A Story about Tzinzenella

When I was seven my parents and I left the Soviet Union as refugees.

Anna Abramzon child

The Soviets had strict rules on how much could be taken out of the country -- which was almost nothing. This, of course, resulted with all of us showing up in the US with not much more than the clothes on our backs and maybe a musical instrument -- my father is a sculptor and he was not even allowed to take his own art out of the country. But I digress.

The one thing I cared about bringing with me was my baby doll, Tzinzenella, my "lovie". She was the doll whose smell made me feel safe.

Tzinzenella had blue eyes and chubby cheeks and blonde hair, matted from years of my brushing it. She had a screw off neck and a hard little hollow body made out of rubber. She smelled like home.

When were leaving we went through an extensive search, where the KGB officers would make sure we were not trying to smuggle out any of our belongings. Despite Tzinzenella's screw-off head, but the officers thought it would be more fun to slit her throat. So they returned my baby with her throat slit and her head hanging off. My heart broke. The worst part was that she didn't smell like home anymore.

Artist Anna Abramzon
Fast forward about 13 years to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I was working on my BFA. 

I was struggling to find my artistic voice -- working on my technique, but not creating anything personal. Then, one day, I painted a series of small oil paintings of a doll with her throat slit. It was the first truly honest piece of work I had done, and with those paintings I was accepted into the school's advanced painting program, which helped me dig deeper and finally be find a voice for my final thesis show.

I share this story today, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, because sharing real human stories is more important now than ever. Jewish history is saturated with pain, trauma and survival, and yet our tradition celebrates life to the fullest, gratitude and joy are baked into our customs and even our prayers. This push and pull is what fuels my art.

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