New works by Wincenty Gawron in the Memorial Collections
The Museum collections have been enriched with new artworks by Wincenty Gawron, a survivor of the German Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp and member of the camp resistance movement. The works have been donated by his daughter, Margaret Jablonsky.
‘For me, he was not just a dad. He was not Wincenty Gawron, an artist, painter, and Auschwitz escapee. He was a noble, good man who loved Poland, even though he lived many years overseas. The themes of his works are very Polish and quite specific. He loved the military, military items, and such romantic subjects as lancers, horses, and wolves in the forest,’ said Margaret Jablonsky.
The items in the Collection include two watercolours depicting soldiers of the Austro-Hungarian army from the period of the First World War created by Wincenty Gawron in the camp - presumably in the Lagermuseum, run by prisoner Franciszek Targosz - and two woodcuts that Wincenty Gawron made in the camp’s sculpting workshop.
“I was lucky because I found a thick, dry, beautiful sycamore trunk in a pile of various types of wood. So, I had a set of burins and two excellent wood engraving plates made by Kupiec. The woodcarvers of Zakopane were amazed at how well, precisely, and interestingly I could carve the boards. (...) When the woodcut began to take on the features of a small painting, our Kapo Myszkowski wanted to show off his employee to the oberkapo. Balke stood at the table (...) and, muttering under his breath, patted me lightly on the shoulder. I felt as if I had just won a battle for an indoor job. My woodcut was a complete novelty to him, which is probably why he took such an interest in it. (...) I had no intention of knocking the fact that he considered the woodcut to be a sculpture out of his head because that’s what I wanted,”. - Wincenty Gawron wrote in his post-war memoirs.”
On the reverse of one of them, the author of the woodcut wrote:
“The Woodcut - Among the Pack of Wolves was made in Oświęcim in the late summer of 1941 and should be preserved as a national memento. It has been preserved by Frank Targosz, curator of the KL Auschwitz Museum.”
‘The work of Wincenty Gawron figure prominently in the Collection of the Auschwitz Museum. They include caricatures of SS men made in the camp - one of the few preserved for their exceptional character as they condemn specific criminals. The other is one of the most poignant representations of the roll call of prisoners in the camp, made by the author in pencil in 1942 and then reproduced on canvas in the postwar years,’ said Agnieszka Sieradzka from the Memorial Collections.
‘We are happy that the Collection has been expanded to include subsequent works by Wincenty Gawron, especially since some contain very personal dedications indicating how important it was for the prisoners to create art behind the barbed wire camp,’ added Sieradzka.
Explaining why she decided to donate her father’s work to the Auschwitz Memorial, Margaret Jablonsky said: ‘I am already 70 years old and the only living daughter of my father. Before departing this earth, I decided that I wished to donate these artworks to a museum where a more extensive audience might appreciate them.’
‘My father was in Auschwitz, where he was forced to create artwork. Occasionally, he would quietly make these things for himself. Accordingly, I thought about where to donate these works. In America, no! Here to Oświęcim, where he survived very difficult years. I am giving these works to the Museum because I believe it would have been my father’s last wish,’ Margaret Jablonsky emphasised.
Wincenty Gawron was born on 28 January 1908 in Stara Wieś near Limanowa. He studied at the State School of Decorative Arts in Lwów and Cracow, and from 1935 at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. The outbreak of World War II interrupted his artistic education. In 1939 he joined a secret military organisation. After being arrested in Limanowa on 18 January 1941, he was imprisoned in Tarnów and deported to the German Auschwitz camp on 5 April 1941. He initially worked in the Abbruch commando during the demolition of the surrounding houses and later in a carpentry and sculpture workshop.
He was involved in designing decorations for various sculptural products, handles for paper cutting knives, cases and other objects made by his colleagues in the camp sculpture workshop. He cooperated with the Lagermuseum, where he painted and drew portraits, landscapes, and images of animals. He also created works commissioned by SS men and works relating to completely forbidden subjects, including Polish symbols. Furthermore, his works also included themes related to the tragic reality of the camp and caricatures ridiculing the SS crew. In Auschwitz, he kept accurate and detailed notes describing daily life in the camp.
He became friends with Cavalry Captain Witold Pilecki (in the camp as Tomasz Serafiński), who helped him flee the camp. He escaped on the night of 16 May 1942, along with Stefan Bielecki. The two were supposed to convey information gathered by the camp’s resistance movement regarding the situation in the camp to Warsaw. The escape was successful, and the priceless documents reached the headquarters of the underground movement.
After his escape, he joined the Home Army again. Following the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising on 1 August 1944, he became an active participant, among others in the “Róg” [Horn] group. He fought in the Old Town and Śródmieście (City Centre) district. After the failure of the uprising, he left Warsaw with the civilian population and ended up in a transit camp in Pruszków, from which he escaped. He was then arrested by the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs”) but again managed to escape. He then left Poland via Czechoslovakia and made his way to Italy, where he joined the II Polish Corps in Italy. There, he again met Cavalry Captain Witold Pilecki.
Upon the demobilisation of the Anders Army, Wincenty Gawron went into exile, first to Canada and then to the United States, settling permanently in Chicago. In his home, he opened the Józef Piłsudski Museum of the Polish Army, where he collected numerous memorabilia related to the history of the Polish army. As a graphic artist in the US, he designed stained-glass windows and postage stamps. He also worked for the Polish diaspora in America, creating decorations, banners and magazine vignettes. Wincent Gawron was the author of the memoirs “Ochotnik do Oświęcimia” (Volunteer to Auschwitz), which he dedicated to the memory of Cavalry Captain Witold Pilecki.