Polish Authorities Launch Probe: Anger at Painting Made of Holocaust Victim Ash

A Swedish artist has caused outrage by claiming to have created a painting using ash he took from an oven in Majdanek concentration camp. Polish prosecutors said on Tuesday they had opened an investigation.

Crematorium furnaces in the Majdanek concentration camp memorial site. Zoom
AP

Crematorium furnaces in the Majdanek concentration camp memorial site.

Prosecutors in Poland said on Tuesday they were investigating a claim by a Swedish artist who said he made a painting using ashes he had taken from a cremation oven during a visit to the Majdanek Nazi concentration camp located in Poland.

The painting, called "Memory Works," was exhibited for three weeks in November and December at a gallery in Lund, Sweden, but was removed following protests from the local Jewish community.

The Associated Press reported that prosecutors in the eastern city of Lublin were checking whether there was truth to the statement by the artist, Carl Michael von Hausswolff, that victims' ashes were used.

"I'm pleased about the investigation but I'm astonished that they waited such a long time," Salomon Schulman, a Jewish doctor who is also a Yiddish teacher at Lund University, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

"I got very angry and sad about this. It's an insult to the survivors of the Holocaust. It's theoretically possible that my relatives could be in that ash."

Hausswolff wrote in a statement on the website of the Martin Bryder Gallery, where the painting was exhibited, that he had collected the ashes during a visit to Majdanek in 1989 and had mixed them with water to paint the work. He said he had not used the ashes at first because they were "too loaded," but that he had decided in 2010 to use them.

"The ash has followed me, always been there … as if the ash contains energies or memories or souls of people … people tortured, tormented and murdered by other people in one of the 1900s most ruthless wars," he wrote in the statement.

'Repulsive in the Extreme'

The small, brown and gray painting appears to portray a group of people standing huddled together. The gallery declined to comment on the case on Wednesday.

The use of the ashes could be a punishable offense in Poland where desecrating human remains and burial sites carries a sentence of up to eight years in prison. The Swedish authorities declined to open an investigation because the alleged offense was committed outside Sweden.

An estimated 80,000 prisoners, including 60,000 Jews, were murdered in Majdanek, which was opened in 1941 and shut in 1944. A spokeswoman for a museum at the site told the AP that some human ashes had still been in the furnaces at Majdanek in 1989.

cro -- with wire reports

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