It was like one more birthday treat for Anitta Fox. At the Oct. 30 gathering honoring the 90-year-old and her “remarkable” family, she discovered a long-lost relative.
Among the 140 or so family members, friends, and fellow Holocaust survivors gathered at the Aidekman campus in Whippany, there was David Boyko of Short Hills. He joined others in examining the paintings by Fox’s father, distinguished Austrian artist Fred Boyko, along with documents, memorabilia, and photographs from the family’s past that are part of the exhibit “From Kristallnacht to Carnegie Hall: The Art & Life of Fred Boyko.”
Fred Boyko fled Austria with his family after Kristallnacht in November 1938; Carnegie Hall is where he opened his artist’s studio after arriving in New York in 1939.
Pointing at a little boy in a formal group shot, David Boyko said, “That’s my grandfather, Max, sitting next to Fred.” Max and Fred were brothers, making him a second cousin to Fox’s children, Serena, Judy, and Dan.
He and they were soon in animated discussion, looking like old friends — or, rather, like family. “Isn’t this amazing,” Anitta declared, holding David’s hand and beaming at him. Evidently, the brothers had parted ways in the United States, with Fred settling in New York, Max in California. Their families had lost contact — till now.
The celebration and the exhibition were hosted by the Holocaust Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. David Boyko, who serves on the federation board, has lived in New Jersey for about 10 years. “When I saw the poster for the exhibition, I noticed the name,” he said. “A friend who is into Jewish genealogy helped me trace the connection.”
“I never expected it would be like this,” Fox told council director Barbara Wind, who organized the show and the event. Fox’s children were also taken aback by the display of paintings, architectural drawings, furniture, artifacts, documents, and photographs on display. “It’s amazing seeing everything displayed like this,” said Judy, herself an artist. “I grew up with all this, but there are things here that I’ve never seen — or never noticed — before.”
Wind described her own process of discovery. “The more I learned about Anitta’s family, the more I realized how remarkable they were,” she said. Fred Boyko was so acclaimed and sought after as a portrait painter, he was able to support his own and five other families in New York after they arrived. Other relatives went on to play a major role in the early days of the State of Israel, building up its security and agriculture.
Austrian Consul General in New York Dr. Georg Heindl was in attendance, the second time this year that he has come to a GMW Holocaust Council event. He praised Fred Boyko’s accomplishments and the cultural contributions made by the Austrian-Jewish expatriate community in New York, to which Boyko belonged. They were among the founders of the Austrian Cultural Forum where, as it happens, Heindl’s father served as the second director.
Heindl also thanked the community for making him welcome. “I know that you would not welcome me like this if Austria had not changed over these past few decades, and made concrete changes,” he said. “Persecution is a concern for all mankind, but Austria is aware of its special responsibility.”
Included in the program was a brief sample of Unconquerable Souls, a documentary about the family being made by Joe Schreiber and Ian Burka.
One of the sequences that will be in the final film was shot over the Labor Day weekend. Wind heard that the Israeli Guide Dog Center for the Blind — the present-day incarnation of the organization founded by Fox’s aunt, Dr. Rudolfina Menzel, and for which Fox raised funds for many years — was holding a bicycle race that weekend, with blind cyclists riding in tandem with seeing riders. Wind arranged to have Fox at the race’s midpoint, the JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, where the cinematographers filmed her greeting the racers and meeting with the Israeli center’s director, Noach Baum. He said that his office is filled with photos of Fox’s aunt, who — in addition to the Guide Dog Center — also founded the K-9 force of the IDF and created the Canaan Dog breed.
Fox “stood for hours in the chill air,” said Wind, “a cane in each hand, waiting for all the riders to arrive and be greeted with waves, her warm, wonderful smile and a hearty ‘Hello, Shalom.’”
The exhibit “From Kristallnacht to Carnegie Hall” will run through Nov. 21.