Rosalyn Kliot (BA Art, ’68), the daughter of Holocaust survivors, attended Roosevelt University at a time when its students flocked to Chicago’s civil rights and anti-war protests. She sees the same urgent battle — and glimmers of hope — in the idealistic causes fought for then and now.
“Silence is not an option,” said Rosalyn. “When we see and experience injustice without speaking out, we become complicit.”
Rosalyn was born in Lodz, Poland in 1945 after her parents escaped from a concentration camp in Estonia. Less than one percent of Polish and Lithuanian Jewish children born during the Holocaust, like Rosalyn, survived. For 25 years, she has spoken out on panels against hate and bigotry.
Her time at Roosevelt cemented her belief in the power of education.
“I am eternally grateful for the liberal arts education and art training I received during my college years,” Rosalyn said. “Roosevelt continues to strive towards its idealism of inclusion and equity. We must hold firm to these ideals when we see how easily they can be forgotten and tossed aside.”
Learn more about arts and culture at Roosevelt University.
“We were all so young and idealistic”
After the war, Skokie, Illinois became home to an enclave of Jewish concentration camp survivors who settled outside of Chicago. Growing up in the suburbs, Rosalyn was eager to experience the city and the swelling social movements of the 1960s.
During her first year of college, Rosalyn excelled in her classes at the University of Illinois, Navy Pier. But she chose to transfer to Roosevelt over several other colleges (including Northwestern University) that invited her to attend. She was attracted to Roosevelt University’s liberal and democratic policies, as well as the socially conscious vibe of the faculty.
In Roosevelt’s fine arts program, she joined a diverse student body and with a faculty that broadened her “once-insulated” world. “Of all my memories, it is my contact with other students, particularly those of diverse backgrounds, that illuminated my education beyond academics,” said Rosalyn. “We were all so young and idealistic.”
The day’s social issues — racism, civil rights, women's rights, and the anti-war movement — had a profound impact on her.
“My experience at RU during the tumultuous sixties did indeed feed my political, intellectual and social needs,” Rosalyn said. “It provided just the right atmosphere of freedom to stretch myself artistically and as a socially conscious human.”
At Roosevelt, just down the street from the Art Institute of Chicago, Rosalyn had access to world-class art professors. Art history professor Lois Fink hired Rosalyn as a teaching assistant to conduct research for her doctorate on Nicolas Poussin. Rosalyn also studied with professor Don Baum, an artist that the Museum of Contemporary Art has called “an indispensable curator of the Chicago school.”
Professor Baum invited Rosalyn to show one of her paintings in a national exhibition at the Hyde Park Art Center. She was the only student included in the exhibition.
“I could not have asked for a better art teacher than Don Baum,” Rosalyn said. “His method fostered the intuitive and meditative process that has continued to guide me throughout these many years.”
After graduating from Roosevelt, Rosalyn opened her own business in southern California. She earned her graduate degree in counseling, working as a vocational rehabilitation counselor and a forensic vocational expert witness at Supplemental Security Income hearings.
Since her retirement, Rosalyn has published her writing in journals and newspapers and now focuses on her art full time. One of her mixed-media works (above) depicts five fish dangling from hooks. The painting references a story about five concentration camp prisoners who attempted to escape and were captured and hung from hooks by the Nazis as a warning.
“When I heard about this, I could never get my head around that imagery, but did need to express in the only way that made sense to me,” Rosalyn said. “ The fish are beautiful in color, like the spirit of the prisoners.”
Rosalyn is currently at work on a new book compiling her art, essays, poetry and recipes pertaining to the current pandemic.
Speaking out against prejudice
As a public speaker at universities and federal agencies, Rosalyn has shared her family’s experience during the Holocaust for more than 25 years. Her memoir, My Father’s Book: A Daughter's Memoir to her Daughter, is available online through the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. She joins panels with other survivors to speak out against discrimination, prejudice, anti-Semitism and what she terms “the slippery slope toward genocide.”
In 2020, Rosalyn notes, activists still have to champion the same causes that she and her peers fought for in the 1960s.
“Current events seem to belie any progress from those days of youthful idealism,” she said. “Anti-Semitism is again on the rise, while concurrently we see the underbelly of racism, prejudice, bigotry, hatred and fear against peoples of color resurfacing.”
Despite the pervasiveness of these systemic issues, Rosalyn finds hope in the belief that words and action do matter.
“Each year, my pride at being a graduate of RU grows exponentially with the growth and distinction of this progressive and forward-reaching University,” she said. “During this critical period in the history of our nation, I am prouder than ever that RU continues to stand on the right side of history.”