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Autobiographical oil painting by David Friedman of a woman and 3 children barefoot and hungry on a Łódź Ghetto street

Object | Accession Number: 1987.114.3

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    Autobiographical oil painting by David Friedman of a woman and 3 children barefoot and hungry on a Łódź Ghetto street

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    Brief Narrative
    Framed oil painting created by David Friedmann (from 1960, Friedman) in 1947, depicting a scene in the Łódź Ghetto, where he was incarcerated from October 1941 until his deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in late August 1944. Artist's caption: "Hungry families on the streets of Łódźer Ghetto were not an unusual, but an every day sight."
    David Friedmann was a successful painter and graphic artist who lived in Berlin from 1911-1938. He was renowned for his portraits drawn from life and became a leading press artist of the 1920’s. In 1933, his prewar career abruptly ended with the establishment of the Nazi dictatorship. In December 1938, he escaped to Prague with his wife, Mathilde, and infant daughter, Mirjam Helene. In October 1941, they were deported to the Jewish Ghetto in Łódź, Poland. In late August 1944, the family was separated and sent to Auschwitz death camp, where his wife and child were murdered. He was sent to the subcamp Gleiwitz I, because musicians were sought for a camp orchestra, but Friedmann’s life was saved because of his painting and quick-sketching portrait abilities. The camp was evacuated due to approaching Soviet forces. The inmates were forced on a death march to Blechhammer, where Friedmann was liberated by the Red Army in January 1945. He journeyed to Poland and stayed in Krakow until the war ended in early May 1945. He then returned to Prague and painted the scenes that haunted his memory to show the world and give voice to those who could not be heard. In January 1946, he had his first exhibition of his Holocaust artwork. Friedmann and his second wife, Hildegard, a fellow concentration camp survivor, fled the Stalinist Communists for Israel in 1949. They had a daughter also named Miriam, and the family moved to the United States in 1954.
    Artwork Title
    Woman With Three Children
    Series Title
    Because They Were Jews!
    creation:  1947
    depiction:  1941 October-1944 August
    depiction: Litzmannstadt-Getto (Łódź, Poland); Łódź (Poland)
    creation: Prague (Czech Republic)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Miriam Friedman Morris
    reverse, on sticker, preprinted, black ink: RAMAPO PICTURE FRAMES / Pacesetter Park Plaza / Rt. 202 Pomona, NY 10970 / (914) 354-7508
    front, lower right corner, black paint : David Friedmann / 1947
    Artist: David Friedman
    Subject: David Friedman
    David Friedmann was born on December 20, 1893, in Mahrisch Ostrau (Ostrava, Czech Republic), part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was the son of Heinrich, a tinsmith, born in 1864 in Kobiernice, and Sophie Rosenblum, born in 1856 in Czaniec. He lived in a modest home with three surviving siblings: Marie, born in 1888, Adolf, born in 1895, and Isidor, born in 1897. In 1911, Friedmann moved to Berlin where he studied etching with Hermann Struck and painting with Lovis Corinth. During World War One, Friedmann served from 1917-1918 in the Austro-Hungarian Army. He was decorated for his work as a combat artist, creating sketches on the frontlines. Following his return to Berlin, Friedmann exhibited at numerous galleries throughout Germany and Czechoslovakia. He achieved acclaim as a painter known for his portraits drawn from life. In 1924, his quick-sketching talent resulted in a secondary career as a freelance press artist for Berlin newspapers and other publications.

    When Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, Friedmann's prewar career ended. As a Jew, he was prohibited from showing his work and had to close his studio. He was able to make a living painting apartments and renovating buildings, which was permitted because of his Czechoslovak citizenship. In 1937, he married Mathilde Fuchs, born October 17, 1901, and they had a daughter, Mirjam Helene, born September 23, 1938. After the Kristallnacht pogrom on November 9-10 1938, Friedmann and his wife, with their infant child, fled from Berlin to Prague. On March 15, 1939, German forces marched into Prague and annexed the region to the Third Reich. Friedmann created portraits of the governing officials and leading members of the Jewish Community of Prague, such as Jakob Edelstein and František Zelenka.

    On October 16, 1941, Friedmann and his family were deported on the first transport from Prague to the Łódź Ghetto, renamed Litzmannstadt, in German occupied Poland. The Germans controlled the large Ghetto population with tactics such as the public execution by hanging of 18 Jews who tried to escape, a scene witnessed by Friedmann and his family. All Ghetto residents had to work to receive food rations, but death due to starvation and disease were the norm. Friedmann worked in Metall II designing jewelry, cigarette cases, and badges. He also sketched portraits of the leaders in exchange for provisions; otherwise the family would have perished. He created a series of artworks to document their fate and the infernal life in the Ghetto. He also contributed to the “The Chronicle of the Łódź Ghetto 1941-1944” kept by the Jewish Council.

    During the evacuation of the Łódź Ghetto in late August 1944, Friedmann was separated from his family. He was sent, by train on August 29, to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, where his wife and daughter were murdered. Upon his arrival, on September 2, Friedmann’s arm was tattooed with prisoner No. B-8600. He brought some artwork to show he was an artist, but it had to be discarded upon arrival in Birkenau. Laborers with special skills had a better chance of being sent to labor camps. Artists were not needed, but one day there was a call for musicians. Friedmann passed the audition and was sent to subcamp Gleiwitz I. There he had to compete as a violinist with concert masters, but he wasn't chosen and thus in danger. He painted a mural across the barracks wall that impressed the SS officers and his life was saved. Even though he was forced to create portraits of his persecutors, Friedmann saw his art as a form of resistance that diminished the power of evil and gave him the will to survive. Conditions in the camp were brutal. Meals were a single bowl of watery soup shared by two or three men. Inmates were often beaten, the sick were shipped to Birkenau death camp, and random executions were frequent. On Sundays, inmates had to carry 25 pounds of bricks for three miles. If anyone fell, the guards beat them with their rifles until they got up and finished. These scenes were carved into his memory to tear out at a later time and express in his art. After the Soviets mounted a winter offensive, the camp was evacuated on January 18, 1945. Inmates were forced on a death march to Blechhammer concentration camp. By the end of the march, Friedmann was unable to walk and reached the camp with the aid of the French doctor, Ohrenstein, and two Gruenberger brothers from Slovakia. Friedmann was liberated from Blechhammer by the Soviet Red Army on January 25, 1945.

    None of his family survived. His brother, Adolf, who was married to a non-Jew, Kaethe Niesler, died under suspicious circumstances in a Catholic hospital in Berlin on June 29, 1941. His father had died before the war in 1935. His mother died of starvation on December 11, 1941, in the Ostrava Jewish Home for the Aged. Isidor, his wife Sali, and their two children were deported to Theresienstadt, then to Treblinka, and murdered October 10, 1942. Marie and her husband Eisig Feuer were deported to Theresienstadt, then Treblinka and murdered October 7, 1942.

    The responsibility of bearing witness weighed heavily on Friedmann's conscience, even before his liberation. Upon returning to Prague, he painted the scenes that haunted his memories to bear witness and give voice to those who could not be heard, creating more than 100 artworks. From January 1946, he had exhibitions featuring his Holocaust themed work in Czechoslovakia, as well as in Palestine. He brought the exhibition to Western Bohemia, where the Germans were still living, and toured through several towns in the former Sudetenland. All German nationals were forced to view his work and pay admission; otherwise they would not receive their ration cards. In 1948, he married Hildegard Taussig, born in Berlin on April 6, 1921, a survivor of several concentration camps. The couple fled to Israel in 1949 because of the Stalinist policies of the Communist government and the increasing anti-Semitism. Friedmann defied an export prohibition and bribed a customs inspector in order to ship his artwork out of the country. In 1954, the couple immigrated to New York with their daughter, also named Miriam. Friedman embarked on a successful career in commercial art with General Outdoor Advertising Company Inc., and settled in St. Louis, Missouri. The family became U.S. citizens and Americanized their surname to one “n”. After retirement in 1962, Friedman returned to his art to show the world the persecution, torment, and agony inflicted by the Nazis. A series of paintings, drawings and etchings entitled, "Because They Were Jews!" became the first art collection to be accepted into the collection of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He never ceased to bear witness about the Holocaust. Friedman died at the age of 86, on February 27, 1980, in St. Louis, Missouri.

    Physical Details

    Physical Description
    Framed oil painting on canvas depicting an erect barefoot woman with crossed arms and 3 seated barefoot girls outside the door of a wood and brick building. It is painted in subdued browns, blues, and greys and the facial expressions and colors produce a sense of hopelessness. The woman stares blankly ahead with a grim expression and wears a pinkish headscarf, a long brown coat with a yellow Star of David, and pants. The young girl at her feet looks out with a worried, hungry look and touches her chin with her fingers; her left arm rests on her knees and she wears a blue and brown headscarf. The 2 girls on the right sit huddled together; the one in front has her trousered knees pulled up with her arm around the smaller girl whose body she partly obscures; both have an unfocused gaze. The seated females wear blue and gray headscarves, longsleeved jackets, and ragged pants. To the right above the girls, an indistinct brown haired girl looks out a framed window. The artist’s signature and date are in the lower right corner. The reverse has an oval white sticker with English text. The black painted frame has gold painted decorative carvings at the corner and side centers.
    overall: Height: 23.375 inches (59.373 cm) | Width: 19.375 inches (49.213 cm) | Depth: 1.000 inches (2.54 cm)
    pictorial area: Height: 19.500 inches (49.53 cm) | Width: 15.500 inches (39.37 cm)
    overall : canvas, oil paint, wood, metal

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    There are no known restrictions on access to this material.
    Conditions on Use
    Copyright, trademark, and all literary rights are retained by the heir of David Friedman, Miriam Friedman Morris.

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The painting was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1987 by Miriam Friedman Morris, the daughter of David Friedman.
    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:
    2024-01-16 14:12:52
    This page:

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