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OBJECT OF THE MONTH – September 2006

Bedřich Fritta (1906-1944): Makeshift Barracks (An Evening in the Barracks), Terezín, 1942-44
Pen and ink drawing on paper, 274 x 380 mm
signed lower left: Fritta, no date
Provenance: Museum acquisition from 1945, acc. no. JMP 174.171

This September marks the centenary of the birth of Bedřich Fritta, one of the most distinctive artists to be incarcerated in the Terezín ghetto during the war. Bedřich Fritta (original name Fritz Taussig) was born on 19 September 1906 in Višňová near Frýdlant in northern Bohemia. Before the war he was active in Prague, where he made a living as a technical draughtsman and commercial artist. From the beginning of the 1930s, he regularly contributed to the satirical magazine Simplicus as a caricaturist. He was deported to Terezín on 4 December 1941 (Transport J), soon after the ghetto had been established. He became head of the Technical Office (Technische Abteilung), whose task was to draw up various building and technical plans and, above all, to prepare graphs, statistics and reports which the SS Headquarters continually required of the Jewish self-government (Jüdische Selbstverwaltung). In addition to working on “official commissions”, Fritta managed to put together an extensive collection of masterly satirical drawings that depicted the depressing and, at the same time, absurd reality of life in the ghetto. His sharply critical work, much of which follows on from the legacy of the German expressionists, inspired several other artists who were incarcerated in Terezín (including Otto Ungar, Leo Haas, Ferdinand Bloch) to create art secretly and illegally. In July 1944, however, the Nazis discovered their works, as a result of which the artists were accused of “spreading propaganda of terror abroad.” Together with their entire families (including Fritta’s two-year-old son), they were interned in the Gestapo prison in the Small Fortress, Terezín. On 26 October 1944, after three months of cruel incarceration, Fritta, along with Leo Haas, was deported to the Auschwitz death camp, where he perished soon after arrival.


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