Artwork by Unknown Prisoner Opens Window Into Auschwitz

The sketches, mostly drawn in pencil, document sometimes gruesome images of life and death at the concentration camp.

A chilling collection of artwork by a prisoner at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp has been published for the first time by the memorial museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

"The Sketchbook from Auschwitz" contains 22 pictures drawn in 1943 by an unknown prisoner at the camp. The sketches, mostly drawn in pencil, document sometimes gruesome images of life and death at the concentration camp. Among the scenes depicted in the collection are the arrival of prisoners by train, and the notorious selection process by the Nazis.

sketchbook - Auschwitz Museum - 19012012
Auschwitz Museum

"These sketches are the only artwork that documents the extermination at Birkenau," said Pavel Savicki, a museum spokesman.

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. Until their recent publication, they were stored in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum and were never publicly displayed.

The sketches were published as part of the museum's effort to make more of its materials available to the public. The museum also expects to publish a comprehensive catalogue of 6,000 works of art in its archive in the coming months.

Museum officials say they believe the sketches were drawn in 1943 because they depict the gate to Birkenau before it was renovated and enlarged.

"We believe the artist worked in the hospital or in collecting suitcases from the arrival ramp," Savicki said.

The last drawing in the series was never completed, probably because the artist had to quickly hide the drawings, museum officials explain.

The sketches were drawn in extensive detail, suggesting that the artist wanted to leave as authentic and realistic a graphic account of the camp as possible. The artist was determined to provide the greatest possible details "in the hope that someone would find his work so that it would become a witness to the extermination," the booklet notes. The sketches depict the license plates of camp vehicles, including trucks and trains, for example.

"The Sketchbook from Auschwitz" was published ahead of three Holocaust memorial events. Last Friday marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and this Friday marks the 70th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference, where the plan was devised for the extermination of European Jewry. This year also marks the 70th year since gas chambers first came into use in Birkenau.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum last year saw a record 1.4 million visitors.

"The Sketchbook from Auschwitz" can be purchased though the museum website - - for 32 zloty, or about NIS 36.

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