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Portraits depicting Auschwitz prisoner Wincenty Gawron in the Memorial Collections


The Museum's Collections has been enriched with two portraits of Wincenty Gawron, a survivor of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp and a member of the camp's resistance movement. They were donated by his daughter, Margaret Jablonsky.


The author of both works, one made in the camp, the other from 1987, is Mieczysław Kościelniak, an artist by education and a camp colleague of Wincenty Gawron.

'The drawing executed in the camp depicts Wincenty Gawron probably writing a letter to his family. The artist is leaning over a piece of paper, slightly smiling and writing a letter home against the backdrop of a fragment of a prisoner's room,' said Agnieszka Sieradzka of the Memorial Collections.

The second drawing is a post-war copy of work done by Koscielniak in the camp. It shows a scene of a letter being read by camp inmates. One of them is Wincenty Gawron, the other, fellow Auschwitz prisoner, Alojzy Gołka. The copy dates back to 1987 and bears a dedication on the drawing: 'To Dear Wicek, his friend Mietek.'

'The original is in the collections of the Auschwitz Museum. Presumably, Mieczysław Kościelniak made a second drawing at the request of a friend, the original of which was created in the camp in 1941. It is one of several works by Kościelniak depicting prisoners reading letters. Both works are a valuable acquisition for our Collections, complementing the portraits of artist prisoners,' added Agnieszka Sieradzka.

The two portraits are further works donated to the Museum by Margaret Jablonsky. A year ago, the Collection was enriched, among other things, with two watercolours and two woodcuts made by Wincenty Gawron in the camp.

Wincenty Gawron was born on 28 January 1908 in Stara Wieś near Limanowa. He studied at the State School of Decorative Arts in Lviv and Cracow and from 1935 at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. The outbreak of the Second World War interrupted his artistic education. In 1939, he joined a secret military organisation. After being arrested in Limanowa on 18 January 1941, he was incarcerated in the Tarnów prison, and on 5 April 1941, transferred to the German Auschwitz camp. Initially, he worked in the Abbruch work squad, demolishing local houses, and later in the carpentry and carving workshop.

He was involved in designing decorations for various sculptural products, paper-cutter handles, cases and other objects made by his colleagues in the camp's sculpture workshop. He collaborated with the Lagermuseum where he painted and drew portraits, landscapes and images of animals. He produced works commissioned by SS men and works on completely forbidden subjects, containing Polish symbols or depicting the camp's tragic reality, as well as caricatures ridiculing the SS crew. At Auschwitz, he kept accurate and detailed notes describing daily life in the camp.

In the camp, he became friends with Cavalry Captain Witold Pilecki (in the camp as Tomasz Serafiński), who helped him to escape from the camp. He escaped on the night of 16 May 1942 in the company of Stefan Bielecki. The two men were to take the information collected by the camp resistance movement to Warsaw to report on what was happening in the camp. The escape was successful, and the invaluable documents reached the underground headquarters.

After escaping, he rejoined the Home Army. Once the Warsaw Uprising broke out on 1 August 1944, he played an active part in it, fighting in the "Róg" group, among others. He fought in the Old Town and the City Centre. Upon the fall of the uprising, he left Warsaw with the civilian population and ended up in a transit camp in Pruszków, from which he escaped. He was later arrested by the NKVD but again managed to escape. He then fled Poland via Czechoslovakia and made his way to Italy, where he joined the II Polish Corps in Italy. There he met Rotmistrz Witold Pilecki again.

After the demobilisation of the Anders Army, Wincenty Gawron went into exile, first to Canada and then to the United States. He settled permanently in Chicago. He opened the Józef Piłsudski Museum of the Polish Army in his home, where he collected numerous memorabilia related to the history of the Polish army. In the USA, as a graphic artist, he designed stained glass and postage stamps and worked for the Polish American community - designing decorations, banners and magazine vignettes. Author of the memoir "The Auschwitz Volunteer", dedicated to the memory of Cavalry Capt. Witold Pilecki.