Exhibition displays child’s eye view of war horror

Helga Weisova's drawing, In the girls dorm before the official inspection of the Internationa Red Cross Committee; below, Jane Polakova's Setting Sun. Pictures: Malcolm McCurrach
Helga Weisova's drawing, In the girls dorm before the official inspection of the Internationa Red Cross Committee; below, Jane Polakova's Setting Sun. Pictures: Malcolm McCurrach
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At first glance they appear to be little more than the innocent scribblings of children. Pictures which you may see stuck to fridges up and down the land.

But look a little deeper. Look behind the bright colours and oversized people, the oddly coloured trees and out-of-proportion houses.

Look hard and you soon realise that these are the drawings of children who have already seen more ­horror in their lives than many will see in a lifetime.

They are a child’s eye view of Nazi ­persecution.

A new exhibition by the Children’s War Museum is set to display the work of children from the ­Terezin camp in north-western Czechoslovakia, where the Jews of Bohemia and ­Moravia were interned.The camp served as a transit camp for Jews en route to extermination camps and was also presented as a ‘model Jewish settlement’ for propaganda purposes.

From the 15,000 children that were deported from Terezin only 100 survived when they were liberated on May 9, 1945.

Art classes were held by Viennese artist Friedl Dicker-Brandeis as she endeavoured to give the children a sense of normality despite them living in “terrible” conditions.

Their work now forms part of the Terezin exhibition which Brian Devlin, 47, of Galashiels, who set up the Children’s War Museum to explore children’s experience of war, has now been taken to the city’s Forrester High School.

The collection of 40 prints is part of the original collection rescued from the ghetto after Mrs Dicker-Brandeis hid them in a children’s ­bedroom before she was transferred to Auschwitz.

They were sent to the Jewish museum in Prague which has loaned them to Mr Devlin to take to schools throughout the UK.

“What I’m trying to do is present children’s voices and children’s experiences of war from around the world,” Mr Devlin says.

“People are getting older now who had children during the Second World War so it’s a place where their experience can be presented.”

Now he hopes it will be educational to other children who might not have experienced the Second World War through the eyes of other children before.

“Very few of the ­children survived the war so this was one of the ways we can present the voices and ­remember the children,” he says.

“It’s the kind of thing ­people can relate to whatever the language – some of these children are very young but they are trying to talk about what they have experienced – they are quite ­simple drawings but I think the meaning to them is quite clear.

“The artist was trying to create an environment for the children to express themselves away from the experience of the camp and give them something else to focus on.

“Finding paper for the children was very difficult so they had to use any scraps they could and some 
packaging to write and paint on.

“The artist died in ­Auschwitz in 1944 and these materials went to the ­museum in Prague after two cases full of paintings managed to be saved.”

The exhibition also includes a film interview with Otto Deutsch, a Kindertransport survivor who left ­Vienna in 1939 when he was 12 years old.

Mr Devlin adds: “It’s his story about his family and his sister who was too old to join him with the Kindertransport because the children had to be under 16. That was the last he saw of his family so it’s about his story of coming to Britain and the families that supported him here.”

Now almost every S1 and S2 pupil at Forrester High School has seen the exhibition, which headteacher Graeme Thompson says has fitted in well with the ­current curriculum as two S2 classes have been 
studying the play of The Diary of Anne Frank in English and S2 and some S3s have also recently studied The ­Holocaust.

The school also commemorates Holocaust Memorial Day every year with a play performed by the drama ­pupils.

Mr Thomspon says the ­exhibition helped bring “real issues to life”.

“This is a great example of interdisciplinary learning within Curriculum for Excellence which requires teachers and learners to make connections across learning through exploring clear and relevant links across different subjects and disciplines,” he says.

“Working with partners in this way allows teachers to deliver richer learning ­experiences.”

The school’s librarian, Julie Sutherland, says the ­exhibition had been “a very emotional experience for both pupils and staff”.

“Pupils were encouraged to imagine what it would be like to suddenly pack only a few belongings and move to a ghetto or concentration camp, not knowing what fate was in store for them, before looking at the children’s drawings,” she said.

“They listened to Otto Deutsch in the documentary remembering the day the Swastika replaced the Austrian flag outside his home town hall, then later how he felt as a ten-year-old child when friends he had played with the day before picked up stones and attacked him ­because he was a Jew.

“So few of the drawings have the word ‘survived’ next to the child’s name, it really forced pupils to reflect on these individuals and their experiences.

“These are not just stories from the past, there was also a small display of modern genocides and human rights violations, which led to ­discussions about current ­social issues.”

The exhibition is open to the public on Friday, June 6, from 2pm to 4pm.

Admission is free but ­donations are accepted.

For more information or to get involved with the ­Children’s War Museum e-mail Mr Devlin at eildon@hotmail.co.uk.