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Art in Ausschwitz

Written by Sabine Küper on . Posted in The Passenger


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  • "The Sketchbook from Auschwitz" contains 22 pictures drawn in 1943 by an unknown prisoner at the camp.
  • Jan Komski, Birkenau (Auschwitz II). Komski lived in one of these barracks
  • Women are tattooed soon after arrival. This was a shocking greeting for new arrivals. This number was more important than a family name.
  • After the execution in the gravel pit, some SS of the firing squad, pose proudly for snapshot.
  • Executions had to be witnessed by the entire population of the camp. Everyone stood at attention and in complete silence.
  • Corpses, stacked high in the Crematorium I storage chamber. The burial was simple - in the fire and smoke of the furnaces.
  • Dissident artist Franciszek Jaźwiecki was producing hiddenly drawings in Auschwitz.
  • The majority of the drawings include the subject's prisoner number.
  • The Nazis prohibited drawing, and artists risked severe punishment, including death, for documenting their surroundings.


“The Sketchbook from Auschwitz” contains 22 pictures drawn in 1943 by an unknown prisoner at the camp. The sketches, mostly drawn in pencil, document images of life and death at the concentration camp.  The sketches were discovered in 1947 by a former prisoner at the camp who worked there as a guard after the liberation. They had been stuffed into a bottle and hidden in the foundations of one of the buildings near the gas chambers and crematoria.

Jan Komski, a Polish painter, was arrested on the Poland/Czechoslovakia border attempting to reach the newly formed Polish Army in France. He was sent to Auschwitz on June 14, 1940. After the war, he married another Auschwitz survivor. They moved to the United States in 1949. In the U.S he worked as a graphic artist with The Washington Post.  Over the years, he created many drawings and paintings of life in a concentration camp.

Franciszek Jaźwiecki, was a political dissident imprisoned at Auschwitz. He drew over 100 portraits of fellow prisoners during his incarceration. Agnieszka Sieradzka, an art historian at the Auschwitz Birkenau State Museum, points out that she believes Jaźwiecki was acutely aware of the historical significance that his portraits would gain. The majority of the drawings include the subject’s prisoner number, which the artist included in order to help identify the individuals in the drawing.

Art in the concentration camps was partly used by the Nazis making musicians play chamber music when other prisoners were marching to the gas chambers for example. Children had to perform famous German Fairy tails like “Snow white and the seven dwarfs” to entertain Nazi officers. But art was also a tool for prisoners to document the horrible and to create something immortal facing the totalitarian death factory of Auschwitz.

Experience the amazing true story of Dina Gottliebova Babbitt, an artist who survived two years at Auschwitz by painting portraits for the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele. She was also drawing “Snow white” in the Ausschwitz children’s squat.




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