Helga Hošková-Weissová

* 1929  

  • “On one hand, there were adult artists. On the other, there were children, who were also drawing a lot as part of their education in Terezín. This was the only thing which was allowed. And most of these drawings were created under the guidance of one artist, who was originally from Austria, but after the German takeover of Austria, she escaped to Czechoslovakia. Her name was Friedl Dicker. She married Mr. Brandeis here and she became Friedl Dicker-Brandeisová. When she arrived to Terezín, she devoted a lot of time to the children and she taught them how to draw. She was archiving these drawings, we did not even know where. Only after the war, when the ghetto was being closed, two suitcases were discovered in the attic of one of the childrens' house and there were about five thousand of these drawings in them. Today they are the property of the Jewish Museum and they are known all over the world under the title Butterflies Don’t Live Here. It is the name of a poem, which one boy composed here in Terezín, where he remembered the last butterfly he saw. Thus the collection of poems is known under the title Butterflies Don’t Live Here. There's a closing line of that poem: 'I have not seen a butterfly here. Butterflies don’t live here, in the ghetto.' That’s the line from the poem. I went to Terezín as a twelve-year-old. I was twelve years and a month when we boarded the transport to Terezín. At the beginning, when we were only allowed to send messages between the men’s and women’s barracks, I sent such a naive little drawing of children making a snowman to my father. And father then replied to me, 'Draw what you see.' So I began drawing ordinary life in Terezín. And I was there for almost three years and during that time I made more than a hundred drawings. And I depicted the real daily life in Terezín. Today, these drawings are very precious because they are one of the very few visual documents. Moreover, since I was a child when I drew them, they are very clear and easy to understand. Therefore they are well-known today and they were even published in Germany, and the title is the same as what my Dad told me, 'Draw what you see.'"

  • “At that time, it was decided that Terezín was already full and that a new ghetto would be built somewhere. It would be the same way as in Terezín. The first two transports of men set up this new ghetto. We always tried to believe it somehow. Thus the first two transports of men left, allegedly for some place in Germany, to Königstein or somewhere there. For the third transport, women were allowed to apply voluntarily. My mom wanted to apply at that time. Daddy told her, 'No, please, don’t.' He did not fully believe it either. 'You have to stay here,' meaning because of Helga. Because of me. For they had promised these men that their families would be protected. That if they went, their families would not go anywhere. Thus Daddy left with this third transport, believing that me and Mom would stay in Terezín. Two days after he had left, me and my mother were assigned into a transport. This one was already taking women as well. Some signed up out of their own will. They wanted to follow their husbands and parents. There were some who did not want to. We were simply assigned there. So we went two days after Dad had left. Even though they had promised him that the family would be protected, of course, these promises were not kept. So we went, and we still believed we were going somewhere to this Königstein or to some other ghetto. Some of us were even looking forward to it- looking forward to meeting their husbands. I remember that we were given some meat spread and a piece of bread for the journey and we were hiding it for Dad thinking that perhaps he would be at the railway station. We were so naive in imagining that- thinking that we would give it to him right away. But then we all saw that the journey was taking too long. We were in closed cattle wagons and through the slots, we were looking out to see where we were going. We saw we were somewhere in Poland. And suddenly the train stopped, the door was opened, and what a shock it was. The difference between Terezín and Auschwitz is indescribable. (And what did you see when they opened the wagon?) This was shocking. We absolutely did not grasp where we were. Because we saw a vast area of wooden barracks, barbed wire, people in striped clothes and some smoking chimneys in the back. And the SS men stormed in, dogs barking, shouting at us in German. 'Los, los, schnell, raus!' Meaning, 'Hurry, hurry, get out, get out, leave everything here, leave baggage here and get out.' They ordered us into one long line. And in the front, there was an SS man, probably Mengele, I don’t know. Probably it was him, but I would not be able to tell if I saw him, because I was not paying attention to him. We only saw. The prisoners who were helping with this were giving us whispered advice, 'You are all healthy! You are all able to work! Don’t say that you are together! And your age!' We saw they were dividing this row into two groups. The SS man was just pointing with his finger, left and right. And that on one side, there were old people and mothers with small children. And on the other side, there were those who were able to work. I was not even... When I went to Terezín, I was twelve, I spent almost three years there. I was not even fifteen when we arrived. I was hurriedly thinking, fifteen would not be enough. I will say I am older. And my mom was 38- she would say she was younger, in order to get selected for work. And when someone asks me, I remember this as one of the most terrible moments in my life. I was quickly calculating, what if he doesn’t ask me how old I was, but when I was born… I was born in 1929 and I am fifteen, and now I want to say that I am eighteen. I quickly tried to calculate what to say. My mom subtracted the years to say she was younger. So we went. Well, I was lucky. I even started praying at that moment, praying that we would not get separated above all. And what happened was that at that time, it was the children under fifteen who basically stood no chance of being selected for work. And actually, healthy children who passed this selection went from this ramp straight to gas chambers. And there were so many children in Terezín... about 15,000 children under fifteen and all of them ended in gas chambers because they had no chance to get selected for work. And there were about a hundred of us who had passed this selection while we were under 15. And people sometimes ask, how come... It was really coincidence. It was luck or fate. I was simply lucky. He pointed my mom to the right, and me also. Thus I was so immensely lucky that my Mom and I got to that side. At that moment, it meant the side of life because the others went straight to gas.”

  • “Me and my parents were assigned into one of the very first transports in December 1941. We had to report on November 7 in Prague-Holešovice in one of these exhibition halls, which belonged to Radiopalace and which were used as assembly places. Each transport first assembled there and we had to surrender things which we had not submitted before- money that we still had. And house keys were also being handed over. This preparation took three days. Usually three days, sometimes a bit longer. We spent three days there. And after these three days, we left for Terezín. At that time they told us, and we believed it, or naively wanted to believe and we imagined that there would be only Jews, all together. We thought we would somehow work and live together there, and naturally, we also believed that we would survive it. At that time, none of us could imagine that the war would take so long. Mostly, or actually always, when a family was assigned to a transport, they received an official summons. This was always being delivered after 8 p.m. We were not allowed to be outside after 8 p.m., so we sat at home. And there was this news: 'They will be delivering them tonight.' So we sat, listening carefully if there was somebody walking up the stairs. Because after 8 p.m,. nobody was allowed to come to visit us. And then again... It was some Jewish community official, who was delivering these summons. It was a slip of paper with our transport number written on it. The transports were marked by letters of the alphabet. The first ones were work transports and then there was transport A, B, etc. We came right at the beginning. Our transport was transport L. And each of us got assigned a transport number. Mostly, there were about one thousand in one transport. My Daddy had number L518, Mom L519, and my transport number was L520. After we received this summons, we had about three days to prepare. We were basically ready after the transports started. All Jewish families were getting ready. People had about three days. During this time, we had to write or sew these assigned numbers on our luggage and then we got a card with a string, and when we were leaving, we had to wear them on our necks.”

  • “I graduated from both of these schools- the grammar school and the secondary graphic arts school. Already at that time, I decided to draw professionally, so I applied for the Academy of Fine Arts, where in addition to talent tests, you also had to submit some works which you had prepared beforehand. After I finished drawing the life in the camp, I wanted to quit it. But I never did. At that time I thought I would quit drawing this, but somehow I was attracted to such themes, like a visit to a hospital, or a person in a wheelchair. I don’t know why I was drawing such things. But I eventually enclosed these drawings to my application form – I included these drawings with these themes together with my previous drawings. I did pass the talent test. In the evening after the test, a list of applicants who passed were already posted on the door. People were already congratulating me. But it was not that easy because this talent test was followed by an interview. Some members of the Socialist Youth Union were also present in the examination committee. There was a guy in their blue shirt. The interview started and I remember one of the applicants had a pendant with a cross. 'Why is he wearing the cross?' You know, things like that could result in your non-admission. When I came there, they told me I had not passed the talent test, and the Union guy commented on my children drawings and the other drawings I had submitted, saying that my life outlook was too pessimistic, and they recommended me to go to work in a factory for one year, so that among the workers I would attain a positive attitude to life and optimism in general. In the summer, I even accidentally met somebody from the rector’s office. They probably remembered me from the interview. I think I was a rare case. They knew who I was, that among the applicants there was somebody who had gone through a concentration camp. This man congratulated me on being accepted. I said, 'But I was not admitted.' I told him this, and he said, 'But you can’t leave it like that. Write an appeal.' So I wrote an appeal. I explained where my pessimism came from and that I doubted I would ever be able to become more optimistic. And on the basis of this appeal, I eventually got admitted.”

  • “Naturally, school education was strictly prohibited in Terezín. The only thing the children were allowed to do was draw and some handwork. There were no classrooms, blackboards, textbooks, materials, notebooks or pencils – there was nothing, and yet we were being taught. All subjects. Secretly. Naturally, there were teachers among the prisoners but not exclusively teachers. They were people who had affinity with children, who knew or were able to do something, and who made the effort. They were coming to these children and were teaching them secretly. Of course, it was not like a school with blackboard and notebooks. They were coming to us and secretly teaching us. During these classes, there was always somebody watching outside, to warn us if there was somebody coming. In that case, he would warn us: ´Somebody is coming to visit...´ It was like a mere announcement, but actually it was a warning to us, so that we might immediately hide whatever pieces of paper or whatever we had, from which somebody might deduce that there was a class in progress. We would put it away immediately and we quickly begin drawing, or singing, or pretending we were just chatting. But these teachers – they were called Betreuer, in German – caretakers – we are still immensely indebted to them. Because these people had no advantage coming out of it. If somebody was working, let’s say in kitchen or in the garden, he would get some food at least. But these teachers could get nothing out of this. They were on 24-hour shifts. They lived with us in those childrens' houses. For instance, they had special quarters. Some were even sleeping in the same room with the children, or in their common room downstairs. They really did care about us 24 hours a day. They were not only teaching us, but also taking care of us, that we would wash ourselves every morning and keep the room clean. There were also sick children. They had to take care of them. Meanwhile, they were teaching us. Thus they functioned as parents, caretakers, nurses. And they were teaching us not only school subjects. For instance, somebody who was a writer would come and he talked to us. A total of 140,000 people passed through Terezín. All the Jews from Bohemia, later also from other occupied countries- Germany, Austria, Holland, some people from Denmark or Hungary. There were many exceptional persons among them. Artists, writers, musicians, painters, philosophers, experts in all kinds of subjects. And they were sharing it with us. This was unique for Terezín, that on one hand there was this misery, and high mortality, diseases. On the other hand, the level of culture was very high. The one who came to us was perhaps not a professor, but a teacher of Czech. Or some writer, and he would tell us something. Or a musician, who would talk and then sing something to us. We always remember professor Brumlíková, who was telling us how she traveled the ... This was our geography class. This was how teaching worked there.”

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    Praha, 11.12.2009

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    Praha, 19.03.2014

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“Respect your life and the lives of others, respect each other and never lose the humanity in yourselves.”

Hoskova_pred_transportem_do_Terezina2.jpg (historic)
Helga Hošková-Weissová
photo: archiv Helgy Hoškové-Weissové

  Academic artist Helga Hošková-Weissová, Dr.h.c., was born November 10, 1929 in Prague-Libeň in a Jewish assimilated family. After the occupation of Czechoslovakia, the family became victim to a number of persecutions by the Nazis, and in December 1941, they were transported to the Terezín ghetto. They spent nearly three years there, and during this time, Helga drew over a hundred of drawings depicting everyday life in Terezín. The picture-cycle, known as Draw What You See, is a precious work and a valuable historical testimony. At the beginning of October 1944, the Weiss family was transported to Auschwitz. While her father died in a gas chamber there, Helga and her mother were later selected to work in an aircraft factory in Freiberg, Germany. In April 1945, they set out on a death march to Mauthausen, where they were liberated on May 5. After the war, Helga simultaneously studied at a secondary graphic arts school and a grammar school. In 1950, she enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, where she studied in the studio of professor Emil Filla. In 1965, she went on a study trip to Israel, which helped her to brighten her palette of colours as well as her outlook on life, and the resulting series of paintings, which she exhibited in spring 1968 in Prague under the title Pictures from Wandering Through the Holy Land, became a great success. This opened the door to the world of artists for her; however, shortly after, this door was slammed shut by the invasion of “brotherly armies” the following August. She stopped painting for several years and in the meantime taught at a school for amateur artists. She gradually returned to painting - as well as to the motifs of war, Holocaust, disaster, and catastrophe in general. In her art, she strives to pass the message to the young generation so that they may never commit what had befallen her. In 2009, she was awarded the 1st class State Medal for Merit in the field of culture, art and education, and the Josef Hlávka Medal.