Elsa Ross, born in Poland, lives in Albuquerque, N.M., where she became a friend of Kassan’s fiancée, Shana Levenson. One day Ross began talking with Shana in the grocery store and said that she’d read about the Edut Project online. She told Shana that she was a Holocaust survivor who’d been hidden in a Catholic orphanage. “She had never told anyone about it—only a little bit to her family,” Kassan says.
Ross was only 6 years old when her father arranged for her admission to an orphanage. Gentile work- ers smuggled her in their truck from the Warsaw Jewish ghetto. She remained in the orphanage through most of the war and never saw her parents again. Eventually, an aunt-by-marriage, whom Ross at first thought was her mother, came for her. Before the Russian capture of Warsaw from Germany in 1945, Ross escaped Poland with her father’s twin sister, traveling to Italy and then England. Ross eventually moved to the United States and attended college in Houston. She has worked in the arts as a museum assistant to the Menil Collection and as a gallery owner, and for many years she owned a clothing boutique in Albuquerque.
In her portrait, Ross holds a photo of her parents to her heart. “That’s the only photo she has of her parents and her together,” Kassan says. “I didn’t want to just paint her without a context, and the photo seemed to be a way to connect with her history.” He notes that Ross is younger than most survivors, so her knowledge derives less from her own memories than from what she has been told by others. “I can’t imagine how many times she’s looked at that photo,” he says. “It’s her memory—it’s what she has.”