The failed artist is, of course, Adolf Hitler who showed his contempt for the arts establishment by holding his “Exhibition of Degenerate Art” in 1937. This was payback time, his revenge on all those who had the temerity to reject him as an art student.
Friedl Dicker devoted her life to art and art education – even in a Nazi concentration camp she used art to offer the children “a little bit of normality.”
She was born in Vienna in 1898 and her mother died when she was four. She was raised alone by her father who was an assistant in a stationary store and it was in here she found all the material she needed to give full reign to her imagination. When she was in her mid-teens she studied at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts and earned money on the side at the theatre, where she organised props, made costumes, performed on stage and wrote plays.
Dicker eventually studied at the Bauhaus in Weimar and found like minded students who shared her interest in the functions of objects. She produced marionettes for a state fair in Weimar which drew and captivated children. She also studied textiles and the lithographic process and when her favourite painter Paul Klee arrived at the Bauhaus, she attended his lectures on the nature of art and the childlike imagination.
Dicker became involved in a theatre troupe along with Franz Singer with whom she had a long-standing relationship which continued even after Singer got married. She fell pregnant to him several times, but at Singer’s insistence, she had several abortions.
In 1923 the two of them founded the 'Werkstätten Bildender Kunst' (Workshops for visual art), which produced toys, jewellery, textiles and bookbindings, graphic designs and theatre sets. Thus they travelled regularly between several European cities. They later set up an architecture office and won several awards. Their relationship ended when Singer’s son died.
In 1931 Friedl Dicker opened up a new chapter in her life when she ran courses for kindergarten teachers. The focus was on art and sensitizing adults to recognise the children’s personalities and artistic abilities, and to encourage the children to concentrate on a creative process.
Dicker became an active member of the Communist Party and when Hitler came to power in 1933, the party went underground. Dicker’s studio was searched and when forged identity papers were found, she was jailed. On the testimony of Singer, she was later released and then fled to Prague. It was here where she married Pavel Brandeis in 1936 whilst working on renovating homes and developing textile designs.
Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia in 1938, and Friedl’s friends pleaded with her to emigrate but she refused to leave her husband who by now could not get a visa. Meanwhile the art dealer Paul Weingraf was exhibiting some of Friedl’s paintings in the Arcadia Gallery in London.
In 1942 she and Pavel were transported to the concentration camp at Theresienstadt where she became a carer in one of the girls’ homes. She taught them painting and drawing with the intention of publishing (after the war) her own study on art therapy for children. Theatre became part of the lessons and the students painted stage sets and dressed up in costumes. With her work as a carer and Pavel’s work as a carpenter, they began to decorate the children’s’ homes thus making life a little more bearable in a bleak environment.
In the autumn of 1944, Friedl and Pavel Brandeis were transported by rail to Auschwitz concentration camp. Shortly before leaving, Friedl packed a suitcase full of the children’s drawings and they were hidden before being delivered to the Jewish community in Prague in August 1945. Pavel survived Auschwitz. Friedl didn’t. She died on 9th October 1944, childless and just one day after arriving at Auschwitz.
Source: American PBS