The more I learn about Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, the more inspired I become. Maybe inspired is only part of it–her story makes me feel like anything is possible, even in the face of some the worst things imaginable. I first learned of her work, and her teaching at the Terezin concentration camp (Theresienstadt) when I was in high school. I learned a play called ‘I Never Saw Another Butterfly’, written by Celeste Raspanti. It fictionalised the lives of Dicker-Brandeis and her students, the children of Terezin. I can’t tell you how this changed my life. I know I sound overdramatic, but its very true. That year, I saw some of the drawings exhibited at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Washington D.C., including one by the ‘character’ I was in the play. Maybe its unfair that Dicker-Brandeis inspires me mostly because of what she did in that place, as opposed to what she did while free, but there can be no doubt that however you look at it, she was an amazing person.
Frederika “Friedl” Dicker-Brandeis (July 30, 1898 – October 9, 1944), was a Viennese artist, and studied and taught at the Weimar Bauhaus. Dicker-Brandeis and her husband were deported to the Terezín “model ghetto” in December 1942. She helped to organize secret education classes for the children of Terezín. She saw drawing and art as a way for the children to understand their emotions and their environment. Brandeis was transported to Auschwitz; Dicker-Brandeis volunteered for the next transport to join him. But before she was taken away, she gave to Rosa Engländer, the chief tutor of Girls’s Home L 410, two suitcases with 4,500 drawings. F. Dicker-Brandes died in Birkenau on October 9, 1944. Her husband Pavel, survived. After the war, Willy Groag, the director of the Girl’s home L 410 brought the suitcases with children’s drawings to the Jewish Community in Prague. From the nearly 660 authors of the drawings, 550 were killed in the Holocaust. The drawings are now in the Jewish Museum in Prague’s collection, with some on display in the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague.
- Further Reading:
- Friedl Dicker-Brandeis: Vienne 1898-Auschwitz 1944, by Elena Makarova
- Fireflies in the Dark: The Story of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and the Children of Terezin, by Susan Goldman Rubin
- I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems From Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944, edited by Y Volavkova