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
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)
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
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
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:
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
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.
are you doing with your life? In this crazy existence?
Pictures rush by. Dazzling, blinding, confusing.
Horrifying pictures rush by. Ravaged lands, pain, torture,
Buildings bombed to pieces, fleeing humans and animals,
floods, earthquakes, fires. Enormous waves on the ocean,
Must keep my balance, balance.
We have to hold each other - hard."
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:
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
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
to pierce, penetrate, permeate the sluggish inertia, the
indifference and the terrifying lack of love.
The struggle will be our life."
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
continue to brighten our road.