Grieving Mother

In the second half of 1941, the Nazi German occupation authorities established a ghetto in Riga, where acquaintances of the artist also found themselves. Among them was Beļcova’s former music teacher. In the mid-1920s she had private lessons with him. Beļcova brought food parcels to him in the ghetto.

In her memoirs, which were written in the 1970s, Beļcova mentioned that she had seen an acquaintance in the ghetto, a young woman named Anna with two young children. It is not known exactly, but it may have been Anna Vestermane-Genin, an amateur artist, and acquaintance of Beļcova’s. According to some letters in the Beļcova archives, the woman lived in Jaunjelgava before the war. There is very little information about Anna because she and Beļcova were not close friends. The two met in the ghetto only a few times, but it is possible to say that the fate of this woman and her two young children shocked Beļcova.

This is evidenced not so much by the brief mention in the memories as by the large number of drawings in which she depicts a woman crying in despair and two children beside her. These drawings are mostly unfinished sketches, they repeat the same composition with minimal differences, the same plot – low ceiling, crying woman, children next to her.

It is possible that Beļcova also intended a large painting. This version is evidenced by some studies of crying female figures. In them, Beļcova draws a striped cloak on the women’s shoulder, that recalls the tallit – the Jewish prayer shawl.

In general, however, most of these drawings do not seem to have been conceived as preparatory works for a finished work of art; they serve instead some other purpose. With such a considerable number of repetitions – close to 50 – one is left with the impression that their creation became a kind of therapy for the artist, a way to deal with the pain of the soul, the suffering from the awareness of the horrors of the Holocaust.