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Frederike Dicker-Brandeis


DICKER-BRANDEIS, FREDERIKE (Friedl; 1898–1944), artist and teacher who spent the last two years of her life teaching art to children in the Theriesienstadt ghetto. Born in Vienna, Dicker-Brandeis's mother, Karolina Fanta, died by the time she was four years old. Her father, Simon Dicker, a stationery store employee, nurtured Friedl's early interest in art by providing her with supplies from his store. In her early teens, she studied graphic arts at the Experimental School of Graphics. In 1914 she began formal art lessons with Johannes Itten, a pioneer in the Bauhaus School. When Itten left in 1920 for the new State Bauhaus school of art and design in Weimar, Friedl followed him. This began a period of enormous creativity for the young woman. At the Bauhaus school, Friedl studied with Itten, Paul Klee, Georg Muche, and Lyonel Feininger. Her training and skills grew. She became accomplished in charcoals, oil painting, weaving, architecture, poster art, jewelry, bookbinding, and textiles. Because of her outstanding teaching abilities, Friedl was invited to teach Itten's basic course for freshman at Bauhaus while she was still student.

In 1923, Itten and a number of students, including Friedl, left Bauhaus. She and Franz Singer, a fellow student, opened the Workshops for Visual Arts. They designed and sold textiles, books, and jewelry. The following year, Friedl returned to Vienna and opened a new gallery. Singer followed her in 1926 and the Atelier Singer-Drucker became one of the most fashionable design houses in Vienna. In addition to interior design, the couple's business and staff expanded to include architects who designed the Montessori kindergarten and the Tennis Club in Vienna. The Atelier also worked in set design for Berthold Brecht's theater. During this time, Friedl began teaching art courses for kindergarten teachers as well.

In the early 1930s, Friedl became active in politics. She was arrested for Communist activities in 1934 and briefly imprisoned. After her release, she immigrated to Prague continuing both in art and politics. In Prague, Friedl devoted herself to more traditional modes of painting, worked as an interior designer, and taught children of German and Austrian refugees. There she also located her mother's family and, in 1936, married her cousin, Pavel Brandeis. After the Anschluss, Friedl received a visa for Palestine. Instead, she and Pavel moved to Hronov, a small town in Bohemia. As the situation worsened, Pavel and Friedl lost their jobs and were forced to move. On December 14, 1942, they were deported to Theresienstadt.

In Theresienstadt, Friedl lived in a home for girls, caring for and teaching them. She gave art lessons, lectured to art teachers, designed sets and costumes for children's productions, and, with Pavel, re-designed some of the girls' living quarters. Some of her students' artwork is included in I Never Saw Another Butterfly, a well-known collection of poetry and art created by children in Theresienstadt. Her work with the children is legendary and seen as the embodiment of spiritual defiance to the Nazis and the circumstances of their incarceration. When Pavel was deported to Auschwitz, Friedl volunteered for the next transport. She died in Auschwitz in October 1944.

Sources:E. Markova: Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, Vienna 1898–Auschwitz 1944: The Artist Who Inspired the Children's Drawings of Terezin (2001); idem, From Bauhaus to Terezin: Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and Her Pupils (1990); S.G. Rubin, Fireflies in the Dark: The Story of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and the Children of Terezin (2000).

[Beth Cohen (2nd ed.)]

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