Helga Weissova (b. 1929), Cutting down of bunkbeds before visit from the Red Cross Commission, 1944
Title in Czech: Urezavani Kavalcu Pred Prijezd Komise Cerveneho Kriz. Ink on paper, signed “hw” on the bottom right.
In anticipation of the Red Cross Commission visit, the third level of bunkbeds are cut down for “beautification.” The people who normally sleep on that level, such as Helga’s mother Irena, are moved to much less desirable attics. “L619”—Irena’s transport number—appears on the bottom left.
“Draw what you see.” —Helga’s father Otto Weiss
Helga Weissova (b. 1929) created more than 100 drawings in her nearly three years in Terezin—from when she was 12 years old to when she was 14. The young artist drew everyday scenes as well as exceptional events, giving us a window onto what she witnessed. She also kept a diary.
When Helga was deported from Terezin in 1944, her drawings—left with her uncle Josef Polak—remained hidden in a barracks wall. Helga and her mother Irena endured desperate, hellish conditions at Auschwitz—and then at Freiburg—and then at Mauthausen. In the face of death, they were finally liberated by the U.S. Army on May 5, 1945.
Helga had last seen her father when they were in Terezin. She would never see him again.
After her return to her native Prague on May 21, 1945, Helga recorded in her diary what had happened to her in Auschwitz, Freiburg, and Mauthausen. She reclaimed her drawings, which now stand as evidence of her experiences—and the early work of an award-winning artist.