Children Only Allowed to Go for Short Walk. Karel Fleischmann, Terezín, 1942. India ink wash drawing. (Jewish Museum in Prague)

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Fleischmann, Karel

(1897–1944), physician, graphic artist, and writer. Karel Fleischmann was born in Klatovy, Bohemia, and he finished secondary school in České Budějovice, a southern Bohemian town with a small Jewish population, before studying at the faculty of medicine in Prague. In 1925, Fleischmann returned to České Budějovice, where he practiced dermatology and pursued literary and artistic interests. His father, a graphic artist and calligrapher, had long encouraged his son’s talents.

Fleischmann played an active role in local cultural life. In addition to organizing lectures on health care for the general public and publishing articles in medical journals, he organized art exhibitions and wrote critical essays on trends in literature, graphics, film, and drama. He also produced linocuts and lithographs, mainly on social subjects in a figurative yet expressionistic style. He was particularly influenced by Albrecht Dürer, whose work he had seen in a four hundredth anniversary exhibition in Nuremburg in 1928. Fleischmann was impressed with the way in which the Renaissance artist crystalized and simplified impressions in terms of line.

Fleischmann was a cofounder of the avant-garde writers’ and artists’ group Linie, which issued a journal under the same name. Linie, active from 1931 to 1938, published much of Fleischmann’s graphic work and essays. He wrote a novel titled Návrat (Return; 1933), and his last collection of prewar poems, Pésti do oblak (Hitting the Clouds), appeared in 1938.

After the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939, Fleischmann was barred from practicing medicine. On 18 April 1942, he was deported to Terezín, where he helped to provide health services to the elderly and infirm. Working in secret at night, he continued to write, producing medical lectures, prose, and poems; several of his manuscripts survive in the Jewish Museum in Prague, including Terezínský den (A Day in Terezín).

Fleischmann’s stark and expressionistic black-and-white drawings from that time feature characteristically stoop-shouldered inmates—young and old, strong and weak, blind or insane—depicted against the abysmal backdrop of camp life: registering for the frequent deportations “to the East”; crowded into barracks; waiting for medical attention or bread rations; or peeling potatoes. On 23 October 1944, Fleischmann was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he was gassed upon arrival. Hidden during the war, hundreds of his drawings survived and are in the collections of the Jewish Museum, Prague; in Yad Vashem, Jerusalem; and in Beit Theresienstadt, Giv‘at Ḥayim-Iḥud, Israel.

Suggested Reading

Ziva Amishai-Maisels, Depiction and Interpretation: The Influence of the Holocaust on the Visual Arts (Oxford, 1993); Leonard J. Hoening, Tomas Spenser, and Anita Tarsi, “Dr. Karel Fleischmann: The Story of an Artist and Physician in Ghetto Terezin,” International Journal of Dermatology 43 (2004): 129–135; Hana Housková, Česlicí času: Život a dílo Karla Fleischmanna (Olomouc, Czech., 1998); Markéta Petrásová and Jarmila Skochová, Karel Fleischmann: Life and Work (Prague, 1987), exhibition catalog; Seeing through “Paradise”: Artists and the Terezín Concentration Camp (Boston, 1991), exhibition catalog.