Between 1942 and 1945, 15,000 children, all under the age of fifteen, were herded with their parents to the German-controlled Terezin Concentration Camp in the Czech Republic. Every day, the children made drawings and wrote poems to record what they saw, express their fears and their longing for a better place. Following is a selection their poems and drawings. They are among the most moving “artworks” I have ever encountered. Mingling darkness and sorrow with courage and hope, they reveal an astonishing maturity beyond their tender years.
I’d Like to Go Alone
I’d like to go away alone
Where there are other, nicer people.
Somewhere into the far unknown,
There, where no one kills another.
Maybe more of us,
A thousand strong,
Will reach this goal
Before too long.
Alena Synkova (born in 1926, sent to Terezin in 1942. She returned home after the liberation in May 1945).
Fall in here.
The leaves turn yellow on the trees,
The campfire dies out.
My thoughts are far from here,
Where integrity lives.
It lives in my friend.
Now I think of her.
Memories gather ‘round me
like the falling leaves.
Anna Lindrova (born in 1930, sent to Terezin in 1942, died in Auschwirtz in 1944)
He doesn’t know the world at all
Who stays in his nest and doesn’t go out.
He doesn’t know what birds know best
Nor what I want to sing about,
That the world is full of loveliness.
Hey, try to open your heart to beauty.
Go out to the woods someday
And weave a wreath of memory there.
Then if the tears obscure your way
You’ll know how wonderful it is
To be alive
– 1941 Anonymous
I Never Saw Another Butterfly
For seven weeks, I’ve lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don’t live in here,
in the ghetto.
Pavel Friedmann (born in 1921, sent to Terezin in 1942, died in Auschwirtz in 1944)
Hana Volavkova (ed), …I Never Saw a Butterfly Again: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp 1942-1944, Schocken Books, New York, 1994.