Nomi Wagner Portrait Artist

A Family’s Portrait

by Nomi Wagner

A Family’s Portrait

I’m 76 today and, as George Burns was quoted as saying, “I’m very pleased to be here. Let’s face it, at my age I’m very pleased to be anywhere.” I truly am.

My mother passed away last week, just short of her 98th birthday. She was beautiful and brilliant, with a wonderful sense of humor. Mom surprised herself, living a long and full life despite so many tragedies.

My Mother and Father, Los Angeles 1943

In 1945 my father died in WWII. My mother was 27, I was 5 and my brother 2 ½. Her parents both died 3 years later. Mom pulled herself together and did a remarkable job as a single parent, not remarrying until age 70, but then her new husband died 3 years after their wedding.

You can read about my father in my earliest blog posts, linked below. His story was part of a PBS documentary, Berga: Soldiers of Another War. Although he was in the U.S. Army Infantry, my father was captured and sent to a holocaust concentration camp because he was Jewish. Our family’s wartime experience has been reflected in everything my mother, brother and I have done in our lives since then.

My mother was a lifelong volunteer, giving countless hours to help others. My brother has a big heart and is always giving to others and making them laugh. I became a portrait photographer and then portrait artist to document our family and to give others the reminders of how precious their loved ones are and how fragile life can be.

I feel as though I am two people, the survivor and the wife/mom/grandma I’ve become. It’s confusing. After our last interview by CNN in 2008, my mother said, “No more. We are not going to be seen as victims any longer.”

I try to live in the present. But I need to speak out and achieve a balance between my two lives, especially with the horrors the world is now facing. As Jews, we learn to “Never forget!” But all people are now experiencing fear and witnessing terrible inhumanities. I know it’s naïve, but I pray that the people planning and inflicting harm will come to their senses and learn tolerance, and that innocent children and their families will be spared our sadness and will enjoy lives of happiness and love.

Wishing you and yours a New Year of peace and good health.