Art from the Ghetto


MIROSLAV Kosek, who wrote these lines, was born on March 30th, 1932. He died on October 19th, 1944. He ends his poem, It All Depends How You Look At It, with words which show that while living in the Jewish ghetto of Terezin near Prague, he never understood the enormity of the evil around him:

The whole, wide world is ruled

With a certain justice, so

That helps perhaps to sweeten

The poor man's pain and woe.

Of the 15,000 children who lived in the Terezin ghetto, only 100 survived. The ghetto was established in an old fortress in 1941 as a transit camp on the way to Auschwitz. It was represented to the outside world as a "self governed Jewish settlement area".

In fact, this community so close to death did organise itself carefully, directing most resources towards the children, who it was felt had a better chance of survival; artistic resources as well as food and shelter. The artist Friedl Dicker Brandeis took charge of the art classes, and the children's magnificent art work has survived, though most of the children did not.

A superb exhibition of this work, from Prague's Jewish Museum, is on display in the Ark Children's Cultural Centre in Dublin's Temple Bar under a title which comes from one of the many children's poems also on display, I Have Not Seen A Butterfly Around Here.

Brandeis encouraged the children to portray memories of the past, and so there are blasts of beautiful colour: an orange sun symbol backed with strident ribs of yellow, blue, brown; collages of happy East European villages on crazy hills; a flower image in cochineal red against slate blue. Workshops for children at the Ark, held by Niamh Lawlor will thus focus on art and memory.

Temple Bar Galleries is presenting a parallel exhibition of work by eight Irish artists - Carmel Benson, Rosemary Canavan, Martina Galvin, Brian Kennedy, Brian Maguire, Peter McCormack, Colin McGookin and Sharon O'Malley - a response to Terezin inspired poems by Irish poet James Rudel. Benson's Leaves is a strong black captured tree/Jewish candle image, breaking up into black leaves against an intense blue background, which is luminous with spirit.

Maguire's work shows a 1943 speech by Himmler, in a broken and insane scrawl. By the end of the year, predicted Himmler, "only a residue of individual Jews will remain in hiding. The question of non Jews married to Jews and the question of half Jews will be sensibly and reasonably investigated, decided and then solved."