Art Around the World

Artists’ Colony Set Up in Former Nazi Camp

By Tom Gross, November 07, 2000

A bizarre project has been set up by a group of ten young artists in central Europe. They have established an artists’ colony in the small town of Terezin, an hour’s drive north of the Czech capital, Prague. During World War II, the entire town was the site of the Nazi concentration camp, Theresienstadt, where tens of thousands of Jews were murdered by the Germans and their Czech collaborators.

Petr Larva, a 28-year-old Czech glass sculptor and the founder of the colony, said: “We thought that maybe art could inject vibrancy into a dead city. We intend to produce inspired contemporary art but we don’t want to ignore the town’s dark history either.”

The colony, known as “the Central European Colony of Contemporary Arts,” is housed in abandoned barracks that are surrounded by a barbed-wire fence. It was set up last spring by Larva, a graduate of the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague, and nine colleagues. In August, the colony held the Terezin Summer Initiative, a series of art, architecture, glassmaking and photography workshops attended by artists from around the world.

Terezin was unique among Nazi camps. Alongside the death blocks and the crematoria, Hitler encouraged artistic activities by Jewish children in an attempt to dupe the Red Cross, who were invited to visit the camp twice, into believing that the children were being well-treated. Paintings were drawn, plays were performed and songs were written. After representatives of the Red Cross left, satisfied with what they had seen, the children were killed there or transported to their deaths in Auschwitz. All but 3000 of the 140,000 Jews interned at Terezin died there or at other camps. Some of the pictures created by the children can be seen at museums in Prague, Israel and Washington D.C.

Larva says that the new artists’ colony has been welcomed by Czechs who live in Terezin today, who are eager that their town shouldn’t be forever associated only with the Holocaust. By contrast, many Holocaust survivors were initially horrified when they heard about the project. They feared it would trivialize the Nazi genocide. But some now support the idea.

Helga Weissova-Hoskova, one of the few “Terezin child artists” still alive, says that after seeing how the colony brought life to the eerie site, she too would once again like to draw there. And one Czech Holocaust remembrance group said that they believed that the existence of the colony would help keep future generations informed of Terezin’s horrific history.

Article copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.