When Creativity Speaks

A recent episode of PBS’s History Detectives featured a woman who wanted to know about the man who drew a picture of her father Bill when he was in a Nazi POW camp during WWII.  She wondered who he was, if he survived, and if he went on to become an artist.  What emerged was an interesting glimpse into wartime suffering, community, and humanity.  Many of the American soldiers held in this camp, located in Austria, had been shot down over France and Germany and were cut off from everyone they knew and all ties back home.  As one can imagine, life was tough there, and it was only through the Geneva Conventions and assistance of the Red Cross, that these soldiers received the little they did.  There were over two hundred men to a barrack, and these were reminiscent of the barracks used in concentrations camps: close quarters, no privacy and wooden pallets for sleeping.  The food was chopped rutabaga, gruel, and bread made mostly of sawdust.  The survivors of the camp recalled how easy it was to forget who they were there.

To combat the forgetting, the men turned to creativity and to each other.  Most were strangers, but they created a community for survival.  They wrote poems and stories.  They put on a Christmas review full of carols, an reenactment of The Christmas Carol, and skits.  They put on other performances, and, of course, they drew.  Bill had traded cigarettes for two onions and a potato with a Russian POW when he met “Gil” Rhoden.  Rhoden offered to draw his picture in exchange for the food.  Bill thought, “I can eat these, but still be hungry.  Or I can give them to him and have something to show for it.”  The result was an excellent pencil sketch of Bill looking healthy, clean, and handsome– an image of the way he was before entering the camp.  Bill looked at the picture throughout his captivity as a reminder to who he was and could be again.

Rhoden, it turns out, survived the camp, too, and went on to become very successful.  He passed away in a plane crash in 1989, but the history detective was able to locate his son and show him the picture.  The son was overcome with emotion as he looked at the sketch. “It’s like shaking my father’s hand again,” he said.  He and Bill had the chance to meet and share stories about Rhoden and life since the camps.

This story of two men and survival is simply beyond words.  Rhoden drew for sustenance and his drawing gave Bill hope.  Bill’s sharing of his picture with Rhoden’s son, allowed the son to reconnect to his father.  This episode serves as a reminder how we never know the impact that we have on others.  Our smallest or most routine actions can mean so much to someone else.  It also shows that even though we can be in the most dire of situations and cruelest of fates, we can seek solace and strength in our humanity.  The men turned to things that were personal and could be shared or created a shared experience.  They sought that which was good.

This story coincided with some thoughts that have been swirling around in my brain of late– the community of bloggers.  Granted, bloggers are not POWs in a Nazi prison camp.  But we do seek connections to others and give each other hope.  We come from all walks of life as there are many blogs about teaching, books, writing, reading, music, motherhood, parenting, poetry, photography, art, mental illness, food, travel, gay rights, community issues, saving historical landmarks, and the list goes on.  Some commonalities that bloggers share is that they are all intelligent and highly educated; all have something to share.  Even though we are all different, we are all doing the best we can.  Together we share our stories and work and offer support and encouragement and new ideas.  By reading about other’s lives and thoughts, we gain wider empathy and insight into other perspectives, even if we do not agree.  In this time when so many things are uncertain, this is a nice community to be a part of.

18 thoughts on “When Creativity Speaks

  1. Well said! My group therapist is really big on “self care.” Every week we have to commit to doing something for self care and report on how we did the previous week. For a lot of people, exercising is self care. But that’s just something I do so it would sort of be like cheating if said exercising every week. It took me a little while to figure out what my self care should be – blogging. I’m making more of an effort to read other PPD blogs, write about my own PPD and reach out and connect with other PPD bloggers. It was definitely the right move. There is so much community in the blogging world.

    Also, I like this quote, “Our smallest or most routine actions can mean so much to someone else.” I’m going to try and remind myself of this as I carry out my daily life.

    1. Thanks! I agree with your point about exercise. It is self-care and can do wonders, but finding a community that shares the same issues is much stronger. There’s a lot of power in knowing you’re not alone and seeing how others cope and respond.

      As for our actions, I’ve had to learn some hard lessons about how my words can affect others– especially in the classroom. Being mindful of what I do and say is something I continually work on.

      1. Oooh, pen pals. I forget that many decades ago we had pen pals. Oh, the agony of waiting a month for a letter from my pen pal. Finally, I had to get more pen pals so that I would get more letters and wouldn’t have to wait as long…..lol

      2. That is funny! There’s really nothing like hounding the mailman for an anticipated letter– especially one from far off locales. And the joy of finally getting it, tearing it open to read and reread its contents. The handwriting alone was like seeing your friend again.

  2. Very interesting because I have a picture that was drawn by a German Prisoner in 1944 Indianola Nebraska. It is a picture that was drawn of my friend who recently passed away and I promised him I would see what I could find out. I wonder what happened to the artist and if he became famous. I did some research on the camp he was in and found that prisoners of that camp painted murals of the camp and a website that showed me pictures of those paintings. although I could not verify the painters were one in the same. You can find the stories on my blog.

    I also love our blogging community

  3. You are so right about the need for community and sharing. However, not just for the ability to share but because we are, in reality, so much more connected than we realize.

    One of my favourite stories is of the farmer who wanted to encourage his teenage worker to go with him to a tent revival. To tempt him he said that the teen could drive the truck to the event. At the end of the service the kid went down and gave his life to Jesus and they went home.

    Now no one knows the name of the farmer, at least no one I have spoken to does, but the kid was Billy Graham. That one small action of the farmer has lead to a giant who has benefited millions of people around the world for decades and more to come.

    Our blogs may seem small and insignificant now, but who knows what the ripple effect may be years down the track. All we need to do is to encourage, support and nurture each other to keep going. We might just change the world we touch.

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