A portrait of composer Frederic Chopin which once hung in Auschwitz has resurfaced at the home of a Polish university professor nearly seven decades later.
Painted in 1943 by Auschwitz prisoner and Polish artist Mieczyslaw Koscielniak, the portrait was one of a series of pictures created as part of a public relations campaign to obscure the treatment of inmates at the World War Two-era death camp where German Nazis killed some 1.5 million people.
The series of portraits by Koscielniak, who died in 1993, were thought to have all been destroyed by retreating Nazis ahead of the camp’s liberation by the Red Army in 1945.
“All the other portraits perished, but this one survived as if it were a spark of hope, particularly for the prisoners,” said the portrait’s current owner Aleksander Skotnicki, a professor at Jagiellonian University in Krakow.
Skotnicki realised the significance of the painting in his apartment earlier this year, just days before the 67th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
The portrait had hung with the other paintings on the walls of a building where the Auschwitz prisoners’ orchestra held its rehearsals. The room was spruced up because the camp commander and SS soldiers would invite guests to hear the orchestra play.
“Very often, the commander or SS soldiers brought guests to the music hall, so they could listen to the orchestra and to demonstrate that the prisoners didn’t have it that bad,” said Jolanta Kupiec, former Auschwitz museum curator and the author of the book about Koscielniak. “And the camp authorities wanted the practice room to look nice.”
The portrait showing Chopin’s profile with his distinctive flowing hair and a sharp nose, was exceptional because the Nazis frowned upon art not linked to German or Austrian culture.
“I don’t know how, but my father managed to slip in a Chopin,” said the painter’s son, Adam Koscielniak.
Hundreds of his father’s drawings documenting the horrors of everyday life for Auschwitz inmates have been preserved and remain on display at the camp’s museum. But the Chopin’s existence came as a bit of a surprise.
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