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Tuesday, 15 October, 2002, 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK
'I saw myself in Schindler's List'
The Girl In The Red Coat, Roma Ligocka
Girl In The Red Coat recalls how Ligocka lived in fear

When Roma Ligocka went with other holocaust survivors to the première of Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List, she was shocked to find herself confronted with her own past.

There on the screen, standing out in red against the black and white film, Ligocka recognised herself as the girl in the red coat.

She told BBC World Service's Everywoman programme how that same red coat led to a Polish family sheltering her and saving her from certain death during World War II.

"I knew that the family that took us in was risking their lives," she recalled, "but when the woman opened the door she said 'What a sweet little strawberry when she saw me'."

Schindler's List, 1993
With touches of colour, Spielberg depicted the horror of the holocaust
Some 50 years after being secretly housed, Ligocka was invited to the première of the film adaptation of the heroic rescue of more than 1,000 Jews from the Nazi death camps.

She described her amazement when she realised how she could have been the inspiration for Spielberg's lost child.

"When I saw the film it was like a flash of lightening," she explained. "All of a sudden fragments, bits and pieces from my past, grew together to become one."

Roma Ligocka was born in 1938 and spent her early years wandering the streets of a Jewish ghetto in Krakow, Poland, trying to find somewhere to hide.

"I knew at the age of two that I was not supposed to live, that I would be killed sooner or later," she recalled.

Roma Ligocka
Born Liebling, Ligocka's name was changed when her mother stole Aryan identity cards
"I wanted to live so badly and my only thought was that I needed to survive."

Ligocka now uses her experiences to inspire her writing and painting.

She wrote in her book, The Girl In The Red Coat, how she often hid, "living and waiting in fear" while the streets were "cleansed of Jews".

"We stand on the street, freezing," she wrote. "There are people everywhere. They shoot at who they want to."

Painting by Roma Ligocka
Ligocka has exhibited in Warsaw, Zurich, New York and London
Scurrying around the streets in search of safety, Ligocka feared that her red coat would make her a target.

"We didn't have anything to eat or wear. It was a cold winter and my grandmother sewed the coat from an old skirt of my mother's," she explained.

The red woollen coat did make her stand out, but it was to be to her benefit.

After her father was taken to a concentration camp, Ligocka and her mother were taken in by a Polish family.

Anger

Attracted by the brightness of her clothes, they dyed the little girl's hair blonde and pretended that she was their country cousin. As a result of their kindness she survived World War II.

"I feel a lot of anger about my lost childhood and it hurts," she confessed.

"The fact that I survived is the will of God and I don't have the right to discuss it with him."

Strength

Using her wartime experiences to inspire her paintings, Ligocka is currently exhibiting at London's Polish Embassy.

Her expressive paintings have been likened to the work of Edward Munch and "radiate great strength."

She hopes that the images "show something of my past, but it is not horror; it is love and solitude".

"Someone who has faced death at such an early age knows how wonderful it is to be alive."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Roma Ligocka talks to Everywoman
"I wanted to live so badly and my only thought was that I needed to survive"
See also:

08 Jun 00 | UK
29 Dec 00 | Entertainment
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