Malva Schaleck was born in Prague on 18 February 1882 to a wealthy and cultured Jewish family which originated in Bohemia. She was the youngest of four children. On the ground floor of the building in which the family lived was a large bookshop, which they owned. They also owned a lending library, music library (Musik Schaleck) and a furniture store (Möbel Schaleck) in other parts of the city.
Her grandfather (Josef) and father (Gustav) took an active part in the cultural and political activities of the Czech nationalist movement and their bookshop was a salon for intellectuals. This activity did not cease with her father's sudden death in 1889, but was continued by her mother, Judith (née Wohl). Several years later, Schaleck's mother remarried Dr Schnitzer, and the family moved to Hohenelbe, where Malva completed her secondary school education. She then moved to Munich, where for a year she studied art at the Frauenakademie. Moving to Vienna, she opening a studio with the financial help of relatives who lived there. They also helped her with social connections. Schaleck acquired a reputation as a portrait artist - the subjects of her paintings being mainly middle and upper class Jews. Her reputation also reached Prague.
Schaleck's Uncle Peppi, a banker, was the brother-in-law of Johann Strauss Jr and was very involved with the artistic circles of Vienna. He was proud of his niece's artistic work, setting up a studio for her in the building of the Theater an der Wien. He also introduced her to artists and members of high society in Vienna, some of who became her models. These included Katerina Schratt, the mistress of Kaiser Franz Josef. Malva Schaleck became a member of artistic circles which included the composers Johann Strauss Jr and Brahms.
With the Anschluss (the annexation of Austria to Germany in March 1938) and the introduction of anti-Semitic laws by the Nazis, Schaleck fled Vienna, leaving all her works behind in her studio. She was accompanied by her aunt, Emma Richter, whose son had recently been murdered by the Nazis because of his political activity. The two moved to Leitmoritz in Czechoslovakia, where Malva's brother, Robert, was the city judge. Her life there was characterized by fear and distress. She was dependent on the generosity of many people and while in flight she learned of the terrible fate of some of her family.
In 1942 Schaleck was transported to the Terezin ghetto. This was a period of physical difficulty and emotional distress. Despite her failing health, she created many works in secret, depicting scenes of ghetto life. Her works were done in pencil, charcoal and watercolors, and were hidden in the walls of the buildings. Discovered after liberation, they are a faithful testimony of various aspects of the living conditions in the Terezin ghetto-camp.
After refusing to draw a doctor who was a collaborator, Malva Schaleck was sent to Auschwitz on 18 May 1944. She died there.
A large number of Schaleck's works were donated to Beit Lohamei Haghetaot (the Ghetto Fighters' House Museum) art collection by her niece and nephew, Lisa Fittko and Hans Eckstein, and also by David Ziskind and Moshe Knobloch.
(Dr Pnina Rosenberg)
Beit Thereseinstadt (Thereseinstadt House) archive, Givat Haim-Ihud, Israel.
Dr Catherine Stodolsky. Malva Schaleck (1882-1944) - Prague, Vienna - Theresienstadt - Auschwitz. Unpublished research, Munich.
Janet Blater and Sybil Milton. Art of the Holocaust. Pan Books, London, 1982.
Mary S. Constanza. Living Witness: Art in the Concentration Camps and Ghettos. The Free Press, New York, 1982.
Miriam Novitch. Spiritual Resistance: Art from Concentration Camps 1940-1945 - A selection of drawings and paintings from the collection of Kibbutz Lohamei Haghetaot. Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981.
Lisa Fittko. Solidarity and Treason: Resistance and Exile 1939-1940. Northwestern University Press, Evanston, Illinois, 1993.