Tolerance Week: Art department present readings about the Holocaust

Photo by Chris Harpenau

Chris Harpenau
Staff Reporter

As part of tolerance week, Briar Cliff students and faculty presented selected readings last Thursday from Hana Volavková’s book “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.”


“Last year Nan was asked to speak at Western Iowa Tech Community College and [now] this year at Briar Cliff,” said Alyssa Keller, a junior art major.


Nan Wilson, the head of the art department, assembled a presentation for students outlining the history of Terezin, a multipurpose camp used during WWII by Germans during the Holocaust to house Jews.  


The camp was located 38 miles Northwest of Prague, Czechoslovakia, and originally had been used as a fort to protect the monarchy after its construction sometime between 1780 and 1790. 


 It included dark, bleak-looking houses that could quarter up to 7,000 soldiers. 


The camp itself existed from Nov. 24, 1941 to May 9, 1945. 


“The average population was 30,000 to 40,000 people on any given day,” said Wilson. “At one point the population was at 56,000 in a place originally designed for 7,000 [people].


Terezin was said to have had very poor sanitation and according to Wilson, over 40,000 died due to a combination of overcrowding and [poor] living conditions. 


Czech Musician Alexandra Goldschneider is quoted in the book as saying, “Of all the paradoxes and inexplicable events of mankind, I find the systematic extermination of six million Jews in the Holocaust the hardest to understand.”


According to Wilson, one of the uses for the camp was a means of propaganda, promoting the settlement as a “Spa Town” for elderly Jews who couldn’t be expected to do labor in other work camps.


“In Terezin, every able-bodied person over the age of 14 was forced to do manual labor,” said Wilson.


The labor included breaking up mica rock, and spraying military uniforms with white dye so that they might provide German soldiers with camouflage during winters on the Russian battlefield. 


While writing home was forbidden, writing within the camp was permitted. But basic supplies were high in demand but short in availability, until a woman by the name of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis came to the camp on December 1942, bringing art supplies for the children of Terezin.


In the foreword by Chaim Potok, Wilson said Dicker-Brandeis taught the children what her teachers had taught her: exercises in breathing and rhythm, textures, color values and how to free one’s self of the outer world of routine.


“They drew their concealed inner world and their tortured emotions which Dicker-Brandeis was able to enter and try to heal,” said Wilson. 


Pictures drawn by the children were paired alongside poetry excerpts from Volavkova’s book, read by students Alexandra Alberda and Dave Thomas. 


“We opened up the book and looked at Nan’s presentation trying to find the most powerful poems that related to it,” said Keller. 


In September 1944, Dicker-Brandeis was transported to the concentration camp at Auschwitz but not before passing along two suitcases filled with over 4,500 drawings to Raja Engländerova, the chief tutor of Girls' Home L 410.


“The poems I think gave an insight into the camp that we could not get from the facts alone,” said Alberda. 


Alberda noted that one of the poems read by Thomas describes in great detail the day when the camp was to be inspected by the Red Cross. Written accounts describe visual improvements being made to the camp overnight giving the camp a false sense of representation. New street signs where there were none before as well as new furniture and a building that was hastily labeled as a school closed for the holidays. 


The false image of the German run camp would be upheld for a while longer, at least until its liberation at the hands of the Soviets on May 8, 1945. This would come as a hollow victory as already more than 80 percent of European Jews had been wiped out. 


“In remembering, we might stay a little more vigilant to guard against prejudice and hatred when we encounter it,” said Wilson.


Please view the video “Performance Art in Terezin”


And learn more about the history of Terezin and its conditions. 


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Submitted by braunschweigc on Tue, 05/08/2012 - 19:47

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