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The exhibition "Forbidden Art" at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point


The exhibition entitled “Forbidden Art” was opened on February 9 at the Jefferson Library of the U.S Military Academy in West Point. The event was organised on the occasion of the recently commemorated 72nd anniversary of the liberation of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz.


During the visit to West Point, the Museum director Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński also gave a lecture to cadets of the Military Academy. The main theme of the lecture was the authenticity of the Memorial as a foundation for understanding the historical experience for post-war generations. 

The “Forbidden Art” exhibition prepared by the Auschwitz Museum presents the story of 20 works of art made illegally by prisoners of the concentration camp while risking their lives. At the exhibition, one can see quality photographic reproductions of these works of art, learn the biographies of the authors and read fragments of witness accounts.

'The "Forbidden Art" exhibition, which features art made by concentration camps prisoners and victims both inspires and teaches. It documents the horrors of everyday camp life in the camps and it also shows us the indomitable human spirit, the ability to create in the worst possible circumstances. The exhibit reminds us that we need to have the humility to know the depth of evil as well as the competence to know the power of humanity can overcome such evil,' said Brig. Gen. Cindy Jebb, Dean of the Academic Board of West Point at the opening of the exhibition.  

'Although the time passes and we distance ourselves from this particularly dark moment in history and our memory fades, we must continually study and remember, we must continue to learn about human failings and evil that seven decades ago led to the murder of approximately of 1.1 million people in Auschwitz, mostly Jews, but also Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and people of other nationalities,' added Brig. Gen. Jebb.

Marcin Chumiecki, the director of the Polish Mission in Orchard Lake stressed that, thanks to the cooperation through which the exhibition "Forbidden Art" is presented in the United States, he hopes that it will be an important learning experience for the West Point cadets. 'We are in a place that can be referred to as the epicentre of the American identity, in a place where valour and virtue are values, where the legacy of patriotism and service shape new generations of Americans, so that they can protect the freedom that is so dear to us all,' he said.

'Today, when we come across the artistic works of Auschwitz prisoners, we always ask ourselves the question, how is it at all possible for art to exist in that inhuman world. Artistic expression became something more behind the barbed wires of the camp. It was a way for survival, because thanks to art they could preserve and simultaneously express their own humanity,' stressed the Director of the Auschwitz Museum, Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński.

The exhibition "Forbidden Art" is divided into two parts. The first shows camp realities – different scenes from the functioning of the camp, as well as portraits of the prisoners. In the second part, however, one can see the various forms of escape from camp reality: caricatures, album with wishes, or fairy tales written by prisoners for their children.

The exhibition shows the work of Zofia Stępień, Halina Ołomucka, Józef Szajny, Franciszek Jaźwiecki, Vladimir Siwierski, Mieczysław Kościelniak, Peter Edel, Josef Sapcaru and others not always known by the names and surnames of the prisoners. Enlarged and highlighted photographic reproductions have been placed in specially designed wooden display panels, which allude to the architecture of the camp barracks. A historical commentary and fragments of the archival accounts accompany each work.

"How do you capture and express what is unimaginable? How do you present the entire hell of Auschwitz using the minimum means of expression in an atmosphere of eternal fear? How do you show fear, helplessness and despair, but also longing for freedom? How do you not lose your humanity and dignity in the inhumane world of Auschwitz? The works presented at the exhibition, which is an attempt by the artists to confront the camp experience, help to some extent to answer these questions, "we read in the folder accompanying the exhibition.

The presentation of the exhibition "Forbidden Art" at West Point is possible thanks to the cooperation of the Museum and the Polish Mission in Orchard Lake. The cadets of this famous American Military Academy will be able to see the exhibition for a whole month.