Monthly Archives: July 2015

Inge Auerbacher: A Voice for Justice and Reconciliation, Part 1

After the amazing coincidence that led me to Judy Diamant, I never expected I would get the chance to speak with another survivor of Terezin. It began with a surprise email from author and disabilities advocate Rachel Simon, my creative writing professor, mentor and friend. She had recently appeared in a documentary by a young filmmaker named Adrian Esposito, who has autism. She then posted the video on Facebook, and received a message from Inge Auerbacher, a woman who appeared in one of Adrian’s earlier films. To her amazement, she learned that Inge is a Terezin survivor who has published a number of books and travels the world to give lectures about her experiences in the camp and her life after Terezin. In her response to Inge, Professor Simon told her about my study of Terezin and my blog, and Inge was very interested and generously offered to speak with me.

Given that Inge lives in New York, and I am now living in Colorado, an in-person meeting wasn’t possible, but we scheduled a time to speak over the phone instead. By speaking with Inge and reading her powerful autobiography entitled I Am a Star: Child of the Holocaust, I learned about her family and the years they spent in Terezin.

Inge, age 4
Inge, age 4

Inge was born on December 31, 1934 in a village called Kippenheim, located in South-West Germany in the Black Forest region. Her family had lived in Germany for over two hundred years, and her father, Berthold, served in the German army during World War I. Disabled during the war, he was honored with an Iron Cross for his service and subsequently developed a successful textile business. He and his wife Regina and daughter lived in a comfortable home and had good relations with both their Jewish and Christian neighbors.

Everything changed when Inge was three years old. Though a young child, Inge still remembers how her grandfather and father were arrested and taken away to the concentration camp Dachau, along with all Jewish men over the age of sixteen. She remembers the windows of her home being smashed, and running to the backyard shed to hide from the raging mob. The synagogue was badly damaged in the Kristallnacht riots. After a few weeks, her grandfather and father returned home, but nothing would be the same. Inge’s father lost his business and sold his home in Kipperheim. The family moved to Jebenhausen, where Inge’s grandparents lived. Soon after the move, Inge’s grandfather died. He ended his life bitterly disappointed in the country he had once loved.

Inge with her parents and grandparents
Inge with her parents and grandparents


Inge started school at age six and was forced to attend a separate school from the Christian children. She needed to walk two miles and then take a train to reach the nearest Jewish school. She had to make this journey for six months, when transports began and she could no longer attend school. In 1942, when she was just seven years old, Inge, her parents and her grandmother were assigned on a transport east. Her father requested that his family be spared, given his status as a disabled veteran. His request was granted, but the Nazis refused to remove Inge’s grandmother from the transport.

Destroyed synagogue in Kippenheim
Destroyed synagogue in Kippenheim

In August 1942, Inge and her parents were assigned for another transport, despite her father’s veteran status. Their money was stolen, they were driven from their apartment and taken to Stuttgart, where they had to sleep on the bare floor of a large hall for two nights. Then they were taken to their final destination, Terezin.

Books by Inge (available on Amazon)
I Am a Star: Child of the Holocaust 
Beyond the Yellow Star to America



Raja Englanderova and Willy Groag: Keepers of the Art

Terezin motif collage by Margit Gerstmannova (1931-1944)
Terezin motif collage by Margit Gerstmannova

It seems such a shame that there is so little information available about the two people who preserved the poems and drawings of Friedl’s students. In Raja’s case things are more complicated because a famous play entitled I Never Saw Another Butterfly presents a fictionalized account of her Terezin experiences. Given the lack of information available about her, it becomes difficult to understand who Raja (pronounced Ry-ah) truly was.

We do know that she was a teenager, an older student of Friedl’s and had a leadership role in the one of the camp barracks known as “the Girls’ Home”. It appears Friedl trusted that Raja would do as much as she could to preserve the children’s drawings. Why else would Friedl have selected Raja for this task? Raja was somehow spared from the transports to Auschwitz and managed to safely hide the suitcases until the liberation of Terezin.

Willy Groag was a chemist, teacher and leader of a Zionist youth organization called Maccabee Hatza’ir and at Terezin was appointed to manage the Girls’ Home along with Raja and some others. He did what he could to improve the barrack, though there was little that could be done in the ghetto. At night he would make rounds to check that everyone was in bed and no one was missing, and would tell stories to children who were unable to sleep.
When liberation came, Willy was one of the few men in the camp who was strong enough to work. He was appointed Director of Children and Youth, and worked tirelessly to reunite children with their parents. Often it was an impossible task since many of the children were orphaned.

In August 1945, several months after liberation, Raja approached him and revealed Friedl’s suitcases, which she had succeeded in hiding to the end of the war. She turned the suitcases over to him, and he returned the suitcases to the Prague Jewish community. At the time, the community leaders did not express much interest in them, and they languished in storage for over ten years, when some members of the community discovered them. Since then they have been exhibited worldwide, even to this day. For the most part, they are kept safely in Prague, at the Jewish Museum and the Pinkas synagogue and have been published in a number of books and volumes.

Though little is known of Willy and Raja, together they brought the poems and drawings of the children of Terezin to the world. These small works of art are all that remain of so many of the children of Terezin, their only legacy, preserved thanks to the efforts of Willy and Raja.

“Terezin motif” from Krizkova, Marie R., Kotouc, Kurt J. & Ornest, Zdenek. We Are Children Just the Same: Vedem, the Secret Magazine of the Boys of Terezin. The Jewish Publication Society, 1995. Print. Used with permission.

Friedl Dicker-Brandeis: Extraordinary Artist and Devoted Teacher

Frederika Dicker-Brandeis, better known by her nickname Friedl, was an artist and teacher who saved many of her students’ drawings and poems. Born in Austria, she studied at the prestigious Weimar Bauhaus art school and was a student of famous artists such as Paul Klee. She also taught at the Bauhaus, and later worked as an artist and textile designer in various cities including Berlin and Prague. A letter she wrote to a friend in 1940 gives us insight into her philosophy of creativity and teaching. She wrote that when she was a young art student her desire was to protect her future students from unpleasant experiences and uncertainty but that as an adult her view changed. By 1940 she expressed the view that it was most important to inspire creativity in others, to help them develop that creativity, and to encourage them to always pursue that creativity no matter what obstacles they might face.

In December 1942, at the age of 42, Friedl and her husband Pavel Brandeis were transported to Terezin. Despite the terrible conditions in the ghetto, Friedl held fast to her determination to inspire creativity in others. She arranged art classes for children, and was strongly convinced that through art the children could express and better understand their emotions and better cope with their experience of living in the ghetto. As described by Chaim Potok in the introduction to I Never Saw Another Butterfly, Friedl used many techniques in her classes such as breathing exercises, the study of texture and color, and an emphasis on close observation of the environment. She would sometimes tell stories and have the children draw objects that she mentioned twice. After each class, she would instruct one student to collect the drawings and store them in her room, a tiny closet-sized space in one of the camp barracks which she decorated by draping blue sheets on the walls and hanging paintings of flowers.

Just what kind of person was Friedl Dicker-Brandeis? What was her personality like, and how did she relate to others? Various sources agree that she was highly intelligent, energetic, charismatic and talented in a number of arenas, including teaching and many art forms. She was very knowledgeable and insightful about children’s intellectual and psychological development and believed that art could be used as a form of therapy before art therapy was an established field. She also was kind-hearted and related incredibly well to children, and those who survived the camp stated that she made a profound impact on their lives, that her classes allowed them to experience a taste of freedom and to find solace through imagination and the pursuit of creativity. Friedl was also described as incredibly generous and self-giving, and never accepted any form of compensation for her classes or lectures. I was especially moved to learn that she rarely painted or drew while in Terezin because materials were scarce and she saved them for the children.

In 1944, as the transports increased, Friedl hid the children’s drawings in suitcases, which she entrusted to one of her art students. Her husband was placed on one of the last transports to Auschwitz in October 1944, and Friedl volunteered to be included in the transport. Tragically Friedl died in Auschwitz, but her husband survived the camp.

But the suitcases Friedl hid away survived, thanks to a young Terezin artist, a girl named Raja Englanderova.

Further Reading
New York Times:
Jewish Women’s Archive:
Elena Makarova: Friedl, Dicker-Brandeis, Vienna 1898- Auschwitz 19 (Paperback), Publisher: Tallfellow Press; 1st ed edition (December 31, 1999)