Miriam Friedman Morris

On Father’s Day, Remembering David Friedman, Artist and Holocaust Survivor

David, Miriam, Hildegard Friedman, St. Louis, 1961. David Friedman chronicled people and events before, during, and after the Holocaust. His artistic legacy stretches across the globe from his birthplace Mährisch Ostrau in Austria-Hungary to Germany, Czech Republic, Israel, and the United States. Photo credit: Bob Holt, St. Louis Post Dispatch.

I was born immersed in the world of art and culture. From the time I was a toddler, I watched my father paint. Our homes were — like my father — vibrant and colorful. Artwork adorned the walls of every room from floor to ceiling. We were surrounded by landscapes, still life, portraits, and abstract art executed in different media. He painted non-Jewish and Jewish themes alike, such as the Western Wall, rabbis, religious study, and rituals as a reference to his heritage and love for Israel.

But downstairs, the paneled walls were covered with artwork of a different nature depicting a dark history I never experienced: the Nazi extermination of 6 million European Jews. I would bring my friends downstairs to show them the paintings and drawings, particularly my father’s depiction of the evil Nazis. SS men smirked and nonchalantly smoked cigarettes while watching Jewish prisoners dig their own graves before being shot to death. We gazed in revulsion trying to understand the incomprehensible.

‘Selection’ 1963. Charcoal.
Miriam Friedman Morris Collection. Copyright©1989 Miriam Friedman Morris

‘Burying a Shot Comrade,’1945. Charcoal and tempera on wove paper. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection.
Copyright©1989 Miriam Friedman Morris

‘Sleeping Woman’ 1946. Tempera. The model is Hildegard Taussig, who would become the artist’s wife. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection:
Copyright©1989 Miriam Friedman Morris

‘Lodžer Ghetto Inmates’ 1945. Tempera on paper. St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum Collection. Copyright©1989 Miriam Friedman Morris.

My father’s work struck a chord in me, but it took decades after his death for me to fully understand his contributions to Holocaust history and the art world.

David Friedman adds final touches to his charcoal drawing, ‘Liberation?’ The artist depicts himself as the prisoner with eyeglasses as a reminder that his art is a first-person witness to evil. 1964 Peter Rosvik, St. Louis.

David Friedman(n) was born in 1893 in today’s Czech Republic. He studied art with Lovis Corinth and Hermann Struck in Berlin. He enjoyed a successful art career and freelanced as a press artist in the 1920’s and early 1930’s, sketching hundreds of famous contemporary personalities from the arts, music, theater, sports, politics, and industry, published in German newspapers. When Hitler came to power in 1933, he was banned from his profession because he was a Jew.

At the end of 1938, he fled with his wife Mathilde and infant daughter Mirjam Helene to Prague, escaping with only his artistic talent as a means to survive. In 1941, the Gestapo looted his left behind art in Berlin. He lost his studio furniture and materials, hundreds of oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, etchings, and lithographs. After the family’s deportation to the Lodz Ghetto, Nazi authorities looted his Prague art production. However numerous portraits made during the Nazi occupation in Prague surfaced postwar and were recognized as an important contribution to Holocaust history. See the surviving portraits here. Some subjects are still unknown. Recognize anyone?

After liberation from the death camps, where his wife and small daughter had both been murdered, he fought antisemitism and racial hatred through painting the horrors he witnessed — to show them to the world. Examples of his powerful Holocaust art, documenting his own personal experiences, are posted here.

In 1948 in Prague, David Friedmann married fellow survivor Hildegard Taussig (1921-1989). Exhausted by war and persecution, the couple fled communist Czechoslovakia to Israel in 1949, thus saving his Holocaust art, exhibition materials, newspaper articles, portraits, and photo albums.

A year later I was born and named after his murdered daughter Mirjam Helene. My father wrote a diary for me at the time of my birth, a significant gift that as an adult motivated my journey through his life and art. He begins his first sentences about the loss of his family. He had to overcome his crippling grief and buried himself in his art. I turned the pages and saw carefully placed photos and newspaper articles sandwiched between text. My father apparently didn’t want me to miss a thing, highlighting his first postwar art exhibition. ‘Because They Were Jews!’ The Postwar Artworks of David Friedmann as Eyewitness Testimonies.

Tagebuch für Mirjam Friedmann / Diary for Miriam Friedmann, 1950, Israel, unpublished, p.8. David Friedmann opened an exhibition of his work on Jan. 27,1946, in the Town Hall of Český Dub, Czechoslovakia. In the photo, the artist is surrounded by onlookers, mostly survivors, and pointing his hand as he explains an artwork. Miriam Friedman Morris Collection.

Israel in the early 1950’s was in poor economic circumstances. Undeterred by his 61-years, my father set his ambitions on America, arriving in New York in 1954. After only 15-months, he became head painter at the St. Louis branch of the billboard company General Outdoor Advertising. Our family became citizens in 1960 and the name was changed to “Friedman” with a single n.

David Friedman painted until he could no longer hold a paintbrush. As an only child in a close, loving family, my father’s death in 1980, and mother’s in 1989, was especially devastating. My father voiced concern about the fate of his Holocaust art. I promised my father I would take responsibility for this valuable inheritance. But there was also testimony, documents — evidence of the greatest crime in human history. I found it emotionally difficult to go through the door to the room holding these materials. Then fatefully, I came across a surprising copy of a 1952 drawing of me asleep in the crib. Enthralled, I read the handwritten description penned twenty-one years later!

This is you, barely two years old

Copy of original sketch by David Friedmann of his daughter ‘Miriam’ in 1952, Israel.

Here you see, dear Miriam, how I studied you from the time you were young. Unfortunately, you moved, so I could not finish sketching the second leg. I drew this with great love, even then I was proud of you!!! (Translated from German)                                                              Dad, The 12th of March 1973

Finding the copy with my father’s heartwarming description was momentous. I sensed his presence like a guiding light, a source of strength and encouragement. With renewed energy I focused on launching his artwork to the world stage and had successful exhibitions. His work and associated materials were donated to the Yad Vashem Art Museum, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum, the Leo Baeck Institute in New York and Berlin, among other institutions. A number of these works can be viewed online at the  USHMM David Friedman Collection and at Yad Vashem: David Friedmann – Last Portrait: Painting for Posterity.

Fascination with my father’s Nazi-looted art drove me to find lost works and ensure his rightful place in history, as I explain in this blog. Everywhere David Friedman went he left a legacy — in Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Israel, and the United States. Finding unknown history and art was deeply satisfying, a view into my father’s life from before World War I to post World War II. Several looted works turned up in the Visual Arts Collection of the Jewish Museum in Prague. His 1943 Lodz Ghetto art album documenting the activities of a hat factory workshop was found in the collections of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.

An example of a 1943 colorized drawing from an album by David Friedmann documenting the activities of a hat-manufacturing workshop (“ressort“) in the Lodz Ghetto.
(Photo credit: E. Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw; Inventory No. MŻIH B-419/24)

Although his original sketches of cultural figures and famous personalities were looted and lost, numerous portraits were preserved in the old newspapers – evidence of a brilliant career the Nazis could not destroy. In 2008, eighty-five years after they were sketched by my father, the Berlin Philharmonic reproduced his portraits of musicians who had performed with their orchestra for an exhibition. Later the exhibition traveled to New York, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem with the title: Giving Music a Face, David Friedmann’s Lost Musician Portraits from the 1920’s. The hundreds of portraits found in the German newspapers and magazines have been digitized and will be online at the Leo Baeck Institute by the end of 2024.

If my father were alive, he would have been thrilled with the discoveries and worldwide recognition, especially from the German government who sponsored the 2013 exhibition Painting to Survive, at the German Consulate General headquarters in New York.

David Friedman triumphed above all odds and transformed tragedy into a creative and meaningful life. I walk through the rooms of my house, paintings covering every wall and happiness washes over me.

For more about David Friedmann and to provide information you may have about existing artworks, please visit: or the “David Friedmann—Artist As Witness” Facebook page.




About the Author
Miriam Friedman Morris is the daughter of Auschwitz survivors David and Hildegard Friedman(n). Art shaped her life. David Friedmann painted so the world would not forget. After her father’s death in 1980, she felt a profound responsibility to carry on his mission – to show his Holocaust art to the world. Fascination with his Nazi-looted art launched a quest to find works and ensure David Friedmann’s rightful place in history. Her pursuit launched a worldwide revival of an artist obscured by the Nazi regime. Morris, who lives in New York, facilitates exhibitions, lectures and writes — and is dedicated to the preservation of her father’s art legacy.
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