Jewish Museum Milwaukee, a program of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, has launched its newest exhibit, “To Paint is to Live: The Artwork of Erich Lichtblau-Leskly,” both in-person and online.
“To Paint is to Live” explores the life and work of Erich Lichtblau-Leskly, a Czech Jewish artist who used art and satire as tools for coping and resistance while held in the Theresienstadt Ghetto during World War II. The exhibit features 65 original paintings and drawings by the artist and runs through May 30.
“The exhibit title ‘To Paint is to Live’ is a direct depiction of how Leskly faced and survived an unimaginable situation,” said Molly Dubin, Jewish Museum Milwaukee curator. “He later told family members he had to paint to keep his sanity; if he couldn’t paint, he couldn’t live.”
The is exhibit is on loan from Holocaust Museum LA.
Before the war, Erich Lichtblau-Leskly lived a normal life with his wife, Elsa, and enjoyed a career as a commercial designer. That world was shattered when the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939 and the Lesklys were deported to Theresienstadt Ghetto. While imprisoned, Leskly continued to use art to express himself, document life around him, and make sense of his dire situation. His satiric, cartoonish representations of daily life in Theresienstadt juxtapose shocking scenes of brutality with a light, ironic style, exposing the absurdity and audacity of his and others’ experiences.
In the spring of 1944, fearing repercussions from the Nazis, Leskly cut his artwork into pieces and he and Elsa hid them under the floorboards in her barracks. The couple survived the war and following liberation they were able to retrieve the scraps of art they had hidden. Living in Israel after the war, Leskly repainted the scenes into larger watercolors using the repaired drawings as inspiration, according to Jewish Museum Milwaukee. Both the original taped back together sketches and reworked illustrations will be on display side-by-side in the exhibit. An original video, showing Leskly’s daughters and grandsons visiting Theresienstadt to see where the art hid under the floorboards, adds additional context for visitors.
Closed to in-person visitors since early December, Jewish Museum Milwaukee reopened in February. Visitors can choose to see the exhibit in-person or through paid online tours with a presentation. Jewish Museum Milwaukee is at 1360 N. Prospect Ave. 414-390-5730. JewishMuseumMilwaukee.org.