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Watercolor of a female corpse by an inmate given to a liberator of Bergen Belsen concentration camp

Object | Accession Number: 2004.570.1

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    Brief Narrative
    Full-length portrait of a dead female inmate painted by 24 year old Marianne (Mausi) Grant and presented to Major Charles Philip Sharp, a liberator of Bergen Belsen concentration camp, in May 1945 as he prepared to depart. Sharp wrote about it in his diary, USHMM collection 2005.20.1: "Marianne, the little Czeck artist presented us with a picture of a body in No 1 "To the Commandant so that he will never forget Belsen" --as though I could. She used to do cartoons and gay pictures before she was taken--now see what she does. We are using her as a signwriter so she apologized that this drawing was not as detailed as she would have liked it to be, but nevertheless it brings back the atmosphere at once. Put it in a tube and shall take it home." Mausi had spent three years in other concentration camps before arriving at Bergen Belsen on April 5, 1945. In 1942, she was imprisoned in Theresienstadt, and then in Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she was placed in a slave labor battalion. Finally, she was transported to Belsen where she immediately began to document the horrors of camp life. Sharp was one the first four British officers to enter Bergen Belsen concentration camp on April 17, 1945, after its liberation by a British advance unit on April 15. This team was charged with establishing order at the camp which had roughly 60,000 inmates, most extremely ill. Their first act was to arrest the commandant, Kramer, who was later executed for his crimes. The Germans had negotiated a truce to transfer the camp to the British because of fears that the desperate conditions would lead to a typhus epidemic throughout Europe. Sharp's unit was selected for this duty because received double inoculations for typhus. Sharp was tasked with counting the number of dead and arranging the daily burials of nearly 10,000 inmates. After their arrival, disease continued to kill 300 inmates daily. Sharp later assisted in the maternity ward. He was stationed at Belsen for five weeks, His final duty was to order the destruction of the camp and the burning of the barracks. He then was placed on occupational duty south of Hanover where he presented illustrated lectures on the atrocities he had witnessed at Bergen Belsen. He reflected on the routine answer from the Germans he encountered that they could not be responsible for things about which they knew nothing. Philip’s position was that “Atrocity Guilt like War Guilt is not the monopoly of a few. In a less degree the rest of the world is guilty – only the inmates of the concentration camps are innocent.”
    Artwork Title
    In Memory of Belsen, April 1945.
    creation:  1945 April
    depiction:  1945 April
    received:  1945 April
    depiction: Bergen-Belsen (Concentration camp); Belsen (Bergen, Celle, Germany)
    creation: Bergen-Belsen (Concentration camp); Belsen (Bergen, Celle, Germany)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Peter Stevens
    front, near right foot in image, lower right, black paint : Mausi / 45
    Artist: Marianne Grant
    Subject: Marianne Grant
    Subject: Charles Philip Sharp
    Marianne (Mausi) Hermann was born on September 19, 1921, in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Her maternal uncle, Joseph Pollack, was married to Valerie Kafka, the sister of the writer Franz Kafka. Her father died in 1938. The Munich Pact of September 1938 had permitted Hitler’s annexation of the Czech Sudetenland border region. In March 1939, Germany invaded and occupied the provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, which included Prague. Marianne and her mother were required to move into the Jewish ghetto.

    In 1942, they were deported to Theresienstadt ghetto/labor camp north of the city. Marianne managed to get her mother released from three transports headed for Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. But she was unsuccessful during the fourth selection, and decided to accompany her mother to Poland. She watched in shock upon arrival as prisoners in striped uniforms rushed to throw the dead bodies from the cattle cars. It was bitterly cold, but the new arrivals were told to strip and march past a group of German officials, one with a whip, who sent them to the left or the right. The man with the whip was Dr. Josef Mengele for whom Marianne would work once her artistic talent was discovered. One of her first assignments was to draw the family tree of a dwarf that Mengele was studying. The next time she was called to his office, Mengele had acquired an architect’s drawing kit which he gave her so that she could draw a more professional version of the genealogical chart. Mengele also had her draw studies of twins. She also drew works for guards at the camp. She did a picture book for an SS guard’s family and he provided her food and medical help when she became ill. She also did a mural in the children’s block, depicting the youth of the world.

    After seven months, Marianne and her mother were assigned to a labor battalion that was sent to Hanover, Germany. They were then transferred to Bergen Belsen concentration camp. In spring 1945, the typhus epidemic in the camp was killing hundreds of prisoners a day. Marianne documented the chaos around her in her work. On April 15, ten days after her arrival, Bergen Belsen was liberated by British soldiers. Marianne spoke English and became an interpreter and sign painter for the British Army. With the assistance of the Red Cross, Marianne and her mother relocated to Sweden where they lived in Malmo for several years. At least twenty-two family members died in the Holocaust. A friend put them in contact with a family in Glasgow, Scotland, with whom they began to correspond. A man named Jack Grant lodged with the family and he and Marianne became pen pals. In 1951, they wed. They settled in Newton Mearns, where they raised a family and Jack worked for the synagogue. Marianne was dedicated to the need to teach future generations about the Holocaust, and received civic awards honoring her work. In 1997, she recreated from memory the children’s mural from Auschwitz at Yad Vashem. She kept her artwork stored away in a trunk until 2002 when the Kelvingrove Gallery held an exhibit and she published a memoir, “ I knew I was painting for my life.” Marianne, age 86, died on December 11, 2007.
    Charles Philip Sharp, known as Philip, was born on April 2, 1912, in Leicester, Leicestershire, England. He had a sister Mignon. Philip had been in the Territorial Army for several years when it was called to duty during the Munich crisis in summer 1938. Hitler had declared his intention to annex the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. At the Munich Conference in September, the western powers agreed to this action. Philip worked his way up to warrant officer third class and, when commissioned, elected to serve with the 113th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery. He was adjutant to the commander, Lt. Colonel W.H. Mather.

    Great Britain declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939, following the September 1 invasion of Poland. Philip’s regiment protected the London reservoir and ports in Norfolk and Kent. At 14:30, June 6, 1944, Philip and his unit left on Project Overlord, landing at Juno Beach. Six hours later, his unit crossed the Somme, heading toward Brussels. The troops were besieged by cheering crowds. The unit was attached to VIII Corps and moved ahead to protect bridges over the Rhine River. During Operation Market Garden, the Allied assault of September 17-24, Philip’s regiment was split by a German Panzer division not known to be training in the area. His unit crossed the bridge at Nijmegen, where they held a defensive positon for nine weeks, until ordered to Louvain. In late February 1945, Philip received two weeks leave to see his seriously ill father who died during his visit. His mother also had died recently.

    In March 1945, while the unit prepared to cross into Germany, Major Jobbing of 369 company was wounded. Philip was promoted to major and given the command. In early April 1945, Philip received an order to go 250 miles into Germany “to look after a mysterious camp of 50,000.” Philip reached Winsen on April 12, and learned that their destination was Bergen Belsen. The large concentration camp had a typhus epidemic and it was feared that it could spread all over Europe. Conditions were so serious that the Germans negotiated a truce with the British VIII Army. Philip’s unit was selected because they had received double inoculations for typhus. The roads around Celle were filled with thousands of freed slave laborers and POWs. An advance group located the camp on April 15 and, on April 17, Philip was one of the first four British Army officers to enter Bergen Belsen after its liberation. The guards continued to kill inmates even as British troops entered the camp. When Sharp and his contingent told them to stop, the commandant Kramer asked: “Why? They are Jews.” Kramer was later tried and executed for crimes against humanity.

    Philip and the three officers headed the post-liberation operation. There were approximately 60,000 prisoners, extremely ill, and many half dead. Their first task was to bury over 10,000 dead inmates. Huts were packed with corpses and there were large heaps of decomposing naked and skeletal bodies all over the camp. Philip was charged with counting the dead, as the Amy wanted to know exactly how many they had found. He began with a pile of children; which he estimated at 300. It was often difficult to identify separate bodies, so Philip developed a method of averages based upon the size of a bulldozer load. Captured German SS were forced to move and carry the dead to the mass graves.
    The size of the camp and the number and desperation of the prisoners made it difficult to establish order. The conditions of the living inmates were horrendous. The soldiers did their best to care for them. Philip ordered them to shower and then dust the inmates with lice powder to contain disease. Many inmates were already infected with typhus, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases and they died at the rate of 300 a day. The prisoners’ were starving. They had been without any food for weeks. The soldiers shared their rations, but the inmates could not digest the rich food and many died as a result. There were no sanitation facilities and the camp was chaotic and filthy. Food and supplies were taken from the nearby villages, but more supplies and men were needed. There was an adjacent camp with 12,000 prisoners of war and the surrounding area had to be searched for SS men seeking to escape. After Philip completed the organization of the daily burials, he was assigned to help in the maternity unit. About twenty babies were born in those first five weeks, but few survived. Philip’s final duty at Belsen was to give the order to destroy the camp and burn the barracks. Philip kept detailed diaries of his five weeks at Belsen about his military duties, and recorded the personal stories of many inmates.

    Philip left Bergen Belsen on May 24, and was placed on military occupation duty south of Hanover. In addition to his regular military duties, Philip gave public lectures with photos of the concentration camp atrocities. In his journal, he reflected on the routine answer from the Germans he encountered that they could not be responsible for things about which they knew nothing. Philip’s position was that “Atrocity Guilt like War Guilt is not the monopoly of a few. In a less degree the rest of the world is guilty – only the inmates of the concentration camps are innocent.” He noted then, and decades later as he continued to speak about his experiences, that people were unwilling and embarrassed to confront such unpleasant facts, but felt that “It should embarrass and shame all of us that human nature contains such depths of evil.” He believed that people needed to hear about it for “only then can there be any hope of it never being repeated…”
    Philip was awarded the Military Cross for bravery. He married Eileen Stevens (1917-1997.) Following the war, he had a notable sporting career as a rugby player and as a president of the Leicestershire Rugby Union. Philip, 86, died on June 11, 1999, in Stoneygate, Leicestershire, England.

    Physical Details

    Physical Description
    Watercolor portrait on offwhite paper with perforated long edges depicting a full-length portrait of a skeletal female figure lying on a diagonal surrounded by a light gray watercolor wash. The woman is nearly bald with the skin pulled tightly over her skull, emphasizing angular facial features. Her eyes are barely open slits above a sharply downturned mouth, open to reveal a row of teeth. She has an elongated, spindly neck and wears a gray long sleeved shirt that rises above her navel. Her left arm is bent upward to her chest with a clawlike hand grasping her shoulder. A blue and white striped skirt is bunched around her upper thighs. There are dark blue/gray rolled stockings or knee socks on her long, stick thin legs. Her skin is a blend of light green, yellow, and purple, with areas of brown. There is an English caption on the right below the image. The artist's signature and date are near her right foot.
    overall: Height: 10.750 inches (27.305 cm) | Width: 16.375 inches (41.593 cm)
    overall : paper, watercolor
    front, below image, lower left, black paint : In memory of Belsen, April 1945.

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The watercolor was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2004 by Peter Stevens, the brother-in-law of Phillip Sharp.
    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:
    2024-04-29 07:56:17
    This page:

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