Sunday, December 13, 2009

Fireflies in the Dark

"Friedl. We called her Friedl. Everything was forgotten for a couple of hours. We forgot all the troubles we had."- Helga Pollakova- Kinsky, Voices of Children, a documentary.

Few Childrens' Books touch me the way, Fireflies in the Dark, did. It's the story of a Bauhaus- educated Viennese artist, Friedl Dicker- Brandeis, also a Jew, who was sent to the Terezin concentration camp along with scores of men, women and children, and eventually executed at Auschwitz. Although Terezin was not a death camp per se, living conditions within the camp were still unhygienic and rampant with sickness.

Faced with deportation from Prague to Terezin, a ghetto established by the Germans in Czechoslovakia, Brandeis chose to bring art supplies and dyed sheets (which, later were altered into colorful costumes for a kids' play production of a Czech fairy tale called Fireflies) to the camp and spent a considerable amount of time, goading kids to come up with creative outlets and discussing the way they viewed art. She was an ardent believer of using art as therapy and the kids loved her for that. She spoke about the importance of inculcating creativity in kids and how not to succumb to temptations of adhering to notions of producing mini- adults. "Childhood is not a preliminary, immature stage on the way to adulthood," she said.

At the end of every art lesson, her students signed their artwork with their real names as opposed to transport numbers (with which they were identified summarily). Susan Goldman Rubin, the author, goes into great detail, profiling the extent of Brandeis' determination towards making the kids' lives more bearable. Liberally illustrated with artworks by the Terezin children, this book reaffirms the ability of art to kindle hope in the minds of young. It's especially a good read (recommended for ages 6- 9) at a time when there's also renewed interest in Brandeis' philosophy, her paintings, interior decorations and stage designs.


Sujatha said...

Thanks for this recommendation, NM! Will look for it in our library. Nothing like giving children a perspective on history from the vantage point of peers (in age if not in experience).

Kavi said...

Thanks for this...! Will look this book up here..

t said...

Thank you for the recommendation :)

lizphoto said...

Thank you for making us aware of this work. The history behind it is so moving.

naperville mom said...

Thanks for visiting, all... I'm sure the kids'll love this one, and learn some things too!:-)