Columbus, a sculptor who uses art to share his experiences as a Holocaust survivor opened a new exhibit.

87-year-old Alfred Tibor says of his sculpture “We Are the Living,” “This is my life my story. I am a Holocaust survivor.” Done in black and white marble, three figures dressed in prison stripes with gold stars over their hearts stand grim-faced. He says it is his response to something he hears all the time in his head, something Adolph Hitler used to say at the end of a speech:

“I quote ‘all Jews we are going to eliminate from the world.’ How wrong he is. He is NOT here. I AM here. So that’s what I want to show here we ARE the living.”

Tibor was born Alfred Goldstein in 1920 in Hungary. He says, by the age of five, he knew he wanted to be a sculptor, but Jews were denied education. Later, he studied art and architecture in Budapest.

At the age of 20, Tibor was drafted into a Hungarian forced labor battalion. Two and a half years later, he was captured by the Russians and spent more than five years in a prison camp in Siberia. More than 270 people died. Tibor was one of two survivors. He says he is still trying to understand why he survived.

After being freed in 1947, he learned that his older brother, Tibor, had been executed in a German camp. To honor him, he and his brother Andre changed their last name to Tibor.

He was 27 years old and filled with so much hatred, Tibor says all he wanted to do was kill until something happened that changed his life.

“I found out all my people – mother, grandmother, father, all perished in Auschwitz, says Tibor. And I said to myself how it’s possible – an eye for eye, a tooth for tooth? If I am going to do the same thing what they did to me, I am just continuing that hatred. The hatred is like a circle. It has to stop. And I was the most justified to hate. And I stopped.”

The artist says it is not enough for him to use different shapes and media. His work must include what he calls “inner feeling,” so the viewer understands his message. “Embrace the whole world. Don’t hate.” He says that message is even more important today than it was in past years. He gives, as an example, the shootings at Virginia Tech.

“One person’s hatred was killing 32 innocent people – without anybody organizing the hate,” says Tibor. “That’s why we have to be stronger, and we have to be louder to telling to the people we ARE human beings. And we are no different of any religion.”

“A mother who are giving birth to a newborn baby,’ Tibor continues, “she has the same pain like any other, Black or white, or Muslim or Jew, or Catholic. It makes no difference. We are equal. We are the same human being.”

Tibor wanted to come to the United States in 1936. He finally made it in 1957 on January 30th, a day he calls his second birthday.

Since coming to Columbus in 1972, Tibor has produced 10 public pieces. They include “Celebration of Life,” a mother holding her baby with arms outstretched over her head. That piece is located at the West Broad Street Bridge. On the Worthington Green is found an elegant image of a mother holding her child’s hands and gently swinging the child around her in a circle. Tibor calls that one “First Flight.”

At the age of 87, Tibor says he is working diligently all the time, “a working artist still today.” And knowing that someone is listening, he says, gives him the strength to go on.

“I am already in my second life. In the Jewish faith, when you reach 83, you are becoming a second man. I am 87, and I am in God’s hands. My life is not mine. Only I am using [it] for changing the whole world. And I believe it. I am going to change the whole world.”

An exhibit of Alfred Tibor’s work continues through May 6th at Peace Lutheran Church, 455 Clark State Road, in Gahanna.

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