Holocaust Educational Trust Ambassador Blog

Artwork as a form of resistance

As Ambassadors, we have had the privilege of hearing the first-hand testimony of Holocaust survivors. A common theme amongst all testimony is the tragic story of terror, loss and destruction in the most inhumane manner; but also hope. For our creative response piece in the April newsletter, we wanted to focus on this idea of hope and look at artworks created during the Holocaust as a form of resistance.

Although most were destroyed, there are still many surviving artworks from Jewish prisoners, which were created in the ghettos and concentration camps. These artworks have come to represent moments of spiritual resistance by those victimised by the Nazis. As well as being a way for Jewish victims to express themselves amongst such an oppressive environment, these artworks were also an attempt to document the atrocities for future generations and provide first-hand sources of life in the ghettos and camps.

Below, we have highlighted some of the Holocaust victims who created art in the ghetto, and we have also subsequently made creative responses to join in the continuation of art as a form of education, resistance and humanity.

Bedřich Fritta

Bedřich Fritta was a graphic designer and cartoonist who was ordered to work in the graphics department in the Theresienstadt Ghetto, creating Nazi’s propaganda. Due to the nature of his work, Fritta and many of his colleagues were able to use the equipment they had at hand to document the horrific condition of life in the ghetto through paintings and drawings.

Sadly, in October 1944, Fritta was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and died a month later.

After liberation, hundreds of Fritta’s artworks were discovered buried in Theresienstadt. They hold great value as Fritta’s legacy, and as a contemporary depiction of the ghetto. They are also a reminder of the efforts that victims of the Holocaust made to record their experiences.

Bedřich Fritta — Rear Entrance, Theresienstadt Ghetto, 1941–1944
Collection of the Yad Vashem Art Museum, Jerusalem.
Gift of the Prague Committee for Documentation, courtesy of Ze’ev and Alisa Shek, Caesarea, Israel.

Butterflies - ‘One Spring’ & ‘The Butterfly’

The image of a yellow butterfly has become a recurrent image in Holocaust remembrance, particularly in the commemoration of child victims. There are multiple sources that depict a yellow butterfly, this may be due to the likeness of a yellow butterfly to the infamous yellow star “badge” that Jews were forced to wear as part of the Nazis Final Solution plan. The butterfly’s repeated symbolic appearance may also be due to interpretations of a butterfly as a creature of freedom and beauty, which starkly contrasted the conditions of the camps.

One of the most famous examples of butterfly imagery is in Karl Bodek and Kurt Conrad Löw’s painting named ‘One Spring’. The painting depicts a singular yellow butterfly perched upon the barbed wire that surrounded the prisoners in the barracks, while the view of the mountains is in the distance.

Karl Robert Bodek and Kurt Conrad Löw — One SpringGurs Camp, 1941
Collection of the Yad Vashem Art Museum, Jerusalem.
Gift of Annelies Haymann, Kiryat Bialik, Israel

Another famous example of symbolic butterflies in Holocaust art is Pavel Freidmann’s poem ‘The Butterfly’ - written while Freidmann was in Theresienstadt Ghetto. The poem takes on particular significance for commemorating the children murdered during the Holocaust, their childhood cruelly taken away:

He was the last. Truly the last.
Such yellowness was bitter and blinding
Like the sun’s tear shattered on stone.
That was his true colour.
And how easily he climbed, and how high,
Certainly, climbing, he wanted
To kiss the last of my world.
I have been here seven weeks,
Who loved me have found me,
Daisies call to me,
And the branches also of the white chestnut in the yard.
But I haven’t seen a butterfly here.
That last one was the last one.
There are no butterflies, here, in the ghetto.
Pavel Freidmann — The Butterfly, Theresienstadt Ghetto, 1942

Our Creative Responses

In creating this image, I wanted to replicate the strength and courage that individuals held whilst experiencing humanity at its cruelest and darkest time, in continuing to produce their art.

Lighting a candle is something we often do in remembrance, and in hope for our future, but ultimately, a lit candle is resistant against darkness - just as the art created in ghettos and concentration camps was.

By Abigail Harrison

I wanted to create an image inspired by the sense of freedom that is conveyed in the many depictions of butterflies created by Holocaust victims.

I tried to keep the painting free flowing and let the paint spread across the page. There are smaller drawings of flames in the background to represent the continued commemoration of the Holocaust today and how we use the experiences of those that were murdered and those that survived as an important tool for education and awareness.

By Nicole Wu