MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM

AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU

FORMER GERMAN NAZI
CONCENTRATION AND EXTERMINATION CAMP

News

A set of moving drawings made by Auschwitz survivor Jerzy Zieleziński in the Collections of the Memorial

03-06-2019

The Collections of the Memorial have been enriched with a set of drawings by the former Polish prisoner of Auschwitz Jerzy Zieleziński. Most of them were made shortly after the war, depicting the reality of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp.

 

Jerzy Zieleziński was arrested on 18 March 1943, in his apartment in Warsaw, and detained in the Pawiak prison, from where he was deported to Auschwitz on 28 April. He was registered as a political prisoner with number 119 517, which was tattooed on his left forearm. During his time at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, he stayed, among others, in the penal company. In November 1943, he fell ill with typhoid. He was transferred from Auschwitz to the Flossenbürg camp, and later to Dachau, where he was liberated.

'His series of drawings consists of 41 works, most of which were created immediately after the war, in the years 1945-46 during his recovery in a hospital, and stay at the "Displaced Persons" camp in Schwandorf. In the drawings, he refers directly to the camp experience. Individual drawings show the subsequent stages in the life of a concentration camp prisoner: arrival at the camp, punishment, returns from work, hunger, cold, and death marches. They also depict prisoners dying from the electrified wires of the camp fence or victims of hanging executions,' said Agnieszka Sieradzka, an art historian working for the Museum Collections. 'Most of the drawings refer to Auschwitz and are marked with his camp number. The whole is an expressive, subjective, and intense artistic expression of recorded camp episodes, full of drastic details, Agnieszka Sieradzka emphasized.

Jerzy Zieleziński was born in 1914 in Łowicz. In the years 1934-39, he attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, graduating a few months before the outbreak of World War II.

Little is known about him before his arrest. 'What we do know is that the artist managed to make his way to the Warsaw Ghetto, to which he devoted several of his drawings. It was most likely due to his fiancée of Jewish descent, whom he wanted to extract from the ghetto, and which he probably succeeded in doing,' said Sieradzka.

After the war, Jerzy Zieleziński ended up in Munich, where two exhibitions of his drawings from the concentration camps took place, and where his works were published in the form of two graphic portfolios: the first in 1946 (consisting of 18 drawings) and the second in 1948. (containing 24 drawings).

His friend Jerzy Szwede, also a former prisoner of concentration camps, wrote the following in a preface to the catalogue: “The characters of the composition have nothing to do with the products of sick imagination or lush fantasy. They are the most realistic reflection of reality. For many, it may be incomprehensible, and they may be inclined to consider it an artistic exaggeration, for those, it must be affirmed that it was the unfortunate reality of daily life."

In the mid-1950s Jerzy Zieleziński emigrated to the United States, where he changed his name to Georg. Initially, he tried to make his mark in the artistic world of New York City. Eventually, however, as Georg Ziel (he signed the shortened version of his name for book illustrations), and became famous as an illustrator in the publishing industry, specialising in Gothic romances and horror novels. He designed over 300 book covers in total. He spent the final years of his life in Connecticut. He passed away in 1983.