Dita Polachova (approximate age 13) Watercolor 1942 in Theresienstadt Ghetto
This evening marks Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Originally this observance coincided with the date of the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. There are actually numerous different dates that many countries use as a Remembrance day. Some use the day the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz, others when Americans liberated Dachau or other important events during the war. Regardless of the date, many Western countries have an observance.
Approximately eleven million died during the Holocaust, six million were Jews. The other estimated five million came from numerous ethnic and religious groups, POWs, homosexuals, the disabled, or resisters. Many were non-practicing nominal Jews.
But in those millions of people affected by the Holocaust, some continued to strive to better themselves and those around them. One was Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, an artist and teacher. She was deported to Terezin Ghetto (Theresienstadt) in 1942.
When she learned of her deportation she collected anything she could use as art supplies– wrapping paper, charcoal, ledgers, receipts, scraps of books to take with her. Knowing she could only take what she could carry, she chose to leave most of her possessions to have room for her supplies. However, the supplies she carried where not for herself. They were for the children.
Tens of thousands of children lived in the fortress of Terezin. They were starving, they were afraid, and they were bored. Friedl Dicker-Brandeis didn’t do “arts and crafts” project with these children, she taught them art. Not only did she teach them art concepts and techniques, she taught them how art could be therapy. She gave lectures to parents and other adults on using art to give them freedom and hope.
She taught hundreds of children and held art shows and set up galleries of their work. After her husband was transported to Auschwitz she collected over 4,000 pieces of artwork her children made and passed them along to someone else for safe keeping. She was taken on the next transport and was gassed in 1944.
Over 5,000 pieces of art survived from her students. Most of them are now in the Jewish Museum in Prague. You can also find several in the book I Never Saw Another Butterfly, which also contains poems from the children of Terezin.
This watercolor can be found in this book. It was painted by Dita Polachova while she was in Terezin. She was transported to Auschwitz in 1943 and liberated from Bergen-Belsen in 1945. She later moved to Israel.
I chose this painting because I thought the subject matter was intriguing. The assumption is that she painted a building she could see. It’s obvious this painting is of a church, there is a cross at the top of the building. Was it chosen because it represented something she was not? Again, assumptions are made. As she moved to Israel, one might assume she is Jewish. Or maybe it was chosen because she had little choice. She painted what she saw.
On this Holocaust Remembrance Day I encourage you to not just remember the death and destruction, but the ones that gave hope. Freidl Dicker-Brandeis never stopped believing the children should learn, even if she believed their deaths were as certain as hers. She believed that some of these children would live, and they would need art in their lives to help them survive long after the terror was over.
To learn more about the Holocaust, please visit www.ushmm.org.
You can also see more artwork here: http://www.holocaustawarenessmuseum.org/content/Art-From-Within-Terezin