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December 18, 2013

A Girl Who Grew Up in a Concentration Camp Draws a Picture of 'Home' While Living in a Residence for Disturbed Children, Poland, 1948

A girl who grew up in a concentration camp was asked to draw “Home” and what she drew was scribbles. It shows how the horrors of the concentration camp warped her mind. It’s a mystery what the lines truly mean to her, probably the chaos or the barbed wire.

Tereska, a child in a residence for disturbed children. She drew a picture of "home" on the blackboard. Warsaw, 1948. (David 'Chim' Seymour—Magnum Photos)

An extraordinary picture taken in 1948 by David ‘Chim' Seymour, one of Magnum Photos' co-founders, has since been seen by millions: first, it was published in LIFE magazine where the caption read in part “Children's wounds are not all outward. Those made in the mind by years of sorrow will take years to heal." Then it was selected by Edward Steichen for his legendary exhibition The Family of Man. This image of Tereska drawing her home has fascinated many and has become emblematic of World War II.

David 'Chim' Seymour's photographs as they appeared in LIFE magazine in December 1948. (LIFE)

In the Spring of 1948, when Chim was sent by UNICEF as a special correspondent to report on children in five European countries, 13 million children of Europe had survived World War II. They were homeless and orphans, many of them physically wounded as well as mentally traumatized.

In a school for “backward and psychologically upset children,” as Chim states in his story's captions, Tereska, then seven or eight years old, is standing in front of a blackboard. As we see in Chim's contact sheets from a pinned notice on the blackboard, the teachers' assignment was ‘To jest dom”- “This is home”.

Contact sheet of the children drawing on blackboard. Special-need institute, Warsaw, 1948. (David ‘Chim' Seymour—Magnum Photos)

That is what children were supposed to draw, but Tereska could only trace in chalk a tangle of frantic lines. Her haunted eyes reflect her confusion and anguish. Tereska's identity has remained a mystery for almost 70 years.

Teresa Adwentowska came from a Catholic family. She was one of two daughters of Jan Klemens, who was an activist in the Polish Underground State, the Resistance. During the Warsaw uprising (August-October 1944), he was heavily beaten and all his teeth were broken by the Gestapo at their Warsaw headquarters and prison. During the war, Tereska's mother Franciszka did her best to make ends meet, for instance visiting the Jewish ghetto in order to trade goods.

During the bombing of Warsaw by the German Lutwaffe, Tereska's home was destroyed, and her grandmother was most likely shot by Ukrainian soldiers who were helping the Germans annihilate the Warsaw Uprising. Tereska was struck by a piece of shrapnel that left her brain-damaged. Fleeing Warsaw after the bombings, four-year old Tereska and her 14-year-old sister Jadwiga spent three weeks trying to reach a village forty miles away from Warsaw - on foot, in a war-ravaged country. They were starving. That episode left her with an insatiable hunger, and her physical and mental condition steadily deteriorated. During the 1954/1955 school year, she had to be sent to a mental asylum in Świecie (about 190 miles from Warsaw). Since her early childhood she had loved drawing, mainly flowers and animals. As a teenager she got addicted to cigarettes and alcohol, and became violent towards her younger brother. Since the mid-sixties, she spent her life at the Tworki Mental Asylum near Warsaw; the only things that meant anything to her were cigarettes, food and her drawings.

Family album with Tereska's photos. (Krzysztof Siemiątkowski)

In 1978, at the Tworki Mental Asylum, Teresa Adwentowska met with a tragic death: she accidentally choked on a piece of sausage that she had stolen from another patient.

Chim's photograph of Tereska, which has become a symbol of the fate of children during war and has inspired the Tereska Foundation, remains one of the only portraits of her as a child. As if caught in the tangled web of her own chalk lines, she remained frozen in time: for Tereska, war never ended.

(via TIME/LightBox)



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