An art exhibit opened at Berlin's Bauhaus Archive Museum recently. The 300-piece show displayed the work of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, who was once a student at the famed Bauhaus school. She studied under such notables as Paul Klee, George Muche, Lyonel Feininger, and Johannes ltten, who was responsible for formulating the basic instruction courses for entering first year students at the school. Friedl Dicker was such an outstanding student she ended up teaching this course. Later, she and her lover, Franz Singer moved to Berlin with the Bauhaus and there started their own atelier, training students in the design and making of textiles, lace, jewellery, and books. Friedl Dicker's paintings from this period were of the abstract constructionist style then popular with Bauhaus students and faculty. The watercolour and oil paintings in the show are mostly from this period.
Friedl Dicker was born in Vienna, Austria in 1898. Her family owned a stationery shop. Little is known of her early years or her early art education before she began attending classes at the Bauhaus during the time when it was still located in Weimar, Germany. But as a result of the broad arts and crafts training she received there, far from being "merely" a painter, Friedl was accomplished in any number of art-related design and fabrication skills. In Vienna, between 1926 and 1931, she designed a Montessori kindergarten and a tennis club, and completed numerous other architectural jobs, while also working at various interior design activities, designing stage sets and costumes. In the midst of all of this, she also taught art to children at several private schools. During the 1930s, the rise of Hitler in Germany, and her pro-Communist political activities caused her to flee Berlin for Prague where she became a Czech citizen and continued her work in designing for theatre, designing textiles, painting and teaching. Her painting during this time became more traditional, with portraits, landscapes, and still-lifes dominating her work. It was in Prague that she met and married her husband, Pavel Brandeis.
At a time when her friends and fellow Jews were fleeing Czechoslovakia by the hundreds for Britain and the United States, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis refused to leave. She even had in her hands a passport and entry visa for Palestine. Friends urged her vehemently to go but, instead, she and Pavel moved to the small town of Hronov in north-eastern Bohemia where she worked in a textile factory. Her husband was an accountant. But times there were tough. Several times they were forced to move to a smaller apartment. Eventually, they both lost their jobs and were forced to move to a still smaller village where Pavel found work as a carpenter. Though her paintings were being shown in England, Friedl benefited little from the exposure. Then, on December 14, 1942, they were both deported to Theresienstadt; a German concentration camp set up inside an eighteenth century fortress north of Prague.
As noteworthy as her life may have been until this point, it was her time at Theresienstadt (shortened to Terezin) for which Friedl Dicker-Brandeis is most remembered. Of all the German concentration camps, Terezin was sort of the best of the worst. There, facing a world looking skeptically over their shoulder, the Nazis set up a propaganda fašade of benevolence toward their Jewish captives. There they ran a "model Ghetto," allowing some 150,000 "citizens" a degree of self-government and cultural life. Where, before, Friedl had counted her young art students by the dozens, there she was teaching hundreds, even thousands. She also helped design sets and costumes for children's plays. And she made an indelible impression upon the many children lucky enough to survive the holocaust (some of whom are still alive today). Friedl Dicker Brandeis was not so lucky. On September 28, 1944, with the war going badly for the Nazis, Pavel Brandeis was one of many at Terezin moved to Auschwitz. Friedl volunteered to follow on a separate train (men and women were seldom moved together). Just eleven days later, she joined the millions of other Holocaust victims. Her husband, ironically, survived.