Petr Kien (Petr Kien)

Petr Kien

Artist, Author. His visual and literary works reflected his experiences in the concentration camp at Theresienstadt (Terezin), where he was imprisoned as a Jew during World War II. Kien’s watercolor drawings, created in secret on stolen paper,  vividly depict the brutality of daily life in a camp the Nazis portrayed to the world as a “model Jewish community”.  As an author he is best known for his libretto to Viktor Ullmann’s opera “The Emperor of Atlantis” (1944).  Born Frantisek Petr Kien in the Czech border town of Varnsdorf,  he studied in Brno and entered the Prague Art Academy in 1936.  He continued to study privately after the Germans shut down Czechoslovakia’s universities and art schools in 1939,  finding inspiration in Expressionism and Kafka.  In December 1941 Kien was deported to Theresienstadt.  Assigned as a draftsman to the “Technical Office of Self-Administration”,  he took part in the camp’s bustling cultural scene by sketching portraits and writing poetry;  his documentary drawings,  shown only to a trusted few,  would have gotten him shot had they been discovered.  Kien’s verse cycle “Town of Plague” (1943) and satirical play “Puppets” (1943,  now lost) led to an invitation from composer Ullmann to collaborate on “The Emperor of Atlantis”.  An allegorical tale of a crazed monarch whose hunger to destroy all mankind causes Death himself to rebel,  it received one rehearsal in the Spring of 1944 before it was banned by the camp commandant for its veiled attack of Hitler.  Unfazed by this setback,  the author and Ullmann decided their next project would be an opera about Joan of Arc.  The Nazis decided otherwise.  On October 16,  1944,  Kien,  his wife and parents were among the thousands put on a transport to Auschwitz.  He was not sent to the gas chambers but died from disease,  probably typhus,  at the end of the month.  He was 25.  His family also perished.  Interest in Kien’s work was substantially renewed after “The Emperor of Atlantis” was finally premiered in 1975.  In 2005 a memorial plaque was dedicated to him at the Gymnasium of his native Varnsdorf. (bio by: Bobb Edwards)


  • January, 01, 1919


  • October, 10, 1944


  • Auschwitz Death Camp
  • Malopolskie
  • Poland

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