Jewish survivors of the Holocaust
Birkin, Edith, 1927- (15 of 17) The Living Memory of the Jewish Community
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Ghetto experiences; Camp experiences
1989-02-18 and 1989-07-01
Is part of (Collection)
The Living Memory of the Jewish Community
Birkin, Edith, 1927- (speaker, female)
Thompson, Katherine (speaker, female)
Part 15: She started painting the concentration camp experiences, thinking about it, using books with photographs of the Ghetto, showing the starvation. After they moved to Hereford she started making larger paintings, the first one was about the 'liberation day', based on a picture she saw in a book. After the success of this painting she just could not stop, she painted scenes which she called ?memories of the holocaust' series. She would think about the painting first and made written notes of what she could remember before starting to paint. She always starts a picture from the sky - it sets the mood. The red skies are for her the symbol of people burning. Her skies are violent because of the violence of the situation. At first her teacher was very upset with the subject of her paintings; he said he could not help her, but nevertheless he made some helpful technical points and he was also very supportive. He was haunted by post war newsreels of Belsen. But he did go to her exhibition. So far she has painted 42 pictures of the concentration camp. The Wiener Library bought one, Coventry bought one, a Gallery in London bought one and she donated 4 to the Imperial War Museum. She then started painting bigger pictures and needed more space, so she applied for a grant for a shed to the West Midlands Arts Council - which she got. This was then mentioned in a local paper, and a local reporter interviewed her and published an article with a picture of her and one of her paintings in the paper. A German, who worked with a German organisation to help to rebuild Coventry, read the article, contacted her and wanted to organise an exhibition of her paintings at Coventry Cathedral. She overcame the apprehension of meeting a German - who came with his Jewish wife and they later became good friends. The German organised the exhibition at Coventry in 1984. The exhibition opened by Kitty Heart, at the Chapel of Unity. Afterwards there was a party at the International Centre. The picture they bought hangs at the International Centre. Furthermore an art organiser of North Stafford Polytechnic borrowed a painting for an exhibition in Stoke on Trent.
Interviewee's note: Describes early life; born in Prague. Family background, grandparents, family name was Hoffmann. Earliest memories, Jewish school, teaching methods. Arrival of Germans in Czechoslovakia; effect on schooling; father lost his job. Train to Lodz Ghetto. Life in the ghetto. Death of parents and the effect on her; she worked in a tailoring factory; memory of hearing gunfire of approaching Russians. Summer 1944, evacuation from the ghetto; taken by cattle truck to Auschwitz. Description of conditions and routines there. January 1945, the Germans moved prisoners out, beginning of the death march. Description of death march; birth of a baby, joy of hearing bombing outside Dresden. Arrival in Flossenburg camp in March 1945, 10 days there, then by coal truck to Belsen. Details of arrival in Belsen and conditions there; food, gypsies, typhus. Arrival and reactions of the British Army. The Germans forced to clear away the dead. The camp was burned, prisoners re-housed and cleaned. She was filmed for newsreel a few days after liberation. Edith had contracted typhus and was sent to the hospital. Entertainment in the hospital (Scottish dancing and a visit by Yehudi Menuhin). Journey back to Prague; Russian soldiers in Prague. Loneliness; loss of her family and belongings. Decided to go to UK in 1946; impressions. Went to Belfast by boat to visit her sister; attended high school in Londonderry. There was a Jewish community there. She did a teachers' training course in London. After that she worked in Hendon and Edgware. She married in 1962 to a non-Jewish man; they were unable to have children so they adopted two boys, and a girl. She dedicated herself to her family thereafter. She started painting based on the concentration camp experiences; it had a therapeutic effect on her. She exhibited and sold her work. Talks about her paintings, and about being lucky to have survived the holocaust.