The name, the Tereska foundation, relates to a photo taken by the photographer David Seymour in 1948, as he photographed children in Europe on a UNESCO commission. He met Tereska in a special elementary school in Warsaw. The picture that she is drawing on the board is meant to represent “home”. Even though the photo is old, it moved us so deeply, that we named our foundation after this girl and it has influenced the direction of the foundation.
70 years after David Seymour took the picture of Tereska two young Polish philantropists, Patryk Grażewicz and Aneta Wawrzyńczak, solved the mystery of her fate in a fulminant research and revealed a very, very sad story. (It is being published now e.g. in http://time.com/4735368/tereska-david-chim-seymour/)
Tereska’s father had a sweet shop in Warsaw. Growing up in a candy store sounds like a dream for children – but there was war and terror.
At the time of Tereska’s birth Poland was already occupied by the German army. Her father became an activist in the Polish underground and was caught and put into prison by the Gestapo, where he was so heavily beaten, that he lost all of his teeth. Tereska and her sister Jadzia stayed with their grandmother.
During the early phase of the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944 German troops and collaborationist forces committed the Wola massacre, by systematically murdering between 40,000 and 50,000 Polish civilians along with captured Home Army resistance fighters in the Wola district where Tereska lived.
When their house was attacked, 14-year-old Jadzia together with 4-year-old Tereska ran away from the their house following their grandmother, but she returned to her apartment to fetch something and did not come back, most likely shot dead. Then the house was blown up and buried all of those, still in there. A shrapnel hit Tereska’s head and wounded her left brain. The girls fled from Warsaw and walked for two or three weeks to a village 65 kilometers away, starving and without medical help.
After the war Tereska lived with her parents and attended the special elementary school where David Seymour met her. She was esteemed for her good behavior, her singing, drawing and manual work. But then she became so agitated that she had to spend some time in a psychiatric hospital. Her parents consulted several urologists, psychiatrists, even from Germany and the United States, but apart from sedatives, there was little to help Tereska. As a teenager she began to drink and smoke heavily. The only other thing that could calm her down was drawing. She loved drawing flowers, animals, nature.
By around 1962 her condition had become so difficult that she had to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where she stayed for the rest of her life. The only things desired were cigarettes, crayons and food.
Since she fled starving and injured from Warsaw it seems she never felt she had sufficient food , her hunger never stopped. She even stole food from her fellow patients. So she did on January 27, 1978, fled to the toilet to eat fast before someone would pick her up. She choked on this bite.
Tereska’s suffering is solely the result of human cruelty not at all some whim of nature. These seconds when she drew her presentation of home at the blackboard and looked back at David Seymour she kind of cried to the whole world: “Never ever do things to children that make them have to look the way I do”. Tereska’s story is part of a horrible history but it is still relevant for today because aggressors still usually don’t care about children. Children are always innocent victims of all armed conflicts and other crises and disasters caused by men.