Sanne Kabalt

Tereska, Today

Sanne Kabalt

Today, January 27th, is Holocaust Memorial Day. Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp was liberated January 27th 1945, exactly 70 years behind us.

 A couple of weeks ago a photograph by David Seymour stunned me. I was visiting the exhibition ‘Masterpieces of the Howard Greenberg Collection’. An exhibition true to its title, it was filled with masterpieces as promised. Among those was this photograph by David Seymour, a Jewish Polish photographer nicknamed Chim, born as Dawid Szymin. I believe I have seen this photograph before, though not properly. So many photographs pass you by and you can’t remember them all. Though this particular photograph is hard to forget, once you’ve taken the time to look at it for a while. I did some research on this photograph.  

 It was titled by Magnum as such:

Tereska is cared for at a Polish center for disturbed children. She produced these scrawls when asked to draw a picture of her home. Tereska’s portrait, one of Chim’s best-known pictures, has been used as a cover for books on fear, on trauma, and on the Holocaust, and is an eponymous symbol for the German foundation Tereska. 1948.

The girl named Tereska is supposedly 8 or 9 years old. Her facial expression defies categorizations and ages. Vacant, confused, distressed, wild, traumatized. Not childlike at all. Her drawing amplifies this effect, it is the least thing you would expect from a child asked to draw her home. Seymour took more photos in this orphanage of other traumatized children that were asked to draw their homes. They must have had their own terrible histories, and yet neither of their expressions is as harrowing as Tereska’s. As for their drawings, they actually depict homes.

Poland, Warsaw, 1948. "In a school for mentally disturbed children, one of them, Wojtek, draws his home on a blackboard” by David Seymour.

Poland, Warsaw, 1948. "In a school for mentally disturbed children, one of them, Wojtek, draws his home on a blackboard” by David Seymour.

Poland, 1948 by David Seymour

Poland, 1948 by David Seymour

There are two slightly different photographs of Tereska drawing her home. Both are equally powerful and I can see why it must have been hard to choose either one. 

david seymour tereska2.png

It is a horrifying yet powerful experience to look at Tereska, her face and her drawing, as captured by Seymour, a man who lost his own home and family in the war. However, it is an experience that I would recommend to everyone. Especially today.