Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words But This One Helped Save Lives in Auschwitz

Here's one of the nine portraits Dina Gottliebova Babbitt was ordered to paint in Auschwitz in 1944. The work saved the young Jewish woman and her mother by providing them extra food — and time. She was forced to do the paintings in 1944 as part of Josef Mengele's murderous theorizing about racial differences. Mengele had plucked Babbitt, a Czech Jew, from a group headed to the gas chambers and ordered the artist to produce portraits of doomed Gypsies that would capture skin tone better than his photographs did. "I painted what I saw, very definitely," recalls Babbitt, now 83 and a retired Hollywood animator. "And what I saw was despair and sadness."

In 1973, Babbitt was stunned to learn that seven of those nine watercolors had survived and were in the museum at the former concentration camp in Poland. Since then, she has been trying to retrieve them — a quest that raises painful questions about ownership of the products of slave labor as well as the artworks' role in documenting Holocaust history.

(Excerpts from an article by Larry Gordon)

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