This year four selected groups from four European countries will spend eight days between 22 September and 1 October visiting former Concentration Camp Ravensbrück in Germany. They will learn about its history, with a special attention given to art created within the camp. Together with artists representing different disciplines, they will explore the concept of art understood as documentation, witnessing, and spiritual resistance.
There is no one category of art made by concentration camp prisoners – each piece represents a unique sensitivity. Art offered a way for the prisoners to hold on to their humanity and to transcend the horrors of their daily lives. Sometimes it was a means of communicating, literally, with the outside world. It could also constitute a type of rebellion against the Nazi forces’ attempts to erase all details of prisoners’ personal lives. Some artists chose to create even in the face of danger, as it was often life-threatening should one be caught.
Art supplies were virtually nonexistent, though some artists worked for the so-called “good kommandos” who gave them extra resources. Others improvised with whatever they could find. Due to the very limited access to paper and coloured pencils, prisoners drew on any material available: scraps of paper, margins of newspapers, cigarette papers, packaging paper. Modelled in plastic, made from string, straw and hair, fashioned from toothbrush handles and parts of combs—assorted small objects were made both by professional artists and self-taught people with a touch of talent and access to supplies. Even bread could become the material, and was used to craft rosaries as well as figurines and portraits.
While some of the artists created their works while being locked up in the camps and ghettos, others used artistic means to express their experiences only after the liberation. A number of them turned to art as an outlet for their trauma, as they found it difficult to express in words and – in the decades immediately after the war – they were not always encouraged to discuss it. Their works capture the ongoing legacy of loss, desperation and exclusion, giving us a unique insight into the victims’ perspective.