A Heart Rending Coincidence

Travel engenders remarkable things for its travelers. One of the most remarkable is the coincidence. I have already written about one in this blog. You can link to it here. 

Today I would like to write about a different kind of coincidence. Nancy and I had gone to Prague on the 17th of June of this year. We visited the six synagogues administered by the Jewish Museum of Prague. Each synagogue is a kind of exhibit telling about the history of the Jews before, during and after the Nazi occupation. One of the most heart-rending of those visits was to the Pinkas Synagogue. It contained an exhibition of drawings made by children who were imprisoned in Theresienstadt concentration camp between 1942 and 1944. The camp was located 30 miles northwest of Prague. Frield Dicker-Brandeis, one of the prisoners and an artist in her own right, had organized drawing classes for the children as a clandestine educational program. The program lasted for two years. Just before she was deported to Auschwitz along with the children of Theresienstadt, she managed to stuff 4500 of the drawings into a suitcase and hide it. After the war the suitcase was discovered and given to the Jewish Museum.

When you visit the exhibition, the legends underneath tell you which ones of the child artists died and which survived. The vast majority died.  They were deported to Auschwitz along with their teacher, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, where they were killed.

Drawing by Eva Wollsteinerova-born January 24, 1931. Killed November 23, 1944. Terezin Jewish Museum

Almost a month to the day later, Nancy and I went to a gathering of Yale graduates at the Cambridge Tennis Club in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  It was a barbeque for old and new alumni. We had a book party to go to earlier in the afternoon just around the corner. We decided to drop in on the Yale gathering. The clubhouse was packed. There was no place to sit. We took our food outside to an empty courtside table well beyond mingling distance, glad to have a seat far from the madding crowd. A young man and an older man, obviously his father, were playing tennis.  Sitting on a bench reading a book and occasionally looking up to watch was a woman.  At one point I said to the woman, “If you’d like someone to talk to while they’re playing, please join us.” She did.

We introduced ourselves. Her name was Julie Baer. It turned out that she was a teacher and an artist. She gave us her website address and invited us to visit it to see her work. The next day I did just that. The address led me to a series of pictures she had drawn of children.

Girl in the Woods, 2004, 47 1/2" x 36", oil and acrylic on wood panel

I wrote to tell her that the parents of those children must have been very pleased at the results of her work because they were so good. She wrote back that perhaps I hadn’t realized that these were portraits of children who had been imprisoned in death camps throughout Europe, including Theresienstadt. It was as if I had been hit with a hammer. I felt as if I were looking into the faces of the children whose drawings I had seen just weeks before.

Travel broadens in unexpected ways.