The Holocaust memory is a multifaceted phenomenon. Memory of survivors and eyewitnesses reflects the extreme situations of heartbreaking brutalities, unconceivable instances of betrayals, as well as a mundane life in the world that the Nazi regime had determined as unworthy to exist. The implementation of the Final Solution of Jewish Question differed from country to country, yet it always had the common premise – dehumanization extermination of victims. The Jewish inmates of Nazi ghettos and camps were exposed to all possible hardships and brutalities that resulted in extinction, often before the mass killings had actually taken place.

Testimonies of the Holocaust era vary by content and form – memoirs, diaries, oral histories, and pictorial-stories. The latter is least common, least known, and least researched. Most of the Holocaust testimonies, if they are not the wartime diaries, stem from the post-war recollections. Besides being a valuable evidential source, they also present a combination of descriptive and interpretive post-Holocaust reflections.

A series of Theresienstadt ghetto pictorial-stories created by the Jewish artist Erich Lichtblau (Eli Leskly) from Brno (Brünn) Czechoslovakia is a unique Testimony revealing for us mundane life in Theresienstadt ghetto. Since 1944 the German propaganda would call the ghetto ‘A Gift from Führer’ popularizing a deceptive film Der Führer schenkt den Juden eine Stadt (Führer Gives the Jews a City). By no means was Theresienstadt incompatible with the schemes of the Final Solution to the Jewish Question; by its very nature the ghetto was engendered by its implementation. However, a phenomenon of Theresienstadt lies in the dichotomy of its purpose and actual functioning.  Theresienstadt (Terezín), besides being a main incarceration and transit center for the Central European Jewry, also functioned for the purpose of Nazi deception of public opinion and Nazi propaganda. It was a stage for filming, a ground for touring of international commissions, and for the certain categories of Jews, ‘a privileged incarceration center’, or, how the Germans finally called it, Jewish Settlement Area, all in all, only to deceive the world that the Jews of Europe were alive and they were treated humanely.

When the war was nearly at the end, the top Nazis propagated Theresienstadt as an antithesis to the Final Solution. In 1945, Himmler informed Dr. Norbert Masur of the World Jewish Congress about his vision of Theresienstadt as an experimental and autonomous center for Jews:

Theresienstadt is not a camp in the ordinary sense of the word, but a town inhabited by Jews and governed by them, in which every manner of work is to be done. This type of camp was designed by me and my friend Heydrich, and so we intended all camps to be.

A number of factors conduced exceptionalism of Theresienstadt ghetto: a garrison town structure; Jewish self-government; elitist contingents among the ghetto populations; a high ratio of well-qualified specialist in engineering and humanities, as well as the presence of the worldwide known Jewish pubic and religious figures. Geo-political circumstances together with Nazi foreign policy eventually generated thrusting of the Ghetto into an International Red Cross inspection orbit. On the first sight, an exceptionally ‘productive’ life in the ghetto was not permanent but of the recurrent nature, in other words, a relatively stable period lasted from transport to transport (deportation to the East or to Unknown). The whole notion of propagated privileged status, exceptionalism, and a model structure in reality was nothing more than a well-refined deception on the part of the Nazis and a doomed illusion on the part of the Jews. The latter, notwithstanding, willingly accepted a perception of a permanent status in the ghetto.

A fortress-town, Theresienstadt was built in the 1780s by the Austrian Emperor Joseph II and named after his mother, Empress Maria Theresa. What had originally been a fortified military installation became in 1941 – 1945 a ghetto, a transit camp, and, for German propaganda ‘a city for Jews.’ More than 140,000 ghetto inmates and deportees were confined to its walls or passed through it.  The ghetto was opened on 24 November 1941. The first internees were the Jews from the Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia, the second wave of deportations comprised a so-called privileged category of German and Austrian Jews. They began to arrive in the summer of 1942. The deviation from the traditional annihilative schemes towards the German and Austrian Jews was evidently provisioned at the Wansee Conference in January 1942. A leading architect of the Final Solution, Heydrich announced at the Conference that Theresienstadt is under consideration as a special ghetto for Jews over 65 years of age and Jews with serious wounds or high decoration from the First World War. This was a modification of the existing policy towards German or Austrian Jews, for hitherto the Jews related to these categories had been deported to the ghettos of Poland, Baltic countries, or the occupied territories of the Soviet Union.

After occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, the German authorities began to concentrate Jews in one place, notably in Prague. It is regarded these directives were developed and enforced by Heydrich. The inhabitants of 123 out of 131 Jewish communities of the Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia were ordered to move to Prague in preparation for forced emigration.   Emigration schemes never materialized and the other solutions to the Jewish Questions came into being. Thus, the Gestapo (Geheine Staatspolizei or German Secret State Police) in Prague authored a plan of establishing a holding center, a ghetto in the fortress and garrison town of Theresienstadt.

To organize a new ghetto, the Prague Gestapo solicited assistance on the part of the Prague Jewish Community, namely its leadership. This cooperation produced the first transports of the ghetto organizers, young and middle age Jewish professionals, and skilled technical specialists, by and large, they were volunteers. The numbers of the first transport differ from 342 to 1500, but what is important is the knowledge of the first construction details composed primarily by Jewish young volunteers. The volunteers were organized in two construction details, namely AK1 and AK2 (Aufbaukommando). Two transports arrived on November 24 and December 4, 1941. The ghetto organizers enjoyed a privileged status granted to them by the German authorities. In the further development, they would comprise the Jewish administration of the ghetto, ad hoc, securing protection from the deportations for themselves, their families, and to some extent for their subordinates within the eventually multiple administrative departments. Norbert Troller writes in this regard:

The Council of Elders recruited their leading department heads out of their ranks, as well as production managers, chief physicians, managers of the power plants, gas, as well as electricity, and the waterworks.

The most important privilege consisted in the fact that the newcomers had been assured exemption from all transports. The exemption included five persons from each of their immediate families, which meant that AK1 and AK2 with their families, numbering 15,000 altogether, were exempt from all further transports.

It should be noted that the very notion of a protective status was relative and corollary of the German policy and immediate decisions of the Nazi commandants. The first two chairpersons (the Jewish Elders) of the Council of Elders had fallen victims of Nazi suspicions or personal dissatisfaction. Jakob Edelstein, the first head of the Council of Elders was arrested in November 1943 together with his closest associates for allegedly falsifying the reports on ghetto population. The latter allowed several tens of Jews escape deportation to the East and perhaps triggered the census in the ghetto. Edelstein was sent to Auschwitz with his family and short there on Himmler’s order in June 1944. The second Chairman of the Council of Elders, Paul Epstein, fell victim to the third and the last ghetto commandant Karl Rahm. In September 1944, he was summoned to the SS headquarters for interrogation and soon after killed.

Erich Lichtblau and his wife Elsa not belonging to the highly protected elitist circles in the ghetto thereby were exposed to the imminent danger of deportation to the East, or in the ghetto lexicon, a transport. On the other hand, the very fact they had avoided the numerous transports to unknown, implies at least, some, perhaps, work-related or personal protective status. Sophisticatedly developed, permanently practiced, and hierarchically functional system of personal protection remains an intricate entity in the history of Theresienstadt ghetto, details of which hardly can be ever fully explained for a number of reasons.  

Erich Lichtblau’s artworks significantly differ from a ‘typical’ Holocaust graphic. Instead of a barbed wire, striped uniform, and death scenes, we see ghetto life through the prism everyday errands and chores, depicted in the grotesque, caricature manner. By no means, these images ridicule the ghetto inhabitants, neither are they a form of travesty for the survival tactic. Erich Lichtblau convincingly challenges the Nazi anti-Jewish concepts by depicting and interpreting the ghetto life in a style he would use for a ‘normal’ commercial advertisement in his pre-war practice.

Erich Lichtblau was born on 16 June 1911 in Austria-Hungary (Czechoslovakia after 1918) in a small town of Hrušov (Hruschau near Ostrava) in Moravia. Nowadays Hrušov has merged with Ostrava (Czech Republic). In Ostrava, he worked as an apprentice, decorating store-windows. Erich continued his education by entering a school of commercial design – the Hamburg Decoration School (Hamburger Decorationsfachschule) around 1930. Having finished the school, he returned to Ostrava resuming commercial decorating. In March 1937, Erich married Elsa (Else) Silbiger (born on 26 June 1913), who had become Elsa Lichtblau (Lichtblauvova).

In October 1938, the Nazis partitioned Czechoslovakia by annexing the dominantly German-populated Sudetenland to Germany (the Munich Dictate). In March 1939, Nazi Germany invaded the rampart state of Czechoslovakia. The Czech lands (excluding Slovakia) became a German Protectorate of the Bohemia and Moravia.  The Protectorate had been included into the Greater Germany. After the German invasion, Erich and Elsa moved to Prague, where Erich worked as a construction worker. Their Prague period did not last long; in the beginning of 1940 they left Prague for a small village Dobešice near Písek in southern Bohemia. They joined a Hachshara youth group working on the land in Dobešice.

It was in Dobešice where Erich and Elsa Lichtblau were put into forced labor in accordance with the Nazi anti-Jewish legislation.  The only pre-Theresienstadt time photograph of Erich and Elsa Lichtblau available to us is dated by 1940.

In November 1942, Erich and Elsa Lichtblau were deported from the town Klatovy (Klatau) to Theresienstadt ghetto with the transport Cd. They were given the transport numbers, respectively Cd597 and Cd598. This transport arrived to Theresienstadt on 26 November 1942. Terezín Memorial Archives provided us with a copy of the original transport document in which we can see the names of Erich and Elsa Lichtblau listed among other deportees of this Transport. The transport document defines Erich as a forest worker and Elsa as a member of household or a house-maker.

Statistics of the ghetto population differs from source to source, especially in terms of deportations and fatalities. Raul Hilberg presents the following figures: of the 141,184 people sent to Theresienstadt, 88,202 were deported to the East, 33,456 died in the ghetto, 1,654 were released prior to liberation, 464 fled, 276 were arrested and probably killed, and 16,832 survived the ghetto.

According to the Museum Beit Theresienstadt in Israel, from November 24, 1942 until May 6, 1945, 157,193 Jews entered Ghetto in Theresienstadt. 88,129 Jews were deported to the extermination camps and ghettos in the East (in Poland, Baltic countries, and the Soviet Union). 35,409 died in Theresienstadt of disease, malnutrition, and despair. 1,200 Jews were released to Switzerland on February 5, 1945 and 425 Danish Jews were repatriated to Denmark via Sweden in mid-April 1945. When the Soviet Army liberated Theresienstadt on 8 May 1945, there were 29,738 Jews in the ghetto, administered by the International Red Cross since May 3, 1945. 

Overall, the figures differ slightly except for the number of those who survived the ghetto: 16,832 (Raul Hilberg) and 29,738 Jews at the time of liberation (Museum Beit Theresienstadt). Such significant difference in numbers, perhaps, lies in the method of identifying the latest newcomers to Theresienstadt from the German camps after April 20, 1945. Since that date no less than 12,863 people, mostly Jews had been evacuated to Theresienstadt from Buchenwald, Dachau, Ohrdruf, Rehmsdorf, and other camps. Evidently, it is not plausible considering the evacuees arrived after April 20, 1945 as the Theresienstadt survivors. Obviously, they have survived the other Nazi camps, but there was no imminent danger of liquidation of Theresienstadt ghetto per se.

In October 1944, the ghetto inmates still were subjects for deportations. They would receive a short notice, a call-up to report for transport.

Horrifying for every ghetto dweller, these short and standard notices were prepared in advance, putatively by the Jewish administration of the ghetto, and upon the SS headquarters orders, the Council of Elders would administer the selection. The names of the selected for deportation people would be typed on paper stripes and attached over the notice. This call-up for transport translates as follows:

We hereby inform you that you were selected for transport. You have to appear Saturday, October 7, 1944 immediately after reception of this notification at the meeting area on Langestrasse 5.

After reception of this notice you are required to prepare your baggage. The limit of 30 kg of luggage per person may not be exceeded (tools, bedclothes and wash bowls cannot be taken with you). The baggage has to be brought to the gate in person.

To avoid sanctions, please appear on time.

 

Sometime in October 1944, the deportations from Theresienstadt ghetto were stopped. The ghetto entered a so-called phase of stabilization. No more transports were sent out of Theresienstadt. Owing to geo-political situation, the ghetto in Theresienstadt had become the last reservoir or collection center for the remaining under Nazi control prisoner population. After all, the number 29,738 Jews in Theresienstadt refers to the entire ghetto population at the time (May 4, 1945) when Mr. Dunand of the International Red Cross was allowed to fly the Red Cross flag over Theresienstadt.

Comparison of Theresienstadt to the ghettos in Poland, notably to the Łódź ghetto would render some affinities especially in terms of a Jewish perception towards their future. In spite of the deportations from both ghettos, people still believed in a positive outcome. It was a quite common perception that the Germans’ plans for the Jews were not entirely evil. Every sign, every pretext that could indicate a hope for survival after deportation was seriously substantiated.  In the introduction to the Chronicle of the Łódź Ghetto, Lucjan Dobroszycki writes:

The fact that people leaving the ghetto were able to exchange their ghetto money worthless outside the ghetto for a few German marks (Reichsmark) which as a rule Jews in the ghetto were not allowed to possess is indicative to such perception. And when that exchange was halted during the course of the deportations, it was explained by the belief that from then on the transports of deportees would not be sent to Germany or that part of Poland that had been directly incorporated into the Third Reich, but to the Generalgouvernement, where the Polish zloty, not the German mark was the official means of exchange.

Whilst the list of affinities between the two ghettos evidently may encompass various aspects of the German war economy, there was a phenomenal difference in the political sphere. The Łódź ghetto with all its economy oriented towards a German war effort was doomed. The ghetto population suffered continuous deportations to the death camps until the final liquidation in August 1944 when 67,000 Jews had been deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Martin Gilbert writes:

Among them, Chaim Rumkowski, ‘King of the Jews’ of the Łódź ghetto, their protector and their mentor, was deported with his family, and perished in the gas-chamber together with more than sixty thousand other Jews from the ghetto over which he had exercised so much control, and, as he believed, protection.

The Nazis were losing the war but feverishly completing the Final Solution in the occupied territories and in Germany. Theresienstadt, on the contrary, from November 1944 until the liberation in May 1945, was going through the process of ‘stabilization.’ The Council of Elders was reorganized. Benjamin Murmelstein remained Chairman of the Council of Elders and instead of the perished earlier six Councilors, the four new executives were added. They represented four main nationalities of Theresienstadt: Rabbi Leo Baeck for the German Jews; Dr. Albert Meissner, a former member of the Austrian parliament, and minister of justice (1920-1929) and social welfare in Czechoslovakia (1934) in Czechoslovakia; Dr. Edward Maurice Meijers, famous Dutch lawyer, substitute councilor at high court of justice in the Hague; and Heinrich Klang, authority on civil law and university professor at Vienna.

 

Intact existence of the ghetto in Theresienstadt after the deportations were stopped was a result of a multifactorial interplay. Exposure to international attention, geo-political situation, internal differences among the Nazis, as well as undetermined factors, all, in various degree, and in a correlation to each other, induced  endurance of the last ghetto in Europe. Erich Lichtblau’s pictorial encyclopedia of ghetto life is a perfect illustrative corroboration to its controversial and often than not tragic history. This narrative of art complements a historical discourse of Theresienstadt in all its major aspects.

Upon arrival Erich Lichtblau was assigned to the Bauhof (Building Yard); Elsa was to clean children homes and to work in the kitchen. It is plausible that Erich did not reveal his real profession; instead he had registered as a builder, perhaps, to secure a lasting employment in the ghetto. It is remained debatable when, how, and to what extent he had become known as a former decorator outside the circle of the close friends, if he had at all. Sometime later the Jewish administration of the ghetto assigned Erich to Graphik und Reproduktion (graphic and reproduction) workshop, a subdivision of Technische Abteilung (Technical Department). Among the other jobs, he also worked on the stage designs project for the Terezín theaters.

The very term ‘a model ghetto’ is not a fruit of a reflective terminology introduced by the historians of the Holocaust. The Nazi propaganda put it into circulation, perhaps in the spring of 1944 preparing the ghetto for the International Red Cross Commission visitation. Most likely Erich Lichtblau was among those engaged in the beautification of the ghetto undertaken by the Germans. The Germans succeeded in establishing a false façade of what the Ghetto was not. Relatively soon, public opinion in Europe would become aware about this typical Nazi deceptive trick. A Swiss newspaper Die Nation in the article Theresienstadt – ein Propagandaschwindel (Theresienstadt – a Propaganda Trick) wrote on May 9, 1945:

The “Model Ghetto” was one of the countless propaganda lies of the Third Reich. As soon as the news came out that in June 1944 the Red Cross Commission would visit, an urban-beautification began already in April. The roads were flattened, the houses alongside the planned tour were refaced and flower boxes attached to the windows. To ensure a comfortable living for the people, 5000 more humans were sent to Birkenau and gassed. The inhabitants of the first floors were relocated and squeezed into the attics, naturally not seen by the Red Cross Commission. The newly freed space was decorated and furnished and some preferred inmates moved in.

The German minister for Bohemia-Moravia made an inspection of a child-care facility and objected to a nurse who did not look motherly enough! He had her replaced. Now that the world knows that the children of Theresienstadt were actually sent to their annihilation, the extent of the lies of the Nazis is difficult to believe.

It could have been simply a result of discrepancy or a German bureaucratic immobility that a construction worker, previously listed as a forest laborer, working on a stage design project, officially remained designated as Hilfsarbeiter (auxiliary staff or auxiliary laborer). Notwithstanding, that could have been a way in which one of the departments Erich Lichtblau was assigned to identified him. With certainty, we can say Erich Lichtblau was officially engaged in professional activity. It is plausible that the nature of his work allowed an access to some art materials: paper, pens, aquarelle paints, pencils, ink, and so forth, or, speaking in a ghetto jargon, he might have ‘organized’ them for his needs.

It remains unclear whether or not Erich Lichtblau exercised relative mobility within the ghetto. If he had, he may wander around the numerous barracks and facilities. If not, his picture-stories could have been a result of inter-prisoner interaction, reflective imagination, and mundane ghetto-life experience. His other probable sources were spontaneous observations and various forms of the ghetto folklore. Picturing these mini-stories in his mind, Erich later begins to transfer them on the paper. Thus in 1942-1945, he created a multiple picture-stories, in other words, the Ghetto-Diary in pictures.

It is symbolic that the first entry in this Diary was not a picture, but a narration of the poem devoted to the New Year of 1943. It is regarded that in the late December 1942, Erich Lichtblau recorded a poem Sylvester, penned by an unknown to us a female ghetto inmate. It was a hope inspiring and spirit elevating appeal to the children in the ghetto. The last verse makes people believe that one day, next year (1943) the Jews led by G-D will return to Prague. The English-German translation reads as follows:

 

For among the coming Three Hundred Sixty Fife days

Will surely be the one, of which Jewish history recalls

 

In this month, on this day

Baruch HaShem led the Jews back to Prague.

 

His first watercolor and sketches saw light in 1943. Erich continued documenting ghetto life in 1943 and 1944. In 1945, he made only a few sketches and watercolors. In 1943-1944, Erich Lichtblau created a pictorial ‘concise encyclopedia’ of a ghetto life. He reflected or in some instances mirrored critical themes of the ghetto mundane discourse. The very selection of the themes and the content of the pictorial entries correlates with and corresponds to the documented history of the ghetto and with the narratives of other authors.

Discourse of Theresienstadt is multi-thematic. Other narratives, in a broader context, namely personal memoirs, artworks, and secondary historical literature indicate on a number of essential or existential for survival ghetto activities, life habits, relations, and skills. All in all, in a broader classification, the ghetto discourse can be divided onto two complementing each other parts: administrative and autonomous. While the first is associated with the German and Jewish administration, the second one is a grass roots perspective, response and creativity. To survive meant merely to remain permanent ghetto inhabitants and to avoid possible deportations to the East. To stay within the ghetto, to obtain a protective permanent status by employment, work position, and connection was an ultimate goal of an average ghetto inmate. Once this goal is achieve, at least for a time being, then people would pursue regular life habits: dwelling improvements, striving for additional rations, love and sex, education, recreational activity, and so forth.

The interplay of the Nazi coercive regime, aimed at the Jewish destruction, and the people’s mundane resilient activity produced the ghetto life-themes implemented by the contemporaries into various narratives: diaries, memoirs, handwritten publications, and art. These primary sources on the history of Theresienstadt ghetto often than not reflect, interpret, and depict, by and large identical typology. The typology of Theresienstadt in 1942-1945 comprised a set of existential and mundane themes, namely: Protection, Transports (deportation to the East), Jewish Ghetto Police (Ghetto watchmen), Housing, Food Rations, Red Cross Commissions, Ghetto Populations (Czech Jews, German and Austrian Jews, Danish Jews, Dutch Jews), Love and Personal Affairs, Cigarettes and Money, Recreational Activities, Employment and Work-related Security, Relations between Ghetto inhabitants, Survival Tactic, and Zionist Circle in the Ghetto.

Directly or indirectly Erich Lichtblau narrates these themes in a pictorial way rendering explanatory text by the means of captions, slogans, and signs in German and Czech. Erich Lichtblau, a commercial artist studying in Germany and working in Czechoslovakia, was exposed to political and social culture of placards, an underlying form of political agitation in the 1920s and 1930s.

In all likelihood, the small form watercolors and sketches of the ghetto-period had at least title captions, slogans, or both. A short placard-style narrative was part of the watercolors and even some sketches. Erich and Elsa Lichtblau must have heard about the “Painters Affair,” when in the spring of 1944, the Gestapo discovered the sketches made by several somewhat privileged inmates, the former artists, architects, doctor, and art dealer (Ferdinand Bloch, Karel Fleischman, Bedřich Fritta, Leo Haas, Peter Kien, František Strass, Norbert Troller, and Otto Ungar).   The members of the painters’ circle were arrested in June-July 1944, incarcerated in the Little Fortress and, after the interrogation was completed, deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. There were several reasons for the arrest: some artworks might have been smuggled out and had become known to the public. The Germans suspected that the International Red Cross Commission’s members were familiar with the clandestine art of Terezín. A certain skepticism of the Commission well might have been engendered by comparing the façade they were exposed to and a gruesome reality mirrored by the art of the Painters’ Circle. 

Erich Lichtblau did not belong to the painters’ circle and the SS. did not discover his artworks.  Saving his life Erich Lichtblau eliminated the captions of incriminating content. He also cut into pieces most of the watercolors.  After the war, he recalled: And each of my pictures had titles combined with slogans. I cut them out and burned them. We were lucky to survive.

Erich Lichtblau’s style and manner of the depiction differs from that of the Circle of Painters. The members of the latter emphasized inevitable tragedy of the ghetto life, while Erich Lichtblau the very same theme in an ironic manner of a caricaturist and cartoonist. For example, food in the ghetto was an unavoidable subject. Comparing two fragments by Erich Lichtblau and two sketches by Dr. Karel Fleischman and Leo Haas, we can obviously note how his discourse differs from the others.

Fortunately, Erich’s wife Elsa had hidden these fragments, rescuing them for posterity. Therefore, many of the recovered fragments in our Collection have no captions or slogans, while some watercolors also hidden but not detached from the captions feature the initial narrative. The replicas of the Israeli period, created in the 1970s, have multiple captions and slogans. This narrative partially is a modern addition, complementing and further developing the discourse of the ghetto period. 

From August 26, 1944, to February 1, 1945, Erich Lichtblau worded on a secret construction site in Wulkow, Germany (also called Arbeitskommando Zossen). He was assigned to a forced labor detail transferred to Wulkow from Theresienstadt. It is feasible that German bureaucracy continued to regard Erich Lichtblau primarily as a construction specialist. Upon the construction completion, Erich Lichtblau returned to Theresienstadt. At the construction site, Erich Lichtblau created several sketches depicting the life at this labor camp. The style resembles that of Theresienstadt, while the content reflects the new settings.

Erich Lichtblau recalls his return to Theresienstadt: When our transport came back to Theresienstadt, I found my wife again. She has saved all my pictures

On 8 May 1945, the Red Army arrived to Theresienstadt. From the beginning of May until the liberation of the area, it was the International Red Cross operated the abandoned ghetto. The SS staff left Theresienstadt on May 5, 1945. A day before, the inmates of the Kleine Festung (Little Fortress) were seen on the streets of the ghetto. Many of the survivors still remained within its walls.

After the liberation, Elsa Lichtblau recovered the hidden fragments of the sketches. The portraiture of Theresienstadt survived. Erich and Elsa Lichtblau remained in Czechoslovakia until October 1949, when they, with two children Mira and Rami (born in 1946 and 1948), had repatriated to Israel. The process of sketches restoration perhaps started in Czechoslovakia. More definitely, it had begun in Israel in the 1950s, continuing into 1960s. Erich Lichtblau had been recreating the original scenes together with the captions and slogans: I put all the fragments together and I wrote the missing words next to the picture fragments, so that every survivor of Terezín was able to see and understand their meaning.

It is regarded that Erich Lichtblau changed his name to Eli Leskly (Leskley), allegedly compressing the first and the last name into the short form Eli, as early as in 1945, while they still lived in Czechoslovakia.  Their identification documents issued in the Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia were still valid for some time after the war. On the Erich’s document the name Lichtblau is crossed out and instead Leskly is written in. The same is true about Elsa’s document: instead of Lichtblauvova, Lesklá is written (both are the Czech grammatical forms for a married woman). We can only speculate if the name-change was an official act of the new Czechoslovak authorities, or Erich made these amendments himself and the authorities approved the change.

After the war, perhaps still in Czechoslovakia Mr. Leskly partially restored the recovered watercolors and sketches out of the available fragments. Then he began the secondary circle reproducing the small-size artworks, mainly watercolors, (replicas of the ghetto-period). His ultimate project, known also as the Israeli Period, undertaken in the 1970s, culminated in the new placard-size watercolors on paper, the ultimate and revised versions of the ghetto-period pictorial diary. All the restored, recreated, or newly made artworks Mr. Leskly signed by Eli, adding Terezín, and a subsequent wartime year. A number of the restored after the war fragments glued together are incomplete and therefore lack Lichtblau’s signature. Mr. Leskly’s first personal exhibition took place in 1976 in the museum Beit Theresienstadt, in Kibbutz Givat Chayim Ihud in Israel.

In the beginning of the 1970s, Eli Leskly began to work on the enlarged versions of the entire Theresienstadt pictorial encyclopedia of a ghetto life. He created more than seventy watercolors in combination with diluted ink. Overall, they stem from the originals, although some variations are noticeable especially with regard to the captions and slogans. Apparently, the ultimate pictorial discourse, often in the form of a dialogue was completed by the early 1980s. In 1983, two Los Angeles philanthropists, attorney at law Paul R. Greenberg and Ilan Leskly (nephew of Erich Lichtblau) purchased the latest series of 1970s-1980s together with the overall matching original fragments, watercolors, and sketches of the Ghetto Period. They donated this combined Collection to the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust via the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles.

In April 1984, the first exhibition of the Leskly Collection opened in the United States. The artworks were exhibited in the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. Eli and Elsa arrived from Israel for the opening ceremony. A historian and the former director of the Museum Shalmi Barmore wrote in the letter of appreciation to Paul R Greenberg:

As a historian, I cannot comment on the artistic significance of the material. However, from a historical point of view, there is no doubt that we have one of the most important and rare collections of the Holocaust documentation. One of the tragic aspects of the Holocaust was that the Jewish people whipped out and nothing was left behind to show for it. Only on rare occasion did Jews who lived through these terrible times understand the importance of leaving some trace behind, whether in the form of a diary, photographs and sometimes even art. It is thanks to these few and the testimonies given after the Holocaust by survivors that we, the historians, can reconstruct the catastrophic events.

Erich Leskly is one of these few people who, at the time, realized the enormity of the events they lived through and documented them in the best way he knew – he sketched them. He later had to hide them and cut them, but whatever was left and reconstructed remains as an authentic demonstration of the life of Jewish people in the Ghetto of Terezín.

Since the first exhibition, this phenomenal Collection travelled to many museums and community centers across the United States in the 1980s and 1990s.

The author of the Ghetto-Diary lived equally modest life before, during, and after the war, remaining truthful to his self-perception: I was not a famous painter, I was just a little man. In Israel, Mr. Leskly was making a living by painting houses, and only in the later years, one of Tel Aviv department stores employed him as a decorator and graphic designer. Eli Leskly died on 2 October 2004 at the age of 93 in Tel Aviv.

Since 1984, Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust serves as a repository for this unique and multifaceted Collection. We have systematized this Collection in respect of chronology, content, and technique, conditionally dividing it onto three sub-collections.

The first sub-collection is composed of the initial ghetto-period watercolors and sketches with or without captions, often retained in fragments. They are made with brush, pen, and pencil in aquarelle technique on paper with the addition of black ink, often diluted.  Most of these small form pictures are restored after the war out of the hidden and recovered fragments with cut-lines vividly seen and some fragments missing.

The second sub-collection comprised also small form artworks in aquarelle technique made on paper with brush, pen and black ink.  In our judgment, they can be dated by the post-war Czechoslovakian Period and some to the early Israeli Period. There are instances when categorization between the first and the second sub-collections is conditional for all artworks are signed by the time of the Ghetto Period. A determining judgment in favor of affiliation with the second sub-collection lies with the state of preservation, the content, and the media (a complete watercolor picture, uncut paper, full captioning). The presence of the integrated captions and slogans, as well as no evidences of cut-lines and other intrusions are indicative to the post-ghetto period. 

The third sub-collection logically completes a pictorial encyclopedia of the Theresienstadt ghetto. It belongs to the Israeli Period, 1970s – 1980s. The artworks are designed as the matching replicas of the Ghetto-Period watercolors and sketches. This sub-collection comprises large, poster-size watercolors on paper by brush and pen with diluted ink. While some can be dated to the 1970s, in all likelihood, the collection was completed by the early 1980s. These artworks represent a phenomenal reflection if not a mirroring of the original ghetto-period pictorial entries. The author’s retrospective memory, his ability to reproduce precisely contextual details, style and manner, and the historical relevancy of the narrative, all in all, has produced a unique post-Holocaust memorialization.

Realizing high historical and artistic value of the Erich Lichtblau Collection, we hope to make it accessible for public, reproductions, and publications.