Leo Haas: Living culture in the ghetto.

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Leo Haas

Born in Opava, Northern Czechoslovakia in 1901, Leo Haas studied in Karlrusche, Berlin between 1919 and 1922, and later in Austria. He returned to work in Opava 1926 from where he was deported to Theresienstadt in 1939. Many of the drawings he produced during his time in the camps have survived.

He returned to Czechoslovakia after the liberation and settled in Prague. Haas reunited with his wife and adopted the son of Bedrich Fritta (also an artist), who had been a friend of Haas’ and who died in Auschwitz. He moved to East Berlin in 1955.



The works made by Haas in this series, show the truth about what was really happening in the ghetto labour camps.

What can we learn about the conditions in Theresienstadt from looking at Haas’ work?

How was Haas able to produce these works in Theresienstadt?

What risks must Haas have taken to produce such documentation?

The title was written in German and translates as: 'A living culture in the ghetto'.

What do you think Haas meant by this title?

The Theresienstadt ghetto

This image depicts the Jewish ghetto-labour camp of Theresienstadt.

Theresienstadt was set up by the Nazis to be the “perfect ghetto.” The camp had fake buildings that were nicely painted so that from the outside the ghetto would look pretty and pleasant. It had trees, gardens, and a bank and a café. However, the bank had no money, and the café had no food. 

The Nazis sent many Jewish artists, such as Leo Haas, to Theresienstadt in order to create pictures that lied about the ghetto-labour camp. They wanted the pictures to depict Theresienstadt as a carefree living space where the people were happy and treated well. However, the truth was that Theresienstadt was a brutal place. It was very small and Jews were forced to live in very crowded, unsanitary, and poor conditions.

Leo Haas made a series of pictures to show what life was really like in the ghettos under the Nazis and he risked his life by doing so. Whilst there, he produced numerous illegal prints, which he hid in the walls and among the other inhabitants of Theresienstadt.

Red Cross visit

In 1944, while Haas was still in Theresienstadt, the Red Cross went to visit the ghetto-labour camp. In order to fool the Red Cross, the Nazis made Theresienstadt look like a model ghetto.

A video was made to show how wonderful life in Theresienstadt was, and The Red Cross left with a positive impression of Theresienstadt. After the visit the people who had participated in the video were sent to Auschwitz.

After this Red Cross visit, in 1944, Leo Haas began to be suspected of producing truthful images such as ‘Ghetto’, and was arrested and imprisoned in Theresienstadt for “smuggling atrocity propaganda abroad” and sent to Auschwitz. He was subsequently moved to other labour and death camps before being liberated in 1945 by American troops.

After the war he moved back to Czechoslovakia and retrieved his more than 400 drawings from Theresienstadt.

For more information about the art resources of the Ben Uri gallery in collaboration with the London Grid for Learning click here.