1. Family Background:


  A portrait of Malva  Schalek, the woman and  painter, Czech, and German, Austrian and Jew, begins in her place of birth, Prague. The diversity  and paradoxes of history in Prague and in Habsburg Bohemia form the background to her art and her life, and may help to shed light on this original, yet very private person ;  her tolerance for others and yet her fierce independence.  The history of the Simon-Schalek family  serves to illustrate the story of the Jews in Bohemia in the 19th  century: it was a most unusual minority, poised between the ruling German elite of the Habsburg empire on one hand, and a rising Czech national movement on the other.


Malva Schalek´s family on her mother’s side had lived in the small town of Horice, in North-eastern Bohemia since the end of the 18th century.  In this area, near the German-speaking mountainous area later known as the Sudetenland,  Malva´s grandfather,  Salamon Simon, had owned a cotton factory.  Indeed, this detail, culled from the archives, is helpful in placing Malva´s family in the context of the economic developments of the time.  For the textile industry, which constituted the take-off sector of the industrial revolution in Bohemia in the period before 1848, was an area in which Jews played a leading role.  Leaders of this industry were able to win considerable acceptance and  enter the ranks of the Imperial bourgeoisie.








By the 1840´s, a number of Jewish industrialists had been ennobled by the Emperor and had come to be admitted among the leaders of the new bourgeois society.  Although Salamon was not ennobled, his eldest son Joseph, who became a prominent businessman and banker in Prague before moving to Vienna,  eventually became a von Simon  of the first degree.  And we know that the Simon family was well-to-do.  Thus Salamon´s eldest daughter, Balduine, who was to become Malva’s mother, was certainly given a handsome dowry when she married Gustav Schalek at the age of eighteen.  Gustav, a man of thirty-five, brought her to Prague where his family owned a bookstore, a music store, and a lending library in the centre of town.




We have a memoir written by Gustav Schalek when he was 16 years old, in 1853.  It is a curious document in which  a brash  young man congratulates himself on his intellectual and social accomplishments and tells the story of his father’s escape from lowly origins to the world of "Bildung" (humanistic learning) and intellectual pursuits.   . In fact  Joseph Schalek, Gustav's father,  had made the leap from a small provincial town in Bohemia, in the region of the city of  Melnik, to the capital, Prague; and from petty trading to the book business.

Intellectually voracious and wildly ambitious, Joseph taught himself several languages and the ways of the world as well, turning himself into one of the leading authorities on the book trade in central Bohemia.  After years of apprenticeship in the leading bookstore of the Prague Ghetto, he  married the daughter of the bookstore owner,  Judith Wohl, and took over the enterprise, moving it out of the ghetto after 1848.





Joseph and Judith had three children,  a son Gustav , born in 1837, as well as two daughters.   At the time that Malva Schalek, Gustav and Balduine´s daughter, was a little girl, in the late 1880´s,  the Schalek family had three stores in Prague, the bookstore and lending library, which was eventually taken over by Gustav,   a "Musikhandlung”  Schalek , and a furniture store known as "Möbel Schalek".  .  The Schalek bookstore was now located in the very centre of town,  behind the Estates theatre  in  Prague 1.  The furniture store, run by Franz Carl Schalek was located at Ferdinandova 40 (Graben oder Narodni) and nearby  was the  Musikhandlung, run by  Emanuel Wetzler,  Gustav´s brother-in-law,  at Ferdinandova 36.  


In his memoir, Gustav Schalek tells of his father’s  conversion to Catholicism in 1840's.    It is perhaps telling that while  Joseph  and his young son  now became  Catholics, his wife and daughter remained Jewish.   In looking into the grounds for this conversion it  becomes evident that conversion was clearly a condition for being granted the right to move his bookstore out of the ghetto.  For  although an edict permitting Jews the freedom to move about and settle in the place of one´s choice (Freizügigkeit) was officially granted  in March, 1849,   the right to purchase property (Besitzfähigkeit) and to open a business outside the ghetto, in the city proper was not awarded until 1861.


Another factor in Joseph´s decision to become Catholic was most probably his sympathy for the new Czech national movement;  Gustav´s memoir describes his father and his own devotion to   those poets and writers   who first began to develop and standardize the writing of the Czech language, using it to articulate and define a national culture.  In fact, Gustav later became an active  member of the “Umelecka beseda”, the association of Czech artists and a close friend of Josef Václav Fric (1829-1891) a radical democratic politician, writer and journalist who worked with  the poet and essayist Jan Neruda, 1834-91.   Not a few of these early Czech  writers had  actually been Jewish poets, imbued with the spirit of liberalism and choosing their themes from Bohemian history, often stessing the many parallels between the history of Bohemia and that of the Jewish people.  The best known of these works were Moriz Hartmann´s Böhmische Elegien (1845) and   Siegfried Kapper`s Ceske Listy (1846).    But later, many, including Gustav,  became discouraged when  Neruda and others showed themselves to be anti-semitic,.


 It should be pointed  out however,  that  Judaism for the Simon/Schalek family was not particularly a matter of  religious belief.  Thus for example,  Gustav Schalek, assuming that it was necessary to be Jewish in order to be acceptable as a husband to Balduine Simon returned to the Jewish fold.   After this investment, he was shocked to learn that the Simons were indifferent to his religious affiliation.  As Gustav´s son Robert later explained it, Joseph`s conversion did not mean leaving  religion, for he had never really been attached to it.  He was a pure theist in the sense of Voltaire;  orthodox Judaism with its dietary codes and other superstitious laws was a joke for him.   Apart from Schiller, whom he worshipped, Ludwig Börne and Heinrich Heine were the most important influences  on his thinking.   Both of them converted from Judaism to Christianity and the  baptismal certificate was for Gustav as for  Heinrich Heine merely “die Entréekarte in die europäische Kultur“ (the entry ticket  into European culture).




These confusing back and forth conversions are of course to be seen in the light of the fact  that many avenues of advancement in Habsburg society were simply closed to those registered as Jews.  But there was another aspect here.  In espousing the Czech cause, the Schaleks celebrated the young revolutionary nation and disdained all that was old and traditional.     Further, they were contemptuous of those who supported the Hapsburgs as against Czech nationalism.   Traditionally, Jews were  loyal to the Habsburg cause, having often experienced support  from the court, especially under Emperor Franz Joseph.  In addition,  for Bohemian and Moravian Jews,  identification with German culture and language was  attractive, given that the top strata of society, the government and the university (up to 1882) were all German.   And of course the German language was global and played a leading role in the culture and economy of  the Austrian empire.         It was thus in a sense reasonable that Joseph and Gustav chose to align themselves with the young revolutionary movement and to rebel against this Jewish loyalty to the Habsburg monarchy and its´ German language.    Yet, it is significant that Joseph did not include his wife and daughter when he and his young son were converted to Catholicism; and when he was old and close to death Joseph allegedly (interview with his Grandson) converted back to Judaism.


Balduine and  Gustav had four children,  Robert, who was born in March, 1877,  Olga in  1879, Julia, two years later in 1881, and Malva, the youngest, born  February 18, 1882.   The Schalek children were not religiously educated, and in later life all of them, with the exception of Malva,  officially left the Jewish community.   Olga took this step in her twenties, presumably because she was an atheist.   Robert, Malva's brother, converted to Catholicism after completing his law studies partially at least in order to be eligible for appointment as a judge in the Habsburg empire.  It also served him well when he was appointed the head of the regional court in Leitmeritz in the new Czech state after WWI.  Julia and her husband Ignaz left the religious community in 1919, opting for a political resolution of the problem of anti-Semitism.


Language was  an important factor in the Czech/German/Jewish constellation.  Among Jews, usage of  Czech varied in response to the vagaries of Czech anti-Semitism.  Jews recently come to Prague from the Bohemian and Moravian countryside at the end of the 19th century continued to speak  Czech.   In fact, a Judeo-Czech movement emerged in Prague at this time, and  by  1900 some 50%  percent of Jews declared Czech to be their primary language.  This has often been interpreted as a reaction of self-defence among the Jewish population to the rise of a new Czech political anti-Semitism.  (ft 1)   Notwithstanding these variations, German was still preferred as the language of culture and it was the language spoken at home in the Schalek family, although Balduine was more or less bilingual and also spoke some words of Yiddish. 

According to family stories, Malva's grandfather, Joseph Schalek, pursuing his ideological convictions,  insisted that his children and grandchildren speak Czech in public: On traditional Sunday family outings,  Malva and her sister Jula, wearing their white gloves, were obliged  to speak this language loud and clear while promenading  through the centre of Prague on Wenzeslaus square.  It was terribly embarrassing, according to Malva´s sister Jula.  (ft 2)


Robert Schalek, the eldest of  Gustav and Balduine´ sxxxchildren,  has left a memoir in which he describes the discrimination he encountered as the only Jewish boy in the Czech elementary school  in Prague.   Although this experience left him with a complete mastery of written Czech,  which served him well in his later career, he suffered terribly.  As  a result of his school  experiences  his siblings were spared this torture and were allowed to attend  German language schools.  Thus Malva grew up speaking fluent Czech but her education was German.

The family lived in apartments above the bookstore in the Ovocny market, Prague 1, near the Karolinium and behind the Estates theatre (Stavovské divadio), the theatre where  Mozart´s Don Giovanni was  first produced. Balduine was mostly to be found in the bookstore or  the neighbouring lending library.  It was a meeting place, possibly a sort of salon for Czech intellectuals and their friends and sympathizers.   There are numerous family anecdotes revolving around the dilemma of a working mother and her children, who were  unhappy to be left upstairs with the nanny.


Balduine was very well read and was known to have actively helped in the  bookstore,  giving advice to customers  interested in literature.  Often it was young girls who came to take out books at the lending library. She would give them a summary of the plot.  Later she told stories about her clientele.  When asked to give a  summary  of the plot she could even usually  answer the question which was frequently posed “on what page is the first murder”?

In 1889 Gustav died suddenly at the age of 52, probably as a result of a stroke but also, it was said,  because he was deeply disappointed in the political situation in the Czech nation, most particularly the rise in popular resentment against Germans and Jews.(ft 3)    Balduine,  a young widow with four children, (Malva was almost seven years old) continued her work in  the bookstore.  She took in a roomer,  a distant cousin, a younger man who was studying medicine and  then later married him.  It was somewhat of a scandal.   In 1895-6 the  newly   formed family moved to the mountain resort of Hohenelbe in the Reisengebirge.   The young man,  Dr Schnitzler  now became the local doctor, travelling by sled to visit his patients and sometimes taking the young Malva along on the ride.  He also set up a  research and diagnostic laboratory in their house and his work earned him a reputation even as far as Vienna.




Malva Schalek, born in Prague on Feb 18, 1882,  attended the Neustädter deutsche Volksschule in Prague from Sept 88 until  July 1893 and then finished the 3rd and last year of (higher) girls´ school (Mädchenbürgerschule) in Hohenelbe in 1896, having  thus completed formal schooling as far as girls were concerned.   In view of her remarkable talent in drawing and painting,  it was decided that she be given further education in art.  It is a sign of the liberalism and interest in the arts that the family would support a young girl in this sort of career choice.    For Malva, it meant - and here she was consistent as ever -  that she would never marry.  She was sent to Vienna to stay with an aunt on the Simon side and her family, the  Richters (their son Oswald , a prominent SPD functionary, was later murdered  in Buchenwald)  who took her in and helped her to get started.  They sponsored  art education for her, in particular private  lessons with the well-known women painter and teacher, Rosenthal-Hatschek.    Her uncle Joseph Simon (Uncle Peppi), by then successful in banking and a patron of the arts, sent her  to art school in Munich for one year.  Given that the academic art schools were closed to women at that time, she attended the private  Munich Frauenakademie, where she worked with the women artists Heymann and Thor.   It was an important time for her and  her niece, Lisa Fittko, later  recalled that Malva  would sometimes   reminisce  about the Fasching (Carnival)  parties and  gaiety of life she experience in that  special  interlude.    Upon her return to Vienna, Uncle Peppi (Joseph von Simon)  set her up in an atelier on the top floor of the Theater an der Wien am Naschmarkt,  of which he was part owner.


Now began the productive period for Malva Schalek as an artist and a portraitist.  Having worked long years copying the great masters in the Vienna museums, she developed her exceptional talent  for producing likenesses, creating life-size oil paintings of famous and less-famous Viennese personalities.  The portrait of Max Pallenberg, which hangs today in the Vienna City Museum (Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien) is one of the best surviving examples of her art.  Her portraits of the Plato researcher, Hans v. Arnim and the art historian, Franz Ottmann have disappeared, although reproductions were printed in contemporary review articles.   She also painted many of the women of her day, a number of them prominent members of the newly emerging feminist and or pedagogical movements, such as Rosa Mayreder.    She later specialized in painting children, often members of the up and coming Jewish bourgeoisie of turn- of-the-century Vienna.  From the many reviews of exhibits of her work in Vienna and Prague we know that she often travelled and spent her summers in Aussig and Turmitz .  There she continued painting and drawing, often working on commission to  portray the women and children. 


Information about Malva for the period during the World War I , by which time her newly-divorced mother Balduine had come to live with her, is plentiful due to the fact that Malva was willing and able to welcome and sometimes house various stranded family members.  In particular her niece, Lisa Fittko,  remembers  living  for a year in Malva´s atelier at the Theater an der Wien at a time when Lisa´s mother Julia (Malva´s sister) and her husband were moving from Budapest to Vienna and got caught up by the war and revolution.  From this we can date the portrait of the six-year old Lisa Fittko with her doll, sitting in the atelier wearing a red dress.  (The reproduction is included at the end of this text.)   Unfortunately this painting  (titled “Poupée à la mode) has still not been located, but postcards  of it have survived.  In fact Malva had many of her works photographed and reproduced as postcards.  They can occasionally be found today in specialty stores in Vienna and Munich.






Malva was ambitious and hard working even as a child.  Although always frail and sickly,(she had  had scarlet fever.   She was left deaf  in one ear but this was from having put a knitting needle into her ear.  She also suffered a long history of stomach troubles.  But this did not deter her.  Apparently her favourite subject at school was gym!


Her artistic talent became apparent before first grade. As the story goes,  her sister Jula, eleven months older,  brought home one of her first grade notebooks and left it on

the table.  Malva copied out the texts: But since Malva couldn't read, she didn't recognize the letters and copied them upside down.  Her work was so precise that by turning the

page around it became completely legible.



Malva´s work was praised for combining  a high level of classical technical skill

and accuracy with a feeling of  intimacy and understanding of  her subjects.  In her portraits, the  use of light and warmth, whether in drawings or oils, projects an immediate and intuitive feeling for the sensibilities of the individuals.

In contrast to the turbulence surrounding them, the people in her works come to life as personalities in a calm "interior"  atmosphere.  Indeed,  a number of her well known works include still-lives and interiors  in an atmosphere of  contemplative color and light.

The relaxed appearance and calm exterior is only belied by an often intense and penetrating treatment of the eyes, particularly of the women.  The portraits of women and children but also of the men such  as the actor Max Pallenberg, one of  the star portraits of her studio show in 1935,  reveal the private and not the public personality .

We have reviews of exhibitions in Vienna and Prague.   In 1910 she showed the oil painting called „Interieur“ at the Wiener Sezession  and in May of  1917 she showed a portrait  at the XI. Annual exhibit of the Austrian art association.  A portrait called „Junges Mädchen“  was shown at the  1. Jahresaustellung des Verbandes bildender Künstler in June of that year.  (In fact this was probably the “Junges Mädchen mit Rüschenbluse,“   a likeness of Alice Strauss, daughter of Adele from her first marriage and Johann Strauss` adopted daughter).   At the  Wiener Heimatkunst exhibit  in Vienna in 1925,  Malva showed the oil paintings titled „Interieur aus Wien“ und Schottentor“ (ft.4)


Various smaller shows and exhibitions reviewed in the Viennese and Prague press reveal a consistent respect and admiration for this painter who did not really belong to any of the „schools“ of art at this time.   In addition to many shows featuring portraits of members of Vienna´s society  or portraits of children, we have reviews of a private exhibition, sponsored by the International Association of Professional Women.   Malva Schalek  was also praised for a life-sized oil she did in 1930 called “Arbeitsloses Ehepaar” (unemployed couple) in which a new aspect of empathy and social consciousness in her work was revealed.  Only newspaper photos of this painting remain.





A show in her atelier at the top of  Linke Wienzeile  6, the famous Theater an der Wien, was organized by the Vereinigung berufstätiger Frauen (organization of professional women) in 1937.  A whole group of prominent women were depicted; many of them attended the opening: they were actresses, self-employed business women, art critics and artists as well as the successful writer Maria v. Peteani (a cousin).

In a recently discovered article by Anna Aurednicek which appeared in the  Wiener Arbeiterzeitung ,(ft. 5)  the background to this exhibition is explained.   It was the brilliant idea of the vice President of the union of Austrian women´s associations (Bund österreichischer Frauenvereine) when she heard that Malva Schalek was in need of work.  Malva was asked to portray the “Working women in Vienna”, women who were professionally or artistically active.  According to Aurednicek,  the exhibition was a great success.   It  was a compilation of  portraits of active and energetic women: doctors, lawyers, painters, singers, journalists and artists and it   worked to increase Malva´s reputation as well as bringing some financial success.  Aurednicek  is anxious to point out that for Malva the interesting work was rewarding in and of itself, and that the material aspect was negligible for this self-sacrificing person.


A review in the  Neuer Wiener Abendblatt  (Ft 6) praises Malva´s ability to capture the character and force of these individual women, giving us a feeling for  their inner spirit.  In contrast to  the many portraitists who  tend to paint women in a superficial  or simply in a sweet or flattering manner,  the reviewer emphasized Malva´s ability to capture the unique quality of each individual and bring out  their strength of character.   The marks of education, professional achievement  and the urge too fulfil oneself were made visible in these portraits.

The reviewer goes on to discuss Malva´s technique,  which was to create these likenesses in a quick, effective use of pastel colours and coal or brown pencil (Kohle-oder Braunstiftzeichung), thus requiring only very few sittings.  The result was  “ a work of fierce liveliness which was of a piece and of fierce liveliness”.  This technique - whereby  the spirit of the individual is captured with a few brush or crayon strokes  -  is characteristic for her later work in Theresienstadt, done under completely different circumstances.


Malva developed a reputation as an independent and perhaps somewhat aloof  person because she preferred the company of artists to that of “society”.  Yet she did not refuse to  take advantage of the connections provided by her Uncle Peppi, whose position on the board of some of the most important Austrian enterprises, in particular his cooperation with the Gutmann family, made him influential not only in business circles and the court, but also in the world of music and the arts.  He was President of  Universal Edition,  and seems to have participated in the direction of the Theater an der Wien, becoming part owner shortly after the death of Johann Strauss Jr., with whom he was linked when Strauss married Adele, a sister of Peppi´s wife Louise.   The two families shared a summer house in Bad Ischl.   Joseph  collected many art treasures (Kunstschätze) as well as manuscripts and  commemorative keepsakes (Erinnerungsgegenstände) relating to Strauss, maintaining an entire room in his Vienna Villa, memorialised by Malva in one of her “interiors”.    Malva and her sister Jula were occasional  summer guests in the villa the Strauss´s and Simons held  in Bad Ischl .   We have reproductions of oils by Malva, the above mentioned one,  representing the Johann Strauss room in Uncle Peppi´s residence, as well as a painting, now hanging in the Vienna City Hall (Rathaus 1st Bezirk) representing the “Boudoir of Katerina Schratt”, the emperor’s mistress and supposedly one of Joseph´s clients.


 Joseph v. Simon gave up his interest in the Theater an der Wien and sold his shares  in 1924, but even after his death two years thereafter,  Malva remained in the studio and adjoining apartment.  It was probably after the death of her mother in 1929 that her former household helper, Grete Kohn, became a sort of companion.  Grete was the widow of a Jewish man but since she herself  not Jewish,  she was able to stay in the Atelier after the Nazis took power in Vienna.  Malva, however, taking her older widowed  aunt, Emma Richter, fled to Czechoslovakia after the entry of the Nazis in March of 1938, leaving most of her works in the atelier.  We have a photo of the studio at this time, full of Malva´s paintings.   But except for six portraits, including a self-portrait, which were later smuggled out by family members, all of these works have  disappeared.  A visit to the Vienna Theater an der Wien in the 1980´s led to the discovery that the apartment was now inhabited by the former maid of Emma Richter.     But the pictures were not to be found.  It was only later that  two paintings, now  in the possession of the City Museum were located (they had been sold to the museum in the 1950´s).


Malva fled to Leitmeritz,  only three kilometers from what became the Theresienstadt concentration camp.  It was there that her brother Robert Schalek had become the  chief judge of the regional court (Kreisgericht).  When that part of Czechoslovakia was taken over by the Nazis, Robert, who was married to a non-Jew was  at least temporarily safe.   Malva found herself in Prague where she continued to work. (FT 7)  But in 1942 she was deported to the Theresienstadt camp.  We have two last letters from 2 February, 1942 addressed to close family members conveying her last wishes. 

In Theresienstadt, now 60 years old and always physically frail but now suffering from stomach ailments, she was nevertheless able to continue to work at her art, although of course, under  reduced circumstances.  The journalist Anna  Aurednicek who was  also interned in Theresienstadt, characterized her  friend Malva, whom she had known in the Vienna days, in a post-war memorandum:  “ The painter carried her bitter fate with a model of patience, although her fine face became ever thinner and her being ever more fragile, her  curly dark hair becoming meshed with silver threads.”


According to this report, she was placed in the “Hamburger Kaserne”  along with 45 other internees, and her kind ways quickly won  her the sympathy of  the senior woman (Zimmerälteste) and Malva was assigned a place near the window in the dark hall; instead of an upper birth she received a single cot and was thus able to have the benefit of the small amenities which were achievable in this imprisonment.  The administration was made aware of the presence of the artist and  she  was  permitted to work.  Apart from sketches and drawings of Theresienstadt,  it was especially her portraits which were greatly admired.  The likenesses of old and elderly women and men, but also of the young filled her sketchbook.   Excellent, characteristic pictures were produced which Malva Schalek intended to publish in an album after the end of the war. (ft 8)





 We still do not understand how she was able to get hold of the paper and chalk/charcoal and watercolours which she used.   But miraculously the some 140 works she produced in this period,  including portraits, (probably many prominent people are represented here) and landscapes  landed through a surprising and hair-raising series of events  in the Kibuttz  Lohamei Haghetaot (Ghetto Fighters’ Kibbutz) in Israel.  They are there today, preserved under the best conditions and frequently used for purposes of reproduction in books dealing with Theresienstadt. (ft 9) (Unfortunately, the biographical information supplied  is often incorrect).  In addition, one or two works can be seen at the museum in Theresienstadt.


Malva´s Theresienstadt pictures are remarkable for their detail and their ability to soberly represent the reality that was camp life.  In the camp, Malva´s technique, always careful and representational,  loosened up out of necessity.  Some have  even seen a tendency towards a different, perhaps more “modern” style in some of these last drawings. Her work serves almost a photographic function.  Her depiction of the make-shift synagogue for example,  was carefully representational and the scenes of arrival in the camp, of the hearse, of food distribution, of work and rest,  and of the sleeping bunkers offer  probably the most valuable documentation we have of camp life. 


These drawings have been described by Tom L. Freudenheim, Director of the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1978 and later deputy director of the Jewish Museum in Berlin,  as

                              "perhaps the finest and most complete artistic oeuvre to survive the Holocaust.  In the three (sic) years of her internment, Schalek executed an amazing number of drawings depicting daily life in the camp.  She must have had access to paper and materials on a continuous basis, given the large number of works still extant.  Her eye for detail gives insight into the living and working conditions and the manner in which the internees somehow coped with their existence prior to what, for most, was certain deportation and death at Auschwitz.  There is a sense of almost normalcy in the depictions of women working, barracks life, and scenes of the Theresienstadt fortress and its surroundings.  Schalek seems almost like a courtroom artist, deftly using her materials in a place where no cameras could record. But, in addition, the works are often sensitive, using color and line to great effect, such as in the painting of the woman bathing or the old woman resting on her bed. " (ft. 10)



 The portraits are most astounding in that they present people with great dignity and calm.  Although clearly undernourished and sometimes exhausted,  many of those represented show a surprising   spiritual and intellectually vigour.   An exhibit of these works, which the author of this article has been trying to organize together with  some art historians of note, has not as yet found the necessary funding.  Apart from the possibility that some of these  individuals  might be identified, such an exhibit would  provide the opportunity for the public to see the reality of camp life, unadorned yet in no way exaggerated or abstracted.  Malva Schalek remained true to her way of representative painting throughout her life. (ft 11)


 In a final  letter,  Malva asks that the pictures be placed in the archive of the Ältestenrat in May 17, 1944, and requests that her pictures be kept and eventually brought to her brother in Prague. (ft 12)


It remains only to recount the story of her resistance and death, which we have thanks to the report of an eye witness, Anna Aurednicek,  which was published in SVOBODNE NOVINY  29, September, 1946 .  This is how  she herself an inmate of Theresienstadt and a Czech journalist, (and present in Malva´s   Theresienstadt portrait collection) recorded what happened: Malva refused to paint a portrait of a fellow inmate, a doctor who collaborated with the Nazi commander of the camp.  Facing the threat of being deported to Auschwitz if she continued to refuse, she did not yield.  She was then put on a transport to the death camp.  The date of her transport card, Eb-866 to Auschwitz is 18.5.1944.  Verification of her death is given as 24, March, 1945.



The Martyr

          There were thousands of them, those poor people who died a terrible death. I could describe the fate of thousands of women who died in a gas chamber, or perished by hunger, disease and exhaustion. But I want to describe only one fate, that of a courageous Czech woman whom hardly anybody knows about.  The fate of the woman painter Malva Schalek. 

                   Born in Prague, she like many of our fellow countrymen lived in Vienna.  Her slim, slight figure and spiritual face was to be seen everywhere where you could find Czech art in Vienna.  She was too modest, never showed any ambition.  She drew, painted, was an artist through and through and she had a lot of admirers and friends.

          I left Vienna when Hitler encircled the city, and for a long time I didn't hear from the painter Schaleck. But then shortly after the invasion of Austria by the Germans, I met her in Prague.  Like many of our fellow countrymen she fled back to her home and hoped that there she would be able to escape all that horror.  She did not.

          Shortly after my deportation to Theresienstadt she came to see me. I was glad to meet her again and she too was glad to meet a good acquaintance in the concentration camp.  She didn't despair or complain, although even after such a short time she looked only a shadow of herself and her pretty wavy hair looked as if it had been sprinkled with silver.  She described her poor lodgings in one of the largest barracks, which like almost all of the thirteen large buildings, bore the name of a German town.  Her barracks was called Hamburg.  She slept with approximately forty women on a bunk, which was an advantage as compared to those women who slept on the floor.  She couldn't bear the food; she had always had a weak stomach which could not cope with the “Graupen”  (barley porridge),  potatoes and  “Knödel” which was available on special occasions.  But by her soft friendly manner she improved her situation.   The “Zimmerälteste”, the woman who had to keep order in that gigantic room which was almost devoid of light, realized what a delicate human being she had at her side and tried to ease conditions for this fragile and weak person.  She turned the attention of the house administrator of the concentration camp administration to the woman painter and thus she was put in a space near the window.   The artists was able to paint really interesting views and scenes in Theresienstadt and her condition improved.  She was very diligent, painted portraits, landscapes and flowers; mostly however she portrayed interesting character types, mostly old women and old men who were forced to live the last chapter of their lives in poverty and misery.  She was full of hope, looked forward to her return to the fatherland, and never despaired.  She included a portrait of myself in her collection of grannies and hoped that after returning to Prague I would be able to place that drawing, together with others, in some publication or newspaper.


          One afternoon, when I was sitting with my  dinner pail with her, a doctor came by whose position in Theresienstadt was exceedingly high.  He collaborated with those henchmen and enjoyed their largess.  He was a young man, well built, who was lording it over almost the whole medical corps, even though it was generally said that he had never practiced as a doctor, but that he had been a representative of a large perfume production firm.  But this didn't prevent him from being a big shot in Theresienstadt.  He was allowed to have a dog, something that only SS men were allowed.  And he lived in a very attractive apartment.  Once I went to see him to ask him to save a good friend of mine from deportation to Poland.  I didn't succeed of course, although one word from  him would have saved that poor woman.  What I saw was an incredibly well appointed two room flat.  The doctor himself was ill at the time and was lying on a sofa which, like the chairs, was covered with pretty yellow cloth.  The cupboards were in the Biedermeier style. The yellow curtains completed the picture.  This was the friend of the Germans in front of whom everybody trembled.  But the poor artist Schalkova (Schalek) was not afraid of him.  He stopped in front of us and asked her to come to his place and make a portrait of him.  She in her usual soft manner replied that she did not have time and that she had to complete two other orders.  Those orders were to be paid for by sugar or margarine.  The Doctor therefore asked her to note down that he wanted his portrait done and that she should call on him soon.  When he departed, Malva Schalek said in a very decisive manner, that she would never want to paint a collaborator and traitor nor would she paint him. 


After a few weeks she was with me again and by coincidence the doctor came to see an old woman who was lying in my room.  He stopped again and asked the artist whether she would be able to start working on his portrait in the next few days and again she used the excuse that she did not have time because she had to finish some other work.  He took it badly and in a threatening undertone  remarked that she should better  one day find some time for him. "Never," she told me, "he serves the Germans , I would rather die than serve a man like that." She knew that the doctor could wield a terrible revenge but she didn't care.  Whenever he entered our room he stopped and asked me whether I knew what made the artist so busy that she could not spare a moment for him.  I would always reply that I didn't know.  I trembled for Malva.  I was afraid of the revenge that was to come. 


          And come it did.  Schalkova was completely unexpectedly included in a transport headed for Birkenau.  I never saw her again.  We couldn't even say farewell.  She vanished like thousands of those who believed in their return to the Czech homeland.  Like a heroine who  stood by her homeland and family and because of that love she went to her certain death.


          Twenty five of her drawings were miraculously saved and a good friend brought them to her brother who lives in Prague.  Our public should become acquainted with her work.” (ft 13)



(The correct Czech accents were not available for this version.  See the published versions in German and in Czech, as printed in Milotava, Jarosslava, Ulf Rathgeber and Michael Wögenbauer,  Theresienstädter Studien und Dokumente 2003 (Institut Theresienstädter Initiative, Sefer Verlag, Prag 2003).







Modern anti-Semitism, which included  a new, racial definition of Jews, was invented and developed as an instrument of political organization in France and Germany at the end of the l9th century. But it was in Bohemia that anti-Semitism was first used as the tool of a newly emerging national movement.  The  Czech national movement, which discovered and wrote the first dictionaries for a language that was just being standardized, moved towards an emphasis upon the  "Czechization" of Bohemia's public life and economy.  This involved an attempt to set up a second economy in the Bohemian lands, run exclusively in Czech.  Street signs were changed.  The rebellion was in part one against the Jews who had so recently entered the (German) older and larger credit enterprises and industries.


See the extensive historical discussions of these issues in Haumann, Heiko, "Das Jüdische Prague 1850-1914," in Martin, Bernd und  Ernst Schulin,  Die Juden als Minderheit in der Geschichte (München, 1981).  Kestenberg-Gladstein, Ruth, Neuere Geschichte der Juden in den böhmischen Ländern: Erster Teil: Das Zeitalter der Aufklärung, 1780-1830 (Tübingen, 1969).   Kieval, Hillel, The Making of Czech Jewry: National Conflict and Jewish Society in Bohemia 1870-1988 (New York and Oxford, 1988). 




Interview with Lisa Fittko, 1983.  Lisa Fittko, Jula´s daughter and Malva´s niece, is the author of two memoirs about her anti-Nazi resistance activities:  

Mein Weg über die Pyrenäen: Erinnerungen 1940-41 (München/Wien, Hanser Verlag 1985) and Solidarität unerwünscht: Meine Flucht durch Europa: Erinnerungen 1933-1940 (München/Wien, Hanser Verlag 1992).


A biographical essay on Lisa Fittko by the author is to found in Spalek, John M., Konrad Feilchenfeldt and Sandra H. Hawrylchak (Hrsg.)  Deutschprachige Exilliteratur seit 1933, Vol 3, USA, Teil 2  (Bern/München, K.G. Saur Verlag, 2001).



 A forthcoming book by the author portrays the fate of a Central European “intellectual” Jewish family through the biographies of its women; it concentrates  on the figures of Balduine Simon, Malva Schalek and Lisa Fittko. 





For more on these developments see some of the following historical monographs mentioned in footnote 1, especially Kieval, p. 72.   See also,  Anderson, Mack (Ed.),  Reading Kafka: Prague, politics and the Fin de Siècle (New York, 1989), especially the contribution by Klaus Wagenbach “Prague at the turn of the century”.




See Heinrich Fuchs,  Die Österreichischen Maler der Geburtsjahrgänge 1881-1900  (Wien, 1977).




Anna Aurednicek, “Eine von vielen“,  in  Wiener Arbeiterzeitung  25.6.1946.



 Neues Wiener Abendblatt,  7. 4. 1937.




We have located at least two portraits from that era, one recently purchased by the Jewish Museum in Prague.



FOOTNOTE 8: Anna Aurednicekiva, “Die Märtyrerin” in Svobodne noviny, 29.9. 1946.






The author would like to express thanks to Hilde Staniulis in Chicago, who made possible  the copying of the Theresienstadt pictures for this publication.  Also to Amalia Reisenthal who prepared them for the web: see the website of  Marlena Ekstein (in progress).  Thanks also to Wolf -Erich Eckstein who reproduced the  postcards of Malva´s work from the Vienna period.   


Other works which have published reproductions of Malva´s works include:

Council of Jewish Communities in the Czech Lands, Terezin (Prague, 1965);

De Silva, Cara, In Memory´s Kitchen (New Jersey, 1996);

Karas, Joza, Music in Terezin 1941-1945 (Stuyvesant, N.J., 1985);

Novitch, Miriam, Lucy S. Dawidowicz and Tom L. Freudenheim,  Spiritual Resistance: Art from the Concentration Camps  1940-45 A Selection of Drawings and Paintings from the collection of Kibbutz Lohamei Haghetaot, Israel  (Philadelphia, 1981);

Rat der jüdischen  Gemeinden in Böhmen und Mähren, Theresienstadt (Wien, 1968).


On the Internet, among others:

The last Expression: a major exhibition of Art from the Camps curated by David Mickenberg from Northwestern University´s Block Gallery (2002).

Web page of The Ghetto Fighter´s House in Israel  (Kibbutz Lohamei Haghetaot, Israel )

Web page of The Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles:





Tom L. Freudenheim, “Art from the Concentration Camps” p. 37 in  Spiritual Resistance: Art from the Concentration Camps  1940-45: A Selection of Drawings and Paintings from the collection of Kibbutz Lohamei Haghetaot, Israel  (Philadelphia, 1981).




The theme of this future exhibition of Malva Schalek´s  work would emphasize not only the beauty and documentary value of her art,  but draw the contrast between the Vienna period and Theresienstadt, underlying the tragic and paradigmatic character  of  her life, her work, and  her resistance.

It would include over 100 works.  Those interested in receiving a documentation on the concept and planning of  an exhibit on Malva Schalek´s life and work should contact the author.




The letter written by Malva 17.5.44 includes the address of her brother who was  in Prague at this time.




Malva is listed on the transport list “Eb” which was sent to the Theresienstädter Familienlager in Auschwitz-Birkenau with the number 866.   The transport  left Theresienstadt with 2449 prisoners on May 18, 1944.  According to the most recent research, 273 persons survived this transport..  Verification of Malva Schalek`s death is given as September, 1944.





The author would like to acknowledge her  great debt to Lisa Fittko. but also to Fritz Schalek, for stories, anecdotes and a feeling for the times.  Thanks to Wolf-Erich Eckstein for his comments and corrections, not all of which were accepted ,and for reproducing the postcards for the web.  Finally, I would like to thank Hilde Staniulis , without whose generous help the Theresienstadt works could not have been reproduced for this essay.

The web page was the  work of Amalia Reisenthal  (pictures for the web) and Leo Stodolsky.