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Etching by Karl Schwesig showing inmates bartering bread and cigarettes in a concentration camp

Object | Accession Number: 1988.5.16

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    Etching by Karl Schwesig showing inmates bartering bread and cigarettes in a concentration camp


    Brief Narrative
    Etching created by Karl Schwesig between 1948 and 1949 in Dusseldorf. The drawing depicts an inmate trading cigarettes for bread with a civilian and is based on Schwesig’s experiences in internment camps in Vichy France. After Hitler came to power in January 1933, Schwesig, a Communist, was arrested and imprisoned for 16 months. After his release in 1935, he lived in Antwerp, Belgium. On May 10, 1940, Germany invaded Belgium. Schwesig was arrested and sent to Vichy France, where he was held in St. Cyprien, Gurs, Noe, and Nexon internment camps. In 1943, he was sent to Ulmer Hoeh prison in Dusseldorf, where he was liberated by American forces in April 1945.
    Artwork Title
    Tabak gegen Brot
    creation:  1948
    creation: Dusseldorf (Germany)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
    Artist: Karl Schwesig
    Subject: Karl Schwesig
    Karl Schwesig was born on June 19, 1898, in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. His father was a miner. From 1916 to 1918, Schwesig served in the German Army during the First World War (1914-1918). In 1918, Schwesig began studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Dusseldorf. In 1921, he left the conservative academy and joined the Junge Rhineland artist group. In 1924, Schwesig cofounded the satirical magazine Die Peitsche (The Whip). The right wing Nazi Party was growing rapidly in popularity duirng the 1920s and Schwesig was an outspoken anti-Nazi. He joined the Communist Party in the late 1920’s.

    Hitler came to power in Germany in January 1933 and the country was soon ruled by a Nazi dictatorship. On July 11, 1933, Schwesig was arrested for his anti-Nazi commentary. He was detained by the SA and interrogated for the names of colleagues who also resisted the Nazis. He was sent to Ulmer Höhe prison in Dusseldorf. In 1934, he was convicted of treason and served his sentence in Bendahl prison in Wuppertal. After his release on November 18, 1934, Schwesig was granted political asylum in Belgium and lived in Antwerp. In 1937, his German citizenship was revoked and his property in Germany was confiscated by the Nazi regime.

    On May 10, 1940, Germany invaded Belgium. Schwesig was arrested and deported to St. Cyprien internment camp in Vichy France. In October, he was moved to Gurs internment camp after St. Cyprien was destroyed by flooding. In February 1941, he was transferred to Noé internment camp. In March 1943, he was sent to Nexon internment camp and classified as a politcal prisoner. In June, Schwesig was sent to Fort Romainville prison in Paris and in July to Ulmer Höhe prison in Dusseldorf. Throughout his imprisonment, Schwesig drew images of daily life in the camps. Schwesig was liberated in Ulmer Höhe after American forces captured Dusseldorf on April 17, 1945. The war ended when Germany surrendered on May 7. Schwesig stayed in Dusseldorf. He died, age 57, in 1955.

    Physical Details

    Object Type
    Etching (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Etching on paper of a concentration camp inmate and civilian trading cigarettes and bread. The civilian is on the left and is drawn in right profile, looking forward. He is wearing a striped suit jacket, fedora, and glasses. He is holding a rectangular cigarette carton labeled GAULOISE, a French cigarette brand. The inmate is on the right and is looking away from the man in the suit. He has a wrinkled face with sunken cheeks and is wearing a camp uniform jacket and brimless hat. He is holding a half loaf of bread. There is a building on the right and power lines above them. There is another building and mountains in the background.
    overall: Height: 18.000 inches (45.72 cm) | Width: 13.500 inches (34.29 cm)
    pictorial area: Height: 10.625 inches (26.988 cm) | Width: 8.000 inches (20.32 cm)
    overall : paper, ink
    back, lower left corner, pencil : 0/12
    back, lower left corner, pencil : Tabak gegen Brot [Tobacco to Bread]
    back, lower center, pencil : G81-25/17
    back, lower right corner of image, handwritten, blue ink : 742

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The drawing was acquired by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1988.
    Record last modified:
    2022-07-28 18:28:31
    This page:

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