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.

The real drawings are too fragile to be touched

In 1991, the Jewish Museum accepted my request to hold an exhibition in Japan. However, they said it would be difficult to lend me the original drawings. Although I was puzzled at first, I was convinced when I saw the actual drawings—they were quite damaged.

Even at that time, the pictures had been drawn more than 40 years before. Although they told me that there were only a few drawings on drawing paper, I was surprised by the poor quality of the paper. In the early 1940s, Czechoslovakia was already under Nazi control; discrimination against Jews had begun, and children were being expelled from the schools they had attended. Even bread and vegetables were not freely available, and even if there was drawing paper in the stationery store, Jewish children could not buy it. Even so, when they were sent to Terezín, some of the children may have brought the drawing paper that they had previously stored away for some time.
The day Friedl received her summon to the Ghetto, she packed her trunk with all the paper, paints, and crayons she had at home.

There was never enough paper for drawing classes. The adults in the Ghetto picked up papers and letters that had been thrown in a trash can in the German military office; they picked up envelopes of letters, wrapping paper, boxes that used to contain chocolates and cookies sent to German soldiers, and anything else they could find, stretching the paper’s wrinkles and entrusting it to Friedl. The pictures were drawn on such poor-quality paper. Many of them were so damaged that they could not be moved and could not be brought back to Japan.

Thus, I decided to have the drawings photographed. At that time, film cameras were used, rather than today’s digital cameras. “In Czechoslovakia, it is very difficult to get film. If you bring me some film from Japan, competent photographers will take pictures for you.”
After handing over a large amount of film and requesting 150 shots, I returned to Japan. The next morning, I took out the newspapers and flyers that had accumulated in the mailbox of my apartment and was surprised by paper’s weight and beauty. Paper that I usually threw away without a second thought. If only there had been such paper back then…