When Nazi Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939, Erich Lichtblau-Leskly and his wife, Elsa, were deported to the Theresienstadt Ghetto. There, Erich began drawing and painting satirical representations of life at the camp.
“It was literally a lifeline for him, in terms of maintaining his sanity and in terms of documenting what was going on around him,” says Molly Dubin, the curator at Jewish Museum Milwaukee. “In 1944, a number of well-known artists in the camp were discovered having created work. They were tortured and sent to their deaths, and Erich wanted to destroy his artworks at that point. But his wife Elsa stopped him and convinced him to cut them up and hide them on site, under their floorboards.”
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Against all odds, both Erich and Elsa survived the war and were able to retrieve the paintings and drawings. Now they’re on display at JMM as part of an exhibition called “To Paint is to Live: The Artwork of Erich Lichtblau-Leskly.”
The exhibition features 64 original works by the artist. And Dubin says that it takes its name from something Erich once told his family members: “if he could not paint, he could not live.”
The exhibition can be viewed either in-person or online through May 30. Visit jewishmuseummilwaukee.org for more info.