Sam Goldofsky, whom Kassan met through one of his students, was a teenager during World War II. “When the Nazis came to round up the Jews in his part of Poland, his family tried to simulate their own
deaths with fake blood and everything,” Kassan says. The scheme almost worked, but they were later caught trying to escape, and the family was sent to Auschwitz.
Goldofsky’s parents and sister died in Auschwitz, but Goldofsky and his brother survived. “To think that Sam as a 15-year-old was put into the camp and not killed right away—it’s so lucky,” Kassan says.
“There was so little rhyme or reason to who got killed and who didn’t.” During the closing days of the war, the brothers endured a death march from Auschwitz to Czechoslovakia, traveling day and night on foot. Thousands of prisoners died. Finally they were freed by the Russian army, and after the war the brothers came to America. Goldofsky went to school for training in heating, air conditioning systems and plumbing, and he now lives in New Jersey.
In Kassan’s portrait Sam Goldofsky, Survivor of Auschwitz, Goldofsky stands with his arms crossed, wearing only a sleeveless undershirt. The viewer’s eye is quickly drawn to the left forearm, where the tattoo of Goldofsky’s identification number from the concentration camp is visible. “As Sam was pos- ing, I just let him do what felt natural,” Kassan says. “The pose was something he chose—I can’t take responsibility for that. I think it shows longing and vulnerability, but also strength. He was wearing
a long-sleeve shirt, and I love painting arms and hands and skin, so I asked if he could take it off. It didn’t occur to me he would have a tattoo, but he did. It’s from Auschwitz, and it’s become blurred over time. I thought that putting it in the painting would be an impactful statement, showing how Goldofsky had been branded for life.”