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.

Please call the children by their names

In 1989, when I saw the children’s drawings for the first time, I was moved by the signatures on many of the drawings. The museum in Auschwitz, which I had visited a few days earlier, had a lot of stuff on display. It said, “Some of the belongings of those killed here,” but we never saw the names or faces of those killed; a pile of glasses, but who wore them? The little red shoes, the golden shoes with the long, thin heels, perhaps worn when doing dance steps. Bundle of hair cut off in braided pigtails. No matter what I looked at, all it said was “the remains of many victims.” I hated that. I feel sad.
All victims had names, faces, and life stories, but they were all erased. Only the fact that there were so many victims was emphasized, and each person seemed to be buried in a pile of relics.

Yet the drawings of the children in the Terezín Ghetto had names.

“You have names. Whether the German soldiers call you by number or call you pigs, you all have names that your fathers and mothers lovingly gave you. Let’s write it down.”
Willy Groag, who worked as a caretaker at the “Girls’ Home” in Terezín Ghetto, remembers well how Friedl used to talk to the children; he is the one who found the drawings left in Terezín and brought them to Prague.

He said, “Some of the children still couldn’t write well, so Friedl helped them.”
It was over 20 years after the war ended that research began on drawings made by the children. “I was asked to come and help with the research on the drawings. While I was working in a kibbutz (*an intentional community that was traditionally based on agriculture) in Israel at the time, I was given special permission to go to my home country. Fortunately, as the city of Czechoslovakia was not damaged by the war, there were still some Jewish materials left. In addition, the Nazis kept detailed records; thus, I thought that if I knew the names of the children, we could determine their whereabouts. But it was tough work.

I went through each of the 4,000 drawings one by one, reading and matching them with the documents, even though some of the signatures were not very good or only had nicknames. Anyway, most of the children were killed, you know. Ah… this child who was very good at drawing and this child who was a crybaby were killed, I was reminded of so many things that I couldn’t get on with my work. But I worked on it, thinking about how wonderful it was that Friedl had taught children to write their names. It took many years, but the authors of many of the drawings were identified. Still, there some are ‘author unknown.’ If you look closely, you will see that those are unfinished works. I guess they thought they would draw them up and write their names on them in the next class.”

Because I had heard his story, I have always treasured the nameplates when holding exhibitions in Japan. I asked the embassy to teach me how to read all the children’s difficult names, and I included their birthdates and the date they were sent to Auschwitz. Every time I gave an opening address, I would say this: “With the exception of a few, the drawings have name on them. The name of the child who drew it, the date of birth, and the date that he or she was sent to Auschwitz ......, many of whom were probably killed that day. I believe that each drawing is telling us something. Any of the drawings will be fine. If you find a picture that stands out, please call out the name of the child who drew it. Please remember the name.”