Hello again my friends. I hope that you are all safe and sound during this COVID-19 outbreak. All is well here.
I have been wanting to do a blog on this subject for a while, but had a difficult time finding the information I needed. However, I found it and would like you to meet three men who used their talents to document the daily horror they saw in the ghetto and concentration camps.
There is not a lot of information on him prior to the war, other than the year of his birth, 1906 in Visnova, Bohemia. We do know that he was a graphic designer and a cartoonist in Prague. In December 1941 he and his family, wife Johann and son Tomas (Tommy) were sent to Theresienstadt ghetto in the second transport there.
They were sent along with engineers, artists and physicians, that had been ordered to work in the ghetto. He was appointed Director of the Painting Section of the Technical Department. It was their job to paint and design the propaganda posters of the Nazi’s.
Fritta and other artists, used their talent to create works of art that documented the horrors of daily life in the ghetto. Some of the art was smuggled out, while some was captured by the Germans and some hidden in the ghetto (over 200 pieces found after the war).
July 1944 saw Fritta and his family being locked up in the Small Fortress inside the ghetto. It was a gestapo prison that was originally built by Emperor Joseph II (1780-1790) as a fortress to keep Prussia safe. During World War I it housed political prisoners.
Being under the thumb of the gestapo, I am sure that Fritta was tortured by them, however there are no documents left to prove what happened to him and his family in the prison.
In October 1944 Fritta and his family were sent to Auschwitz, where Fritta would die of exhaustion and Johanna would die of typhus. Their young son, Tommy, survived the war and was adopted by his father’s friend Leo Haas.
Born in 1901 Otto is someone that we don’t know a lot about as well. We do know that he spent most of his life in Brno, Czechoslovakia, he was an artist and he taught at a secondary Jewish school. We know that he had a wife and daughter and that he was described as being a reserved, sensitive, yet anxious man, which made his art all the more compelling.
Ungar was also in Theresienstadt ghetto. Through his art he worked to convey the brutality of every day life inside the ghetto. He worked along side Fritta and Haas in the camp drafting office, creating propaganda posters. He was aware and understood the power of the posters they created. Ungar would secretly paint the arrival transports and the elderly that arrived, thinking they were being rehoused to a retirement community.
In July 1944 he was imprisoned with Fritta and Haas where he endured daily beatings and torture. The guards smashed his drawing hand, causing him to lose two fingers and the use of the hand. Later that summer he was sent to Auschwitz where he miraculously survived the selection process. January 1945 saw him in the infamous death march from Auschwitz to Buchenwald, which he survived.
When he arrived in Buchenwald, he and 14,000 others who survived were sent to the “small camp” inside Buchenwald where there was a typhus epidemic raging. Somehow, somewhere he found some coal and some paper and even with his hand badly damaged he drew pictures of life in the camp. This man, never lost his will to create.
He was liberated in May 1945 but died a few months later from complications of typhus and tuberculosis. His wife and daughter managed to survive and return to Brno. Ungar’s Buchenwald images have been lost, but his Theresienstadt images survive.
Born in 1901 in Opava, Austro-Hungarian Empire Haas is one man who we know a bit more about. We know that he graduated both Berlin and Karlsruhe Art Academies and from 1925-1938 he lived both in Vienna and Opava. We know that his primary focus in art was portraiture. And we know that he was involved in the Communist Party.
December 1938 saw Haas sent to Nisko labor camp because of his involvement with the Communist Party. He was sent to Ostrava to perform forced labor for the German war machine.
In September 1944 he arrived in Theresienstadt ghetto, where Fritta and Ungar already were. He was put to work in the Technical Department, where his was also forced to paint German propaganda posters. However, he was secretly painting life inside the ghetto.
The prior summer saw artists being sent to the Small Fortress, where Fritta and Ungar were already are being held, for smuggling pictures out of the ghetto during a Red Cross visit. In the Small Fortress, Haas was also brutally tortured. This is how we can safely assume that even though there are no documents to say Fritta was tortured, as both of his friends were.
Haas was sent to Auschwitz in October 1944, but the following month saw him moved to Sachsenhausen where he would work as a counterfeiter under Operation Bernhard. The operation was to counterfeit Allied currency, then flood the market with it and in doing so, crash their economies.
The counterfeiters were moved in February 1945 to Mauthausen then onto to Ebensee until liberation.
After the war, Haas returned to Theresienstadt and found 400 pieces of his art that he had hidden prior to deportation. He adopted his friend, Fritta’s, young son Tommy, they lived in Prague where Haas was a newspaper editor and caricaturist. In 1955 they moved to Berlin where Haas became a university professor and worked in the film industry.
Haas died in 1983 in Berlin, East Germany. Yad Vashem hold 21 pieces of his art.
These three extra ordinary men sought to create art in even the most horrendous conditions and to leave that art for the world to see. It is times like these that we can choose to do two things, create or destroy. I think that this world would be a much better place if more people chose to create.
I hope that you have enjoyed this blog and will consider becoming a follower of it. Stay safe and be kind to each other. Until next time!