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Birds-eye view of the overcrowded Gurs barracks drawn by a German inmate

Object | Accession Number: 1988.4.1

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    Brief Narrative
    Pencil drawing of seemingly endless rows of densely packed Gurs barracks drawn by Gert Wollheim while a prisoner in Gurs internment camp in late 1940. There were tall structures, such as a water tower, that could provide this overhead view. The French established Gurs, the largest internment camp in France, in April 1939 to hold political refugees. In early 1940, about 4000 German Jewish refugees were interned as enemy aliens. Wolheim, who fled Nazi Germany for Paris in 1933, was arrested by the French in spring 1940 as an enemy alien. France surrendered to Germany in June 1940. Northern France was controlled by the Germans and southern France, where Gurs was located, by a collaborationist French government set up in Vichy. Wollheim's work was shown in the Nazi Degenerate Art exhibit and he was active in leftist, radical politics. In November 1941, he was sent to Gurs. Camp conditions were primitive; it was overcrowded and water, food, and clothing were scarce. Wollheim was transferred to Septfonds on January 1, 1941. He escaped and went into hiding until the region was liberated in August 1944. He left for New York in 1947.
    Artwork Title
    Alternate Title
    Landscape of Barracks
    Series Title
    Gurs Internment Camp, November 1940-January 1941
    creation:  1940 November 01-1940 December 31
    creation: Gurs (Concentration camp); Gurs (France)
    depiction: Gurs (Concentration camp); Gurs (France)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
    front, lower right corner, cursive, pencil : Wollheim 40
    Artist: Gert H. Wollheim
    Subject: Gert H. Wollheim
    Gert Heinrich Wollheim was born on September 11, 1894, in Loschwitz, Germany, to Heinrich and Gertrud Gehlert Wollheim. He had two brothers: Hasso, born October 1, 1893, and Gunther, born January 8, 1896. Gert’s father Heinrich was born in 1855 to Berthold and Rosalia Werther Wollheim. Heinrich was Jewish but converted to Protestantism in 1887. Gert’s mother Gertrud was born in 1867 to Arthur and Anna Schollkopf Gehlert. The Wollheim family was wealthy. Gert’s father Heinrich was a successful machine manufacturer. Gert’s older brother Hasso was a surgeon. From 1911 to 1913, Gert studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Weimar. He was drafted as a grenadier in the German Army in World War I (1914-1918) and was wounded twice. In 1919, Gert moved to Berlin, then to Remels with his friend and fellow artist, Otto Pankok. In 1920, Gert moved to Dusseldorf, where he worked with other artists, including Pankok, Max Ernst, Otto Dix, and Karl Schwesig. Gert wrote and designed for theater, and also painted, drew, and sculpted. He joined the Junge Rhineland and Mutter Ey art groups and was active in the Aktivistenbund (Activist League), a radical group of liberal intellectuals and artists. In 1921, Gert married Leni Stein. In 1925, Gert and Leni moved to Berlin. Gert met and fell in love with Tatjana Barbakoff (1899-1944), a dancer who posed for his paintings. In 1927, Gert’s father Heinrich died.

    In January 1933, Hitler came to power and, by summer, Germany was ruled by a Nazi dictatorship. Gert's friend Karl Schwesig was arrested by the Nazi regime. Gert left Leni and fled to Paris. He was reunited with Tatjana and the couple lived together. Gert was active in the Kollektive Deutscher Kunstler (Collective German Artists), which was formed in 1935. In 1937, the Nazis held the Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibit in Munich, Germany, featuring three of Gert’s paintings. The Nazis saw modern art as a threat to Aryan culture and displayed confiscated modern art along with criticism intended to teach the German public to hate modern art. In the fall, Gert cofounded the Freien Deutschen Kunstlerbundes (Free German Artist’s Association) in Paris. As a protest of the Degenerate Art exhibit, they held an exhibit in November 1938, which featured Gert’s art.

    On September 3, 1939, France declared war on Germany, due to the German invasion of Poland on September 1. On May 10, 1940, Germany invaded France. An armistice was signed on June 22. The northern and western regions, including Paris, were placed under the control of a German military administration, while the southern region was placed under the control of the Vichy Regime, which collaborated with the Germans. Gert was arrested and interned in a camp in Paris, then in Vierzon. While in the camp, Gert painted portraits of other inmates and the French guards. After several weeks, Gert was released and returned to Paris. In spring 1940, Gert was arrested and sent to Ruchard internment camp, in Avon-les-Roches. On November 1, Gert was transferred to Gurs internment camp, in Vichy France. Schwesig was also interned there from October 1940- February 1941. Gert worked as an artist in Gurs. On January 7, 1941, he was transferred to Septfonds internment camp, in southern France. In at least one camp, he worked as forced labor. Circa early 1943, Gert escaped to Nays in southern France, where he was reunited with Tatjana. The couple hid in the home of a peasant. Tatjana eventually fled to Nice on the coast, because it was occupied by the Italians and was known as a haven for Jews. Gert remained behind and stayed hidden in Nays until the region was liberated on August 1, 1944.

    Gert returned to Paris, which was liberated on August 24. Tatjana was arrested by the Germans in Nice in January 1944, following the German occupation of Nice in September 1943. She was sent to Drancy transit camp, then to Auschwitz concentration camp, where she was killed on February 6. Gert’s mother Gertrud died in 1944. On March 11, 1947, Gert sailed from Le Havre, France, on the SS Marine Falcon, arriving in New York on March 25. He settled in New York and married Mona Loeb. He continued working as an artist. Gert, age 79, died on April 22, 1974 in New York.

    Physical Details

    Physical Description
    Pencil drawing on paper with an overhead view of 6 densely packed rows of heavily shaded shacks, covering the entire paper and receding out of the frame. The single story buildings have peaked roofs and short, covered, lean-tos attached on the right. There appear to be footprint tracks in the mud in the long, paths between the barracks. An isolated figure stands in the darkened doorway of a second row barrack, the only one with a chimney, in the foreground. The figure appears to be shirtless and holding a towel in both outstretched hands. Artist's signature and date are in the lower right corner. The paper has 3 small indents in the left side where it was likely torn from a notebook.
    overall: Height: 12.375 inches (31.433 cm) | Width: 9.375 inches (23.813 cm)
    overall : paper, graphite
    front, lower left corner, pencil : „GURS”

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    Restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Corporate Name
    Gurs (Concentration camp)

    Administrative Notes

    The drawing was acquired by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1988.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this collection has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2023-09-27 13:57:31
    This page:

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