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Etching by Walter Spitzer of concentration camp inmates begging, digging in a dumpster, and hauling corpses

Object | Accession Number: 1991.138.8

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    Brief Narrative
    Intaglio etched print created in 1955 by Walter Spitzer based upon his experiences as an inmate in Blechhammer and Buchenwald concentration camps from 1943-1945. Following the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, Walter fled with his family from Cieszyn (Województwo Śląskie). In 1940, his brother, Harry, was taken away by German soldiers and his father, Samuel, died after surgery. In June 1943, he and his mother, Gretta, were deported to Blechhammer labor camp where they were separated. Walter was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, then Buchenwald, where the 17 year-old Spitzer began documenting camp life. He promised a fellow inmate to tell with his pencils all that he saw in the camps. Walter's family did not survive the war and he settled in France. He became a professional artist, creating an eloquent artistic record of the Shoah. Spitzer did the original drawings for this print set in 1945, following his liberation by US troops while on a death march. This print is part of a set of nine, number 2 of 30. Many of the drawings feature inmates referred to as Muselmann by the other prisoners, who avoided them. These are prisoners who are near death due to exhaustion, illness, starvation, or hopelessness.
    Artwork Title
    Mene Les Epluchures Sont Bonnes
    Alternate Title
    Even the Peelings Are Good
    creation:  1955
    depiction:  1943 June-1945 April
    depiction: Buchenwald (Concentration camp); Weimar (Thuringia, Germany)
    creation: Paris (France)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Ani Mander
    in pencil, "W. Spitzer"
    Artist: Walter Spitzer
    Subject: Walter Spitzer
    Walter Spitzer was born on June 14, 1927, in the Czech-Polish border town of Cieszyn (Województwo Śląskie), Poland, to Grete Weiss and Samuel Spitzer. He had a brother, Harry. It was a pleasant, upper middle class existence and Walter’s artistic talent was noticed early. On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. In 1940, his brother was taken away by German soldiers. Shortly after, his father died from complications after surgery. Soon after, all the Jews of Cieszyn were banished from their homes. Walter, age 13, and his mother sought refuge in Strzemieszyce, near Sosnowiec and Bedzin in southwest Poland. Conditions were believed to be better there; the ghetto was open and the Jewish Council was extremely organized. Walter was able to support them by working as a photographer and as a welder at the Eisenwerke (Steel Factory). But in June 1943, the Jews were expelled from Strzemieszyce and transported to Blechhammer labor camp. Walter was separated from his mother and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he was tattooed with the number, 178489. In January 1945, Walter was forced on a death march to Gross-Rosen, from where he was taken to Buchenwald by train and assigned the number, 124465. In his autobiography, Spitzer relates a promise that he made to the German political prisoner in charge of his barracks. This man told Spitzer that he would keep him off the next transport lists, if he promised to tell with his pencils all that he saw in the camps. While at Buchenwald, Walter made portraits and drawings which he bartered for bread. He also did clandestine drawings of forced labor. Most of his camp drawings were lost when the camp was liquidated. The inmates were forced on a death march to Sylésie in February, then to Gera, a Buchenwald subcamp. While on the forced march to Gera, in April 1945, Spitzer was liberated by the United States Army. In May, he was transported to Austria, where he was taken in by the 3256 Signal Service Company of the United States Armed Forces and worked as an interpreter.

    On June 20, 1945, Spitzer departed for Paris. He received formal training at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and became a renowned painter, lithographer, and illustrator in Paris. Among his most celebrated works are a cycle of lithographs to accompany the fiction of Jean Paul Sartre, including his trilogy about the war years, as well as artwork for several novels by Andre Malraux. Through his art, Spitzer has been a compelling and eloquent witness to the Shoah and other horrors of the 20th century. He published his autobiography, Sauvé par le dessin: Buchenwald, [Saved by Drawing, Buchenwald], forward by Elie Wiesel, in 2004.

    Physical Details

    Object Type
    Etching (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Monochrome black, edition 2/30. Scene shows on the left side, a food bin surrounded by four prisoners; two grovelng in it for food, one sitting on the edge, and one sitting against the front. On the right from the center, a prisoner lying on the ground begs for food from two prisoners who carry a vat. Behind this scene, prisoners push a cart on which bodies are piled. The background includes the barracks of a concentration camp.
    overall: Height: 12.750 inches (32.385 cm) | Width: 19.250 inches (48.895 cm)
    overall : paper, ink, charcoal

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    Restrictions on use. Donor retains copyright for this collection.

    Keywords & Subjects

    Personal Name
    Spitzer, W. (Walter)

    Administrative Notes

    The etching was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1991 by Ani Mander.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2022-07-28 18:21:33
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