Q: In 1945, my grandfather was a cook in the army, which liberated the German concentration camp of Dachau. The medics said it was dangerous to feed the prisoners (a mistake), but my grandfather supplied the prisoners with coffee and scraps of food anyway. In thanks, one of the prisoners gave him three wood carvings done while incarcerated. Despite what looks like a signature on the back of the carving, I can’t find any information on the artist. Can you find any information that may allow me to track him down?
A: Thank you for sharing your grandfather’s remarkable story. Unfortunately, we do not recognize the signature on the carving. Relief wood carvings were a popular art form throughout Europe in the early 20th century, especially with the Arts and Crafts Movement and Expressionist style driving the popularity of woodblock prints. Prisoners at some concentration camps made wood carvings as forced labor. Many made art privately as self-expression, as an act of resistance, to document what was being done to them, or to trade for food and supplies.
In 1955, survivors of Dachau formed a committee to turn the former concentration camp into a memorial site. The memorial site opened in 1965. Today, it has a museum and archives. They have an online contact form for requesting information about former inmates. They may be able to help. You may also want to try the Arolsen Archive, formerly the International Tracing Service, which is probably the most comprehensive resource available today to find information about concentration camp survivors and their families.
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