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Artistic Works and Documents of Auschwitz Survivor Waldemar Nowakowski Added to the Collections of the Museum


A valuable collection of artistic works by the Auschwitz Survivor Waldemar Nowakowski, along with camp documents related to him and his wife, has been added to the Collections of the Museum.


Twenty-six small watercolors and ink drawings came from the artist's grandson, Paweł Huczkowski. These works are part of a larger series, dozens of which have been in the Museum's Collections since the 1980s and 1990s. They depict various camp events and situations, creating a unique record of a prisoner's experiences in the camp. This collection fills a significant gap in the iconography related to the lives and fates of prisoners in the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz, providing a glimpse into scenes behind the barbed wire.

All the watercolors were given by the artist's immediate family (earlier by his wife Maria, also a Survivor, and later by their daughter Ewa) as works made in the camp. Some of these watercolors may indeed have been created in the camp, as the artist worked as a writer and later a block leader in the camp hospital, where access to paper and writing materials, possibly even paints, was possible.

"The vividness of some scenes, the meticulous execution, and the allegorical nature of many of them suggest that most were created after the artist regained his freedom. However, this does not diminish the value of these works or their significance as evidence of crimes and educational material, as they were created by an eyewitness to those events," said Agnieszka Sieradzka, an art historian at the Museum's Collections.

The drawings include scenes from the camp hospital, torture, executions, slave labor beyond one's strength, hunger, as well as everyday camp life: prisoners on bunks, reading letters from home, and searching for food scraps in emptied containers.

"The ink and watercolor drawings on postcard-sized cardboard are kept in a similar style. The prisoners, all similar in appearance without individual features, are shown against a sparse background composed of distinctive elements of the camp landscape. This gives the artworks a universal and symbolic message. Some scenes are framed in symmetrical arches and circles. One can clearly see the hand of a graphic artist with a tendency for summarization and decorativeness, despite the cruelty of the subject," added Agnieszka Sieradzka.

Along with the artworks, camp documents were also given to the Museum. These include two notes written on the back of original German forms by Waldemar Nowakowski in October 1944 to his future wife, Maria Żelińska, as well as twelve camp letters and two postcards sent from Auschwitz by Maria Żelińska to her mother.

"Maria Anna Żelińska's correspondence contains very little information about her camp experiences, which is understandable given the vigilance of the SS men who censored every letter before it was sent from the camp. However, the two illegal notes written to Maria Anna Żelińska by Waldemar Nowakowski are unique examples of correspondence exchange within the camp. It can be assumed that they had established ways of contacting each other and specific places to hide the notes," said Dr. Wojciech Płosa, head of the Museum Archive.

"Conducting such correspondence in the realities of camp life was risky and required great caution to avoid detection by other prisoners or SS men. Nevertheless, they took this risk to maintain the intimate bond they had formed in KL Auschwitz. Analyzing the content of both notes, it is evident that Waldemar Nowakowski tried to write as often and as extensively as possible to his beloved," added Wojciech Płosa.

The notes were written at a very particular moment, as Waldemar Nowakowski expected to be transported out of KL Auschwitz: "Contrary to all expectations and assumptions, I will not be able to see you here in the camp. We are in camp E and will probably be transported soon."

The departure took place on 26 October 1944, and Waldemar Nowakowski was transferred to the Oranienburg camp. He did not manage to see his fiancée before leaving Auschwitz, which he expressed by writing: "I cannot focus my thoughts in any other direction, I cannot think of anything else. I have been several times by the wires, I wanted to see you, I looked between the wagons, in vain, I saw nothing."

Waldemar Nowakowski was born on 10 November 1917, in Białogródka, Ukraine. He attended the Faculty of Geodesy at the Warsaw University of Technology. For his involvement in the Polish Scouting Association, he was arrested in May 1940 in Warsaw and imprisoned at Pawiak. On 15 August 1940, he was deported to Auschwitz. In the camp, he worked in various roles, including in Holzhof (wood depot) and Landwirtschaft (agricultural command) as a driver. For providing food to fellow prisoners, he was sent to the penal company in Birkenau for two months. He fell ill with typhoid fever and was hospitalized in the camp. After recovering, he served as a writer and later as a block leader in the camp hospital. In 1944, he co-organized a secret theater for sick prisoners. In the fall of 1944, he was transferred to Oranienburg, a sub-camp of KL Sachsenhausen, and worked in the Heinkel aircraft factory. He was liberated by American forces near Munich.

After returning to Poland, Waldemar Nowakowski studied at the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts. He dedicated himself to teaching and worked in applied graphics. In 1950-51, he was employed in exhibition work at the Auschwitz Museum. He died on January 30, 1984.

Maria Anna Nowakowska (née Żelińska) was born on 4 April 1921, in Ropczyce. She spent her childhood and youth mainly in Krakow and Katowice. During the war, she was arrested in Krakow. After a year in prison on Montelupich Street, she was deported to Auschwitz in the first female transport from the prison. After the war, she married Waldemar Nowakowski, completed nursing school, and worked as a head nurse at the First Surgical Clinic of the Medical Academy in Krakow. For many years, she was an instructor in instrumentation for nursing students. She died on 18 November 1988.