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Ella Liebermann-Shiber


Ella Shiber (née Liebermann) was born in Berlin in 1927 to a well-off family. Her father, Yehoshua, was a fur merchant, and her mother, Rosa, a native of Poland (Bendin), was a midwife. In addition to Ella there were three more children: Bertha (b. 1919), Alexander (b. 1922) and Leo, the youngest (b. 1929). They received a Jewish-Zionist education at home and Ella was a member of the Betar youth movement.

In 1938 the family was forced to leave Germany because of her mother's Polish origin. They moved to Bendin, where her mother's family lived. During World War II the extended family was moved to the local ghetto. In the last Aktion (roundup) in August 1943, the family (the parents, Ella and her brother Leo) went into hiding in a pit that they had dug beneath the garbage container beside their house. (Bertha and Alexander had previously been sent to labor camps in Germany). Their food was provided by thirteen-year old Leo, who used to sneak into the house at night, and also by a Pole, the janitor of the building, who risked his life and brought additional essential products to their hiding place. One day an SS officer asked the Pole to explain what he was doing beside the hiding place, and when he refused to hand over the family, he was apparently beaten to death. In light of this the father understood that the hiding place was no longer safe, and the family came out and turned themselves in to the Germans. They lived in the ghetto until December 1943, and then the parents, Ella and her brother were deported on the last transport to Auschwitz.

In the concentration camp the women were separated from the men. The latter were immediately sent to the crematoria, while sixteen-year old Ella and her forty-two year old mother were sent to work in the munitions factory, where they worked extremely long days under dreadful conditions, malnourished and without any sanitary conditions. During this time one of the SS officers learned that Ella was an artist, and she was asked to paint the picture of one of his relatives who had been killed on the front, based on his photograph. He provided the drawing materials, as well as food for the mother and daughter. The SS officer asked that she accede to the requests of his comrades and draw the portraits of their relatives. Thanks to these drawings, the mother was not transferred elsewhere, and they remained together the entire time. In January 1945, Ella and her mother took part in the Death March. They were brought to Neustadt camp, which was a satellite camp of Ravensbrück.

Ella and her mother were liberated by the Allies on May 2, 1945, and they decided to return to Poland to search for relatives. They arrived in Bydgoszcz-Bromberg, where Ella met the man who would become her husband, Emanuel Shiber, a Jewish officer in the Polish army who was stationed in the area and had heard that there were Jewish survivors of the camps there. Ella and Emanuel were married on February 2, 1946 and on May 23, 1946, together with her mother, they left Poland via the Bricha [1] organization and reached a DP camp near Munich from where they hoped to continue on to Israel.

The ship in which they sailed, the Ben Hecht, was captured on the shores of Israel by the British on 12 March 1947, and its six hundred passengers were taken to a camp in Cyprus on a British warship. During the short trip, Ella Liebermann-Shiber drew a rifle and a hand driving out the British on the sides of the ship's hold. During their detention in Cyprus, Emanuel Shiber, in the framework of the Irgun Zevai Leumi (the National Military Organization), taught a course in military training and prepared an instruction book which contained drawings of weapons, their parts and how to use them, which was illustrated by the artist. Later on (1985), she was awarded the "National Fighter's Medal" by the Defense Ministry "for her part in the fight for the rebirth of Israel". Ella Liebermann-Shiber also took part in the artistic activity organized by the artist Naftali Bezem in Cyprus. The 26 detained artists who participated in this course produced an album called In the Cyprus Expulsion which contains 26 linoleum cuts "from the life of Holocaust survivors in the camps in Cyprus" that were produced by "student painters among the exiles in Cyprus, under the instruction of Naftali Bezem". The following appears on the cover of the album:

Cyprus, one stop on the torturous
Road to Eretz Israel.
The Jewish meaning of this name is
Spiked barbed wire fences; forced inaction
And deterioration to atrophy.
And even in these circumstances there was bustling life,
About which I will relate in this book.
Members of the Israeli camp
In the Cyprus expulsion.

The period of detention in Cyprus ended in May 1948. The family, with Ella Liebermann-Shiber in an advanced state of pregnancy with her daughter Ada, reached Haifa. There they made their home. Ella Liebermann-Shiber studied painting and art at Haifa University and taught painting.

In 1945 the artist began to create a series of drawings, On the Edge of the Abyss, which depicts the daily atrocities during the war. The work was begun at the initiative of her husband, who thought that the artistic expression would help her free herself of the traumas she had experienced. The series was completed in Haifa in 1948 and was first exhibited in a Haifa cinema in 1950. Two years later the drawings were exhibited at the Ghetto Fighters' Museum, and afterwards were donated to its permanent collection. Later on the drawings, accompanied by explanations by the artist, were published in several editions in Hebrew, English and German, and a Chinese version is currently being prepared.

Ella Liebermann-Shiber passed away in Haifa in 1998, and her husband and three children continue to work at perpetuating the artist's memory. After her death she received "a certificate of merit and appreciation" from the wife of the President of Israel for her work and for her major contribution to "Holocaust remembrance and assurance of the future".

Dr. Pnina Rosenberg


[1] A Jewish organization that smuggled Jews from Eastern Europe to Western Europe, with the ultimate destination being Mandatory Palestine

Ella Liebermann-Shiber. On the Edge of the Abyss. Ghetto Fighters' House, 1992.
Interview with Mr. Emanuel Shiber, Haifa, Israel, February 2006