By Sarah Sukal
Friedl-Dicker Brandeis was born Frederika Dicker on July 30, 1898 in Vienna, Austria. She was born into a poor Jewish family; her father, Simon Dicker, was a shop assistant and her mother, Karolina Dicker, died in 1902, a fact of which Friedl remained very sensitive about. In 1936, she married her distant cousin, Pavel Brandeis, who was an accountant, and changed her last name to Brandeisova. Friedl was known for her textiles designs, printmaking, bookbinding, typography, costumes, and artwork, but is best known for educating the children in the ghetto of Terezin with drawing lessons.
In 1915, Friedl joined the textile division at the School of Arts and Crafts after a course of photography and some experience in a street puppet theater. There, she joined a drawing class taught by Professor Franz Cizek, who supported free creativity. In 1916, she joined her instructor Johannes Itten's private school to study art. In 1919, Freidl traveled to Weimar, Bauhaus to study art with Itten and three others- Paul Klee (who was very influential to her), Oskar Schlemmer, and Georg Muche. There, she continued her education in the textile design, printmaking, bookbinding, and typography workshops. She also worked with oil paintings, charcoal drawings, poster art, weaving, jewelry, furniture and architecture.
Career and Life Before the Holocaust
In 1923, "The Workshop of Fine Art" was established by Friedl and Franz Singer (her lover) in Berlin, where they most likely designed and created bookcovers, textiles, and children’s toys, according to records that were preserved from that time period; they also trained students in making bookcovers, textiles, lace, and jewelry. In 1925, Friedl went back to Vienna and kept on working on crafts with Martha Döberl and Anny Wottitz. She also designed costumes and sceneries for theaters in Brecht and Viertel and architecturally designed a kindergarten and a tennis club, all the while teaching art to children at various private schools.
The abstract constructionist style artwork that Friedl created was during around the time period of when she created "The Workshop of Fine Art" with Franz Singer. It was the type of artwork that was most popular with Bauhaus students and faculty (the watercolors and oil paintings were mostly from this period. Around the time that she fled to Czechoslovakia and got married to Pavel during the rise of Hitler, Friedl's work started becoming more mature and traditional, with landscapes, portraits, and still-lifes.
Fleeing from Berlin
In the 1930's, Hitler was becoming stronger. Friedl's pro-Communist work caused her to flee from Berlin to Czechoslovakia and to gain Czech citizenship. She continued to design for theaters, design textiles, painting and teaching. She met Pavel Brandeis (her distant cousin) in Prague and married him.
The Rise of Hitler
Friedl and Pavel moved to the small town of Hronov in north-eastern Bohemia, ignoring pleas of friends to flee with them to Britain and the United States when they had a Visa. Friedl worked in a textile factory and Pavel was an accountant, when they eventually lost both of their jobs and were forced to move to a smaller village. There, Pavel took up a job as a carpenter, a skill that saved his life in the concentration camp of Auschwitz during the hard slave labor. On December 14, 1942, they were transported to the camp Terezin.
Friedl and Pavel Brandeis were transported to the model Nazi concentration camp Terezin (or Theresienstadt) on December 14, 1942. Friedl brought her art supplies to the camp and ended up teaching not hundreds, but thousands, of Jewish children in the ghetto camp. She helped design sets and costumes for plays that the children would perform.
On September 20, 1944, Pavel was selected to go to the death camps at Auschwitz. Friedl volunteered to follow behind on a separate train. She died just eleven days later, when she was gassed.