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Portrait of a fellow inmate in Terezin ghetto created by Bedrich Fritta

Object | Accession Number: 2003.396.1

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    Brief Narrative
    Ink wash painting of Wilda Petschau created by Bedrich Fritta in 1942 in Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp where both men were imprisoned. Petschau was killed soon after the portrait was completed. The drawing was hidden in the walls of the ghetto and recovered after liberation in May 1945. Fritta, a Czech Jewish cartoonist and graphic designer, was deported to the camp from Prague on November 24, 1941. He was assigned to head the Graphic Department. Fritta was part of a tight knit group of artists determined to secretly document the wretched conditions of daily life in the camp. In summer 1944, they were accused by the Gestapo of smuggling their 'gruesome', atrocity propaganda, that is realistic, work out of the camp. Fritta, his wife Hansi, and son Tomas, 3, were sent to prison. Fritta was tortured. His wife died of starvation or typhus. On October 26, Fritta, with artist Leo Haas, was deported to Auschwitz, where he died, age 37, on November 9, 1944. His son Tomas survived and was adopted by Leo Haas. Nearly 200 of Fritta's drawings were hidden and preserved by other inmates.
    Artwork Title
    Wilda Petschau, Theresienstadt 1942
    creation:  approximately 1942
    recovered:  after 1945 May
    creation: Theresienstadt (Concentration camp); Terezin (Ustecky kraj, Czech Republic)
    recovery: Theresienstadt (Concentration camp) after liberation; Terezin (Ustecky kraj, Czech Republic)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Jules Bernstein
    front, lower left corner, black ink : Fritta
    Artist: Bedrich Fritta
    Subject: Bedrich Fritta
    Subject: Wilda Petschau
    Fritz Taussig (later Bedrich Fritta) was born on September 19, 1906, in Visnová u Frydlantu, Bohemia, Austro-Hungary, (now Visnova, Czech Republic). He went to Paris to study art and upon his return, settled in Prague. He worked as a cartoonist and graphic designer, primarily creating advertising and publicity materials. His career advanced and Fritta became well known for his paintings and drawings, as well as his commercial work. In the 1930s, he created anti-Fascist political caricatures and was an illustrator for the magazine Simplicissimus. In September 1938, at a conference in Munich, Germany, the western powers agreed to Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. The Czech government was not a participant at the conference. On March 1939, Germany annexed the Bohemia, and Moravia provinces, where Prague was located. German allies took over other regions, and Czechoslovakia ceased to exist.

    The provinces were governed by a Reich Protector. Jews were banned from Czech society. They were barred from most professions and could not run businesses or participate in organizations. In September 1939, Germany invaded neighboring Poland. In September 1941, Jews in Prague were required to wear Star of David badges to mark them as outcasts. That month, Reinhard Heydrich, the SS head of RSHA, Reich Main Security Office, was made Reich Protector. As part of his preparations to permanently solve the Jewish problem, he ordered the establishment of a prison complex, Theresienstadt, the German name for Terezin, about 40 miles north of Prague.

    Bedrich, his wife Johanna (Hansi), and their two year old son Tomas were deported to Theresienstadt with the second Aufbaukommando, [construction commando], Transport J. No. 482, on December 4, 1941. He was part of a group of engineers, artists, doctors, and others needed to set up and organize the ghetto. Fritta was assigned to the technical department of the Jewish Council that governed the camp for the Germans. They documented the construction of the camp and its conversion from a fortress to a prison camp. Fritta was made head of the Graphic department, which created reports, maps, construction plans, propaganda, and other materials required by the SS. As head of the drafting room, he recruited and offered jobs to other artists. This position gave Fritta and the others access to drawing materials and paper. Fritta was a member of a group of artists who secretly made drawings of the inmates and the daily life of Theresienstadt camp in order to document the misery and deplorable conditions in which they lived. During this time, he also created a birthday book for his young son Tomas filled with humorous pictures celebrating life as it was before the ghetto - and hopefully as it would be after.

    The Germans used Theresienstadt as a show ghetto for visitors from the outside world, such as the International Red Cross. They would arrange tours with staged events of camp life to show as an example of normal conditions in a Jewish settlement. In summer 1944, works by Fritta and the other artists, showing the real conditions in camp that had been smuggled out of camp, were discovered by the Germans. On July 17, 1944, Fritta and several others, including Leo Haas, Otto Ungar, and Ferdinand Bloch, were arrested for creating and distributing these realistic pictorial testimonies which the Germans called atrocity propaganda. The accused in the Painter's Affair were interrogated by Adolf Eichmann and others, but no one in the group supplied information. Bedrich, his wife, Hansi, and three-year-old son, Tomas, the Nazi's youngest political prisoner, were sent to the camp's Small Fortress prison. Bedrich was tortured and assigned to hard labor. Hansi soon died, of starvation or typhus. On October 26, Bedrich and Leo Haas, and their families, were deported to Auschwitz concentration camp. Bedrich, 37, died a week later of exhaustion and blood poisoning, on November 8, 1944. His son Tomas (1941-2015) survived the war, which ended with Germany’s surrender on May 7, 1945. Tomas was adopted by Leo Haas and his wife Erna. Nearly two hundred of Fritta’s drawings had been hidden and preserved by other inmates, and many items, including Tomas' birthday book, were recovered by Haas after the war.
    Wilda Petschau was interned in Theresienstadt ghetto-labor camp in German occupied Czechoslovakia circa late 1941. He was head of the labor detail. He was a friend of Bedrich Fritta (1909-1945), a well known artist who was head of the camp's Graphic department. Fritta painted his portrait in 1942, shortly before Petschau was killed. Fritta was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp where he died in November 1944. The portrait was hidden in the walls of the camp and recovered after the war ended in May 1945.

    Physical Details

    Physical Description
    Portrait painting in ink and ink wash on unevenly cut paper of a thin, intense, angry looking man with a lined face wearing a checked cap and a jacket with a Star of David on his left shoulder. He has a pickaxe over his right shoulder. His face is narrow, with large, expressive eyes, a long nose, and full, closed lips. He is depicted in three quarters right profile from the shoulders up, against a darkly shaded background. It is signed by the artist. The drawing is adhered to brown cardboard.
    overall: Height: 18.000 inches (45.72 cm) | Width: 14.000 inches (35.56 cm)
    overall : paper, cardboard, ink, wash, adhesive
    front, top, blue ink : …x 17 2” 81 Mat 14 x 18
    back, on backing, top, black marker : 9/22 Mirram / Levitt (office)(A)

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    Restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Personal Name
    Fritta, Bedrich.

    Administrative Notes

    The painting was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2003 by Jules Bernstein.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2023-06-02 09:38:30
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