Biography

1904 Birth in Budapest, July 25th 1904
1925-1930 After artistic studies started in Budapest, Erna decides to complete her training in Paris. She later works as a designer in “Art déco” workshops. Socialises with friends from Hungary, among them Sigmund Vamos, a medical student. Because of the “numerus clausus” established in Hungary against Jewish students Sigmund had began his medical studies in Italy (Padova, Bologna) and later in Paris.
1930 Marries Sigmund Vamos in Budapest. The couple returns to Paris where Sigmund completes his medical studies.
1931 Sigmund is accepted as medical doctor at the Paris Faculty of Medicine. Out of sympathy for the Russian revolution, and as physicians were in great demand in USSR, Sigmund accepts an appointment from the Soviet government to work in Ukraine. Because of the famine and repression against the farmers, the couple decides to leave USSR after 3 months.
Birth of their 1st child, Anna/Annette/Hannah in Saratov (Russia).
1931-1935 While her husband is assigned by the French government to a sanitary mission in French Equatorial Africa, (now Chad), Erna remains in Budapest.
She mixes in intellectual and artistic circles, discovers Freud’s work, develops a passion for psychoanalysis, and meets the anthropologist and psychoanalyst, Geza Roheim, with whom she undertakes a therapy.
1935-1936 Erna accompanies her husband to Africa for his second mission. They live in Moïssala (Chad), a region populated by the Sara ethnic group. As suggested by her psychoanalyst Geza Roheim, she observes and collects games and tales from the Sara children.(*) She also paints portraits of local people.

(*) The typed manuscript (written in French) can be consulted upon request to Erna’s family.
1937 Erna returns to Budapest and gives birth to a 2d child, Eszter /Esther. After having accomplished his second term Sigmund returrns to Europe. The family stays successively in Budapest and Paris.
1937-1938 Worried about the rise of nazism in Europe, the couple considers emigration either to USA (where Sigmund has an uncle), Palestine or Africa. Because of his previous experience, Sigmund is eventually appointed by a Belgian mining company based in the Belgian Congo (now Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC).
1939 The family settles in Mitwaba, a small mining town exploiting cassiterite in Northern Katanga, DRC. Sigmund is the physician in charge of the African and European populations.
1940 February: birth of 3d child, a son, named Elie Christophe.
July: death of husband Sigmund from a cardiac illness in Elisabethville / Lubumbashi (DRC). Erna finds herself alone with three children in a town where she doesn’t know anybody. As the war has broken out, a return to Europe is out of the question.
1940-1958 Erna settles in Elisabethville with her three children. In order to make ends meet, she first sets up a boarding house serving meals to young single adults. In the meantime, she starts to exhibit her paintings in a local bookshop, aiming at introducing herself as an artist. In 1942, her first exhibition in Elisabethville is quite successful, thus allowing her to quit cooking as a livelihood and to devote herself entirely to painting as her profession. She will thereafter have numerous exhibitions in Elisabethville.
In 1945, she is informed of the loss of half of her family, exterminated in Auschwitz. She decides against returning to Hungary and requests the Belgian nationality. During the post-war years, she endeavours to make herself known as an artist beyond Elisabethville, organizing exhibitions in other places in Belgian Congo and South Africa.
In 1954, she visits her daughter Anne in Israel.
1958-1961 Her two other children (Esther and Elie) move to Brussels to pursue their studies at the University of Brussels. Erna joins them. After an exhibition in a private house (met with little success), she tries in vain to find stable work in Brussels.
She goes to Budapest in order to be reunited with her surviving family and organize an exhibition.
1961-1965 Erna joins her daughter Anne/Hannah who lives in Israel in a small farming community. She keeps on painting portraits, selecting as models mainly Arabs and recently immigrated Jews from Orient. She suffers from severe depression which is reflected in her work.
August 19th, 1965: death by suicide in Meir Shfeya (Israel).