A memorial address to Helga Henschen by Birgitta Dahl, Speaker of the House of the Swedish Parliament, 29 August 2002

(In this speech Birgitta is referring to chapters from Helga's books. For example, Helga as a teenager had fantasy about American Indians. She named her hero "Singing Arrow", and herself "Leone Diavolo". Leone and Singing Arrow were lovers.)

"May God save me from a calm life!"

This Helga wrote in her diary a long time ago, when she was a very young, rebellious tomboy. Her prayer was heard, just as it was that time when her red ball bounced all the way up to heaven and didn't come back.

She remained intensely alive and creative until the very end.

"Ma'm, you are so old, how can you be so happy?" (asks a young boy of an old lady) "I live, I love, I fight!" (the old lady answers)

"I refuse to become dull and conventional - I want to be flexible, vibrant and sharp!"

she said in a couple of her expressive proverbs. And that is how she was, our Helga, illuminated by love and joy.

My first acquaintance with Helga - and Rebecca- was when I read her first book " The madmen sing at night" which relates the adventures of Helga and Rebecca in Corsica a few years after the Second World War. When I read this book my oldest daughter and I were about the same age as Helga and Rebecca were in the story. I was a single mother with a suppressed longing for adventure and activity, and the book hit me with full power. Was it possible to be this way, to live like that? I was overwhelmed, captivated, elated. Their journey was not without danger, that I understood. But how enticing! When I later read "The road to Rebella" I understood that it was Leone Diavolo, Singing Arrow's beloved, who made this adventurous trip with her spiritual twin and daughter.

I never imagined I would meet this wonderful person and artist. But I did. Fate wanted us to become friends and comrades in the struggle for justice and solidarity, for culture, for Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. My daughter Anna and Helga also united, in the Brotherhood movement. Most of us got to know Helga in all her qualities - as an artist who fought for her beliefs in politics, religion, the peace movement, the liberation movements. For Helga all these were connected. She could not and would not separate them. She used her art, her words and pictures, as weapons in the struggle for kindness and justice, which she believed in:

"I view life as a battle between darkness and light. We must increase the small amount of light in the world. We must add to it, not detract from it. We must re-establish words like goodness, honesty, loyalty, justice. It is the actions of the good people that make the world less frightening."

It is true that Helga, throughout her life, was an adventurer - she was always Singing Arrow's beloved. But she was also the hard working artist and member of the peoples movement. She was devoted, trustworthy and generous. She was a friend to her friends, sending them comforting, admiring, encouraging letters, when she knew it was needed. And she understood, without words, when others did not.

Almost 30 years ago we traveled together to Vietnam and Laos, on behalf of the Vietnam Committee. It was more than a year before the end of the war. What we saw and experienced was incomprehensible, horrific - the results of the environmental war, of the electronic war applied on a large scale for the first time. But we also met people - human beings - who because of their courage and culture were able to maintain their human dignity in the midst of devastation.

When we returned to Sweden we did our utmost to relay the reality we had seen and to mobilize public opinion against this terrible war. Helga's contribution was the well known poster of the small boy playing flute, sitting on a water buffalo. She made it for the Vietnam Relief organization. The theme is "Let our songs drown the sound of the bombs" after Vietnam maxims:

"Art is necessary to keep our courage up."
"At night we need music and poetry for our ears so that we will not hear the bombs. In the daytime we need pictures for our eyes so that we will not be terrified by the devastation."

This poster is a fantastic example of her genius, her ability to express herself. In a seemingly simple picture she incorporates large amounts of impressions and ideas, inspiring people to work for the good and light up the darkness.

Helga was born during a snowstorm, a February night in 1917 - that dramatic year during the First World War, when there was starvation in parts of Sweden, and when the Spanish Disease was on its way in. When the revolution could have happened in our country too, when most people still had no right to vote, but when democracy won in the end. Her life spanned over that century, perhaps the worst in human history, regarding war and suffering, evil actions, mans inhumanity to man.

"What are you doing with your life? In this crazy existence?
Pictures rush by. Dazzling, blinding, confusing.
Horrifying pictures rush by. Ravaged lands, pain, torture, brutality.
Buildings bombed to pieces, fleeing humans and animals, destroyed forests,
floods, earthquakes, fires. Enormous waves on the ocean, capsized ships,
drowning people.
Must keep my balance, balance.
We have to hold each other - hard."

Helga poses this desperate question, and replies to it through her tireless work as an artist - a passionate partisan - and human being, throughout her life. She expressed the answer in her poem "Letter to you, facing the threat of war in the world", April 1980, which we have used so many times as a consolation and appeal:

"What shall we say to each other in the ultimate days?
What shall I say to you, beloved human being?
That I will hold your hand as long as I can - as long as I live.
That we must battle together, all of us who believe and hope. We who believe in the possibility of a better world, where nobody freezes and starves, where nobody suppresses another.
There is enough food for everyone if it is justly distributed. It has been said so many times. So many have lost their freedom, their lives, in the struggle.
Here at home we are risking nothing, have nothing to lose - only to gain.
Let us humbly contribute, and work - individually and all together:
to pierce, penetrate, permeate the sluggish inertia, the indifference and the terrifying lack of love.
The struggle will be our life."

Dear Helga!
All of us who have had the joy, the blessing, to be your friends and family,
your children as you sometimes called us, feel that we still hold your hand,
and still receive joy, love and courage from you. You keep talking to us and
our children and grandchildren through your words and pictures. You
continue to brighten our road.

Thank you!


:: A Letter From Rebecca, Helga's daughter. Written in September 2002 :: click here ::

:: Excerpts from an art review by Bengt Olvang in Aftonbladet, the largest Stockholm evening paper) regarding an exhibition of Helga Henschen at Doktor Glas Gallery, 13 November 1983. :: click here ::













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