Special Exhibition “The Courage to Know, The Endeavor to Tell”
Michiko Nomura (Nonfiction Writer) [Profile]

Born in Tokyo in 1937, graduating from Waseda University in 1959 with a degree in French literature from the Department of Literature. After working as a copywriter and editor-in-chief of a town magazine, she wrote essays and reportage for newspapers and magazines. In 1989, she encountered pictures of the children of Terezín in Prague and negotiated with the Embassy of the Czech Republic, the Jewish Museum, and others to publicize the fact and obtained permanent rights to use 150 replicas of the drawings.

Since 1991, she has held the “Terejin-shuyojo no Osanai Gaka-tachi ten (Young Painters of the Terezín Ghetto exhibitions)” at 23 venues in Japan.

She has continued to interview the few survivors, hold exhibitions, write books, and give lectures for 32 years. In order to convey the facts of the Holocaust, she also organizes tours to Poland and the Czech Republic, and tours to Tsuruga City, Yaotsu Town, Fukuyama City, and other cities in Japan.

She won the Grand Prize of the Sankei Children's Book Award for her book, Terejin no Chiisana Gaka-tachi (Little Painters of Terezín) and she has also written many books, including Furiidoru sensei to Terejin no Kodomo-tach (Friedle and the Children in Terezín) and Seikansha-tachi no Koe o Kiite (Listening to the Voices of Survivors).

Since 2010, Friidoru to Terejin no Chiisana Gaka-tachi (Friedl and Young Painters in the Terezín) has been included in a 6th grade Japanese language textbook for elementary school students (Gakkotosho). She had given many lectures at elementary and junior high schools, where students are learning from that textbook.
She has performed “Terejin mo Chocho ha inai (Terezín, No More Butterflies),” a concert of readings and songs, composed mainly from poems left behind by the children in Terezín, throughout the country, and in 2001 in Prague and Terezín.

In March 2023, she will resume a tour to Israel, one of her long-standing trips to learn about the Holocaust, and she continues her efforts to convey the message.

The “Life, Peace, and Encounter: Lecture and Concert ‘Terezín, No More Butterflies’” can be viewed here.

Encounter with Children’s Drawings

The encounter with the children’s drawings was entirely coincidental. In February 1989, My daughter and I were about to go on a trip together, just before her graduation from University. The destinations were Poland and Czechoslovakia, which were still socialist countries at the time. In Poland, which has a sad history of being annexed by other countries many times, I was thinking of visiting Auschwitz, but in Czechoslovakia, I was planning to visit tourist attractions.
The capital of Czechoslovakia is Prague, the city that Mozart loved and where Anton Dvorak and Bedrich Smetana were born. My daughter and I had circled many museums, theaters, and churches in our guidebook.

We were walking through Prague’s Old Town Square. The wide streets and squares were bursting with crowds. Every building on both sides of the street was decorated with the Czechoslovak tricolored flag and the red flag. The national anthem was playing, and a rally was taking place in the plaza. My daughter said, “I have no ideas, but there must be some big event today.”
I later found out that February 23, 1989 was the anniversary of the declaration of Czechoslovakia as a socialist republic. About 6 months later, a wave of the Reformist Movement erupted in Eastern Europe, and the Velvet Revolution took place in Czechoslovakia, changing the country’s system. The rally in the square, which my daughter and I saw, was the last commemoration celebrated by the socialist county of Czechoslovakia.

Avoiding the crowds, we took a side street. The former Jewish quarter is located in the road near the Moldau River (which in that country was really called the Vltava River). The door to the old-fashioned building was open, so I whispered, “Dobrý den.” A greeting I had just memorized from the guidebook the night before and went inside.
There, the drawings were on display. There were drawings of boys and girls lined up in front of a school building, a carriage full of hay, butterflies fluttering over red and yellow flowers, and drawings of ordinary children’s daily lives. That is what I thought until I saw one of the drawings, which, in the center, had a man about to be hanged; on his chest was the Star of David. In the upper half of the drawing was a boy standing leaning against an outside lamp.

“Oh, this is...” My daughter and I looked at each other.

We had visited Auschwitz a few days before. A few lines of text in a book I had bought there read as follows: “It was not only adults who were killed at Auschwitz. Many young lives were taken without mercy, and talents were also snuffed out before they could flourish. Fifteen thousand children who were drawing pictures and writing poetry in the Terezín Ghetto in Czechoslovakia were, too.” These drawings, which I was casually looking at, were exactly the children’s drawings described in the book.
That night, with a dictionary in hand, I read the flimsy French pamphlet I had purchased at the museum. By the time it was getting light outside, I understood the context in which the drawings had been made.

Star of David at the top of the stairs. In a dimly lit small room in this building, children’s drawings were quietly displayed.
A man about to be hanged. Only the Star of David on his chest is dark, indicating that the author drew it many times in pencil. It is signed “Josef Novak.”