Updated: May 16, 2019
In 1942, Hitler arrived in Prague at the doorstep of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. Nazi enforcers demanded she pack a bag as she was to be deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in the Czech Republic. Most in her position took the essentials, packing clothes and sentimental reminders into a suitcase but Friedl chose tools that galvanized a generation. An artist by trade, Friedl brought an abundance of art supplies intended for the children she’d soon meet. After arriving, her devotion to these young survivors was actualized in art classes for the children. She quickly became known as their “Art Mother.”
Friedl’s classes provided the children with a momentary escape from their reality. Children in the camp created artwork that resembled the unfettered tone of their imagination. The children were in the middle of extraordinary circumstances and still able to express their emotions through their art. Patterns shared in their art were ocean scenes inhabited by wondrous sea creatures and whimsical paintings of people flying. Some illustrated dreams of what life would be like outside the camp with line drawings of windows looking onto fields of grass with the sun shining down on their faces. Friedl provided an outlet for these traumatized children to explain their experiences in work that would become timeless.
Drawchange proudly continues Friedl’s legacy through our commitment to provide empowering art experiences to underserved youth. Friedl enabled children at the concentration camp to embrace the intimacy of their sublime emotions. The principles she promoted in her art classes ballooned in the hearts of her students and provided a temporary emancipation from their fears. Friedl’s story is one of hope and ingenuity leveraged in an environment of scarcity. She showed us that all it takes to change the world is to give of yourself. Friedl Dicker-Brandeis’ story is not only an inspiration but a challenge for us to match in our own lives.
Watch the full report on Friedl Dicker-Brandeis on this BBC Arts posting from the series The Vital Spark with Simon Schama.