Ligocka, Roma 1938-

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LIGOCKA, Roma 1938-


Born Roma Liebling, November 13, 1938, in Krakow, Poland; married twice; children: one son. Education: Attended Academy of the Arts, Krakow, Poland. Religion: Jewish.


Home—Munich, Germany. Agent—Nancy Kahan, Nancy Kahan Associates, P.O. Box 1921, Lakeville, CT 06039-1921.


Costume and set designer for theater, opera, film, and television; artist and writer. Has exhibited art works in Warsaw, Poland, Zurich, Switzerland, and New York, NY.


Recipient of awards for costume and set design in Europe.


(With Iris von Finckenstein) Das Mädchen im Roten Mantel, Droemer (Munich, Germany), 2000, translation by Margot Dembo published as The Girl in the Red Coat: A Memoir, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2002.


When Roma Ligocka was persuaded to attend the German premiere of Steven Spielberg's film Schindler's List, she was astonished to see herself portrayed on the screen. The Academy Award-winning movie was shot entirely in black and white, except for the image of a young girl in a red coat, moving through the Krakow ghetto. Ligocka recognized herself as that child. She was somewhat notorious amongst her neighbors, family, and friends for the strawberry-red coat she wore, prior to the Nazi takeover of her native land. Ligocka was one of the few, fortunate survivors of Nazi atrocities in Krakow, and she was so inspired by Schindler's List that she went home and began her memoirs the same night. The resulting book, The Girl in the Red Coat: A Memoir, has achieved bestseller status in Europe.

On her Web site, Ligocka wrote: "The theme of my book is the life of a woman who carries the burden of her fate, a woman who tries to overcome childhood wounds. I did not want to write yet another Holocaust book. Instead, I wanted to tell the story of a woman who looks back after 50 years, and sees the changes the Holocaust has brought about in her." The Girl in the Red Coat is Ligocka's remembrance of the trauma and tragedy of growing up during World War II. She and her mother escaped from the ghetto by traversing a secret passageway. They found refuge with a Polish family, and Ligocka's mother forged identification papers, changing their names from Liebling to Ligocka. Young Roma spent the next years of her life hiding from the Nazis as they searched for Jews to kill. After the war, she did not even recognize her father when he returned from imprisonment in Auschwitz.

Ligocka's memoir does not begin and end with the Holocaust, however. It goes on to describe her coming-of-age in communist-controlled Krakow, where she studied art and costume design at the prestigious Academy of the Arts. The book also describes Ligocka's warm and inspiring relationship with her cousin, Roman Polanski, who went on to become an American filmmaker. Ligocka details her bohemian travels around Europe and her struggles with anxiety, substance abuse, and eating disorders, as well as her triumphs in visual arts, costume and set design. On her Web site, the author said that she wanted to portray a life evenly balanced between joy and suffering, because she wanted to encourage her readers to keep faith in troubled times. "We cannot sue life or trade it in for a better one," she concluded. "I would like the reader to also see the good sides of life."

The Girl in the Red Coat was warmly received in Europe, where it sold well in its original German and in translation. Maria C. Bagshaw in Library Journal commended the memoir as "a fascinating work that reads like a novel." A Publishers Weekly reviewer particularly liked Ligocka's "harrowing, impressionistic account of her early memories of the ghetto." In an online review for Anglican Media Sydney, Margaret Rodger noted that the book "provides an impetus and example for us to understand and preach the reality of human sin and viciousness.… This story, told with the simplicity and innocence of a child, will rivet the reader's attention." Booklist contributor George Cohen concluded that The Girl in the Red Coat "is not only a Holocaust memoir but also a story of one woman's quest for contentment."

In an interview with the Guardian, Ligocka told James Hopkin that Steven Spielberg was surprised—and overjoyed—to find her alive. She also admitted that her whole life has been colored by the trauma of growing up during the Holocaust—for better and for worse. "Contrary to popular belief, time does not heal wounds," she said. "In the depths of my soul I am still the scared child who runs for her life. But I have learned to live with this, so I find life extremely beautiful and I am grateful for every single day."



Booklist, September 15, 2002, George Cohen, review of The Girl in the Red Coat: A Memoir, p. 199.

Guardian, October 16, 2002, James Hopkin, "Little Girl Found."

Library Journal, October 1, 2002, Maria C. Bagshaw, review of The Girl in the Red Coat, p. 108.

Publishers Weekly, August 26, 2002, review of The Girl in the Red Coat, p. 59.


Anglican Media Sydney, (May 2, 2003), Margaret Rodger, review of The Girl in the Red Coat.

The Girl in the Red Coat Web site, (June 27, 2003).*