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Our Journey took us one hour from the center of Prague to Terezin, the concentration work camp and ghetto.
Terezin was originally a fortress prison established in the late 18th century as a prison for military and political convicts. In 1941 it was used by the Nazi’s as a prison for Jews. Jews that were brought to Terezin from Prague, some 83,000, with the exception of a handful of survivors, were never seen again.
They were all deported to extermination camps in the East.
What is most poignant about visiting Terezin is not the cold stone cells, cramped ghetto barracks or crematorium, all chillingly horrifying but the multitude of artists, composers, musicians, writers and actors that left behind the real, untold story of Terezin. You see, the Nazi’s wanted the world to think they had set up a beautiful home for the Jews at Terezin and they knew they had captured some of Prague’s most talented people in the small space of the ghetto to tell that false story. As part of their grand scheme, the Nazi’s used this talent to create drawings and films, poems and songs of propaganda.
Viewing the films and paintings created under Nazi instruction, one would think that life was wonderful in Terezin. Jewish soccer matches, knitting clubs, art exhibits, plays and operas were occurring at all times. What was really going on here was beyond the brain’s capability to comprehend.
Bedrich Fritta, Leo Hass, Otto Unger, Karel Fleischmann, Peter Klein….. Do these names ring a bell? Probably not like Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, and Henri Matisse do, because these Terezin artists were exterminated along with their families by the Nazi’s long before they reached the age of 25.
Terezin artists were given materials by the SS to create propaganda pieces but many brave prisoners, once given these materials, used them to depict the real, untold story of life in the ghetto.
Steph and I spent hours sifting through books of drawings, inks, pastels and paintings created by hundreds of courageous Terezin artists, risking their lives each day but knowing that someday their work would be found and would set the record straight about the treatment of the Jews at Terezin.
Reading the biographies of hundreds of prisones who had graduated from some of the best art and architectural schools in Europe brought each artist to life. These weren’t prisoners, they were lives filled with hope, talent, intelligence, families and love. In Terezin they turned into historians, teachers, and activists for peace.
The Nazis continued their propaganda work in Terezin making it appear as a beautiful Jewish settlement. Building a spa and fake store fronts so visitors to Terezin would think it was a town filled with shops and cafes. They even distributed worthless “camp” money to be used when visitors came from the outside.
On June 23th, 1944 as thousands of prisoners were being deported to Auschwitz and other Eastern death camps, Terezin was presented, films and all, to the international delegation as a self-administered Jewish settlement, the inhabitants of which has the opportunity to survive the war without any worries.
Visiting Prague with my daughter is a dream. The narrow cobblestoned streets, ancient castles, gardens, cappuccinos and …let’s not forget the hot wine! Colorful photos in front of John Lennon’s peace wall and decorative beautiful doors abound.
In the Jewish Quarter The spanish synagogue in Moorish style is magnificently ornate. Arabesque designs fashioned after Spain’s, Alhambra fill the interior and
colorful light pours in through the stained the 19th century stained glass.
But one cannot come here and only enjoy the beauty this city has to offer. We are too close to the places where so much horror occurred. Enter deep into the Jewish quarter and history is steeped in the darkness and memory of the hundreds of thousands Jews murdered by the nazis. It was difficult to focus on the tiny letters of the 80,000 names of the Bohemian and Moravian Jewish holocaust victims hand written on the walls of the Pinka Syngogue .
Even more haunting was the exhibit of children’s drawings from the ghetto of Terezin concentration camp recovered from the suitcase of a deportee. The vast majority of these tiny artists were sent to their deaths in Auschwitz shortly after the pictures were drawn.
The drawings are filled with hopes and dreams of freedom. Teacher Friedl Dicker-Brandeis helped the children to forget their fears by giving them the creative outlet of drawing.
“Drawing opened the way for the children of Terezin to memories to the world from which they were torn. It enabled them to see and describe a sadness and the appalling reality but above all it carried them away to a world of fantasy and pure imagination where good triumphs over evil, where free will and abundance reign, where there is paradise on earth…. The children constantly expressed in their drawings the hope of the happy return home, often drawing roads and crossroads with sign posts pointing to Prague. Only a small fraction of the small children who passed through Terezin saw this hope fulfilled.”
Quoted from the wall of The Pinkas Synagogue memorial, Prague
April is genocide awareness month and an opportunity to remember those who perished. We cannot forget the victims of countless genocides in history. We cannot forget that the Rwandan Genocide happened 20 years ago this month and we cannot forget those that suffer human rights abuses of death, slavery and torture, today in many places in the world.
I write this week in memory and in honor of the victims of genocide and the brave survivors, some of whom I have had the honor to know in my life and for the artists who offer space for healing expression for themselves and others.
My son, (Ben Davis, Beats-On-Tap) says I am not a good blogger because I don’t post enough. He’s right. After all, he blogs regularly about music and it is worth checking out! I wait and wait until something really inspires me. Well it hit me tonight as I walked into my studio. My husband and I had just returned from the airport after dropping off our daughter Stephanie to fly to Barcelona, Spain for 3 months. No… not as part of a college program, or any program… After Freshman year at Connecticut College, Steph felt she needed to break out and away from the constraints of art classroom assignments and see what kind of artist she could really become. Somehow she landed upon a website for Estudio-Nomada. She applied and was accepted to the independent art program in Barcelona. She found a family to live with and after private lessons of Krav Maga, self defense class by the best in the State at breakthru fitness.… off she went.
For a moment I felt empty walking back into the art studio without her paint brush in action as it had been all summer. She had just completed a large canvas and her palette papers were still there like their own work of art.
Her glass lamp-working table left with glass all about and an empty gas tank.
…but then I found myself sifting through her work table. I had not touched her side of the studio for weeks as she prepared her journals and inspirations for her 3 month art adventure. I admit I was tempted to throw out some scraps and gain some real estate on the 6 foot table but I never did and tonight I could not break away from the table of art books, cuttings of colorful hand-painted paper, mini cards, poems, fabric journals and paintings. With a list of things to accomplish myself, I just sat and let the colors and textures soak into my senses and let the time slip away.
The last thing we had done together at home was sit across from each other on our yoga mats and say a final Namaste. Finding her work left behind was like another ujjayia breath left from her in the room.
I am tempted to photograph every page of her journals and publish them. Don’t worry Steph…. I kept them closed. But seriously. Her writing is Bob Dylanesque and her paintings a mix of Dali, Kandinsky and Matisse wrapped up in one hippy, vibe, mystical, mother-earth-loving imagination. Is that a genre??
It is hard not to get lost in her passion for her work. Her cat is obviously protecting her territory so I guess I will not be cleaning up tonight!
As an artist and an activist my work goes in two different directions. Once in awhile, they cross paths. When I was awarded the Carl Wilken’s Fellowship I was charged with building community and organizing others to care about the atrocities in the world and particularly Sudan. When I think of awareness of Sudan, I can’t help but be reminded of the beautiful women, fabrics and dance juxtaposed with the faces of those who are malnourished, ill and hopeless.
What better way to depict this than through the expression of art
The Sudan Canvas Project is a call to all artists, beginning with those in my local community and state of Connecticut, to paint a canvas depicting either the beauty or the sadness of the women of Sudan.
The paintings will be donated for exhibits where they will be sold to raise money for trade education in the village of Ariang where we have been building a primary school. The new school, their first building ever in Ariang, will enable the women to have a safe place at night in which to learn a skill.
South Sudan will become its own nation on July 9. In Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof addresses the fact that countries that have empowered their women, turn around their failing economies. Although this project will not change a country, it will change a village, by empowering one woman at a time.
The Pink House Painters of Fairfield County Connecticut have enthusiastically begun to paint and many members have volunteered to help with our exhibits. It has been incredible to see the support for this project so quickly. The Fairfield Arts Council enthusiastically donated their gallery space for our first exhibit to take place on November 27, 2011.
CT paintings are due by September 30. Artists outside CT can submit paintings to be posted on our website and saved for a national exhibit in 2012.
N’Gor Island has earned it’s nickname, “Island of Paradise” A 10 minute boat ride from the mainland, the small island boasts crashing waves and tropical sunshine,
local artists at work, thatched cabanas, and delectable food.
Before the arrival of French Settlers, N’Gor island was uninhabited. Only a few goats bred by Lebous fisherman used to dawdle on this “prohibited” territory, thought to be possessed by a bad spirit. Although few Americans visit this “treasured” Island, europeans come from all over to to vacation here.
local artist, Amedine Drop’s moving painting depicts the two sides of Africa, the contrast of peace and beauty and the sadness of war. The tear drops from Sudan and the darkness represents conflicts in Congo and surrounding areas. Of course we purchased this painting with little haggling. Happy to support the local artists.
This is a favorite destination for surfers as the waves crash relentlessly against the island shore. But even with the strong sound of the ocean we were soothed by the sound of Senegalese drumming coming from somewhere amongst the rocks and trees.
Walking back to the hotel locals sell everything from sesame candy to peanuts. we had a sumptuous orange peeled for us like a n art. It’s sweet juice will quench any thirst.
We have to thank Karim once again for a fabulous day. He is off to plan our night out with local, live music. Unfortunately the shows get