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.

Days of children

In the Ghetto, children under the age of 10 were allowed to stay with their mothers, but after the age of 15, they were separated into boys and girls and treated like adults. In other words, 15,000 children between the ages of 10 and 15 were separated from their parents and divided into a “boys’ home” and a “girls’ home.”

The rooms, which no longer have carpets or curtains, are lined with triple bunk beds but still not enough beds. Three or four children slept on top of each other in one bed “like sardines in a can.” There was only one straw bedding and one blanket. On cold nights, everyone pulled at each other so hard that the bedding soon ripped, and the straw came out. Even so, new bedding was not provided.

As for meals, breakfast was brown water called “coffee.” Lunch was a thin, salty soup with one ping-pong ball sized flour dumpling ; at night, it was a meager meal of salty soup and a small rotten potato or a slice of hard bread.

Despite such a meager diet, children were forced to work 10 hours a day, just like adults. They collapsed from overwork and malnutrition and were not given medicine or warm milk. When they were told to “no longer [be] of any use as labor,” they were put on a freight train to be taken somewhere else.
The destination was said to be “east.” Though nobody knew where “east” was at that time, even the children knew that it had a huge chimney that emitted stinky black smoke all day long and that nobody saw those who had been sent there again.
The children lost their smiles and just lived quietly so that the German soldiers would not be angry with them. Seeing these children, the adults discussed the situation.

“We must bring back the smiles on those children’s faces”; “we must teach them that life is wonderful, even if for a limited time”; “what will give them the strength to live?” Then, an art class was opened in the camp. Several people came forward and said they would be teachers—former schoolteachers, musicians, poets, and writers. Among them was a female artist: Friedl Dicker.

A poem left by a child. Signed “Teddy”, but the author’s real name is unknown.