Prague  - Vienna  -  Theresienstadt  - Auschwitz


Stages in the Life of a Jewish Artist




5.         Biographical Sketch 


Family History and Youth


Malva Schalek was born in Prague, in 1882, the youngest of four children.  Both her mother Balduina and her father Gustav came from Jewish-Bohemian families.


Malva spent her childhood in a stately building in the center of Prague, which also housed the family bookstore.  The bookstore served as one of the most important intellectual meeting places of the city.  It had grown from the Wohl bookstore, which had been founded in the Jewish Ghetto before 1848.   Joseph Schalek, Malva's grandfather, had married Judith Wohl and took over the trade, passing it on to Malva´s father, Gustav.  The family music store and a furniture store, Möbel-Schalek, were taken over by Gustav`s brother and brother-in law respectively.


Joseph and Gustav were closely involved the Czech national movement.  The bookstore served as an intellectual center for the related literary and political circles until Gustav died suddenly in 1889.  His widow Balduine carried on and held a sort of literary salon until she remarried.  After her marriage to Dr Schnitzer, a young doctor, the family moved to Hohenelbe (Vrchlabi) in northern Bohemia, where Malva and the younger siblings completed their schooling.



Artistic career


After completing three years of higher schooling for girls, Malva was sent to Munich where she attended the “Frauenakademie” for a year.   She then moved to Vienna where the extended family provided her with a studio and influential contacts.  Her uncle Joseph (Peppi) Simon, banker for Katherina Schratt (the mistress of Emperor Franz Joseph) and brother-in-law of Johann Strauss Jr., was proud of his niece.   He gave her an atelier at the top of the Theater an der Wien, which he owned, and introduced her to Viennese society.  Photos of society evenings, for example one with Johann Strauß Jr., and Johannes Brahms and correspondence between Strauß and Joseph (von) Simon help to document this period.    Summers were spent in Aussig and Leitmeritz, as well as in Bad Ischl, where Malva´s uncle and Johann Strauß owned a house together.

 Malva become rather well known as a painter in Vienna and in Prague.  She specialized in portraits - many of upper middle class Jewish families – and of well-known actors (Max Pallenberg).  She also painted interiors, among others an oil painting of the boudoir of Katherina Schratt.












Flight from Vienna (March 1938)



 Malva fled Vienna at the Anschluss, leaving her works in her studio.   Taking her aged aunt Emma Richter (mother of the Socialist leader, Oswald Richter, who had already been murdered by the Nazis) she fled to Leitmeritz, in Czechoslovakia, where her brother Robert was a judge.   She was then expelled to Prague after the Nazi takeover of the Sudetenland and finally forced into the concentration camp Theresienstadt in 1942.     We have a last letter with her testament.



Life in Theresienstadt – Death in Auschwitz


Her art and her resistance have been documented by contemporary eyewitnesses.  Despite |ill health, she was able to work as an artist, and secretly draw scenes of the life she saw around her.  These charcoal drawings and watercolors – we have 100-140 - remain her sober testament.

They were hidden and preserved until the liberation of Theresienstadt on May 8, 1945

Malva Schalek remained true to her principles and the art she left us is a demonstration of her resistance.  According to an eyewitness account, she refused to paint a portrait of a collaborator in May 1944, and was subsequently deported to Auschwitz.    The date of her death is recorded as March 24, 1945.