Kantor, Alfred


Kantor, Alfred
(1923–2003).
   Alfred Kantor’s watercolors and sketches recreating daily life in Auschwitz, Theresienstadt, and Schwarzheide constitute one of the few visual records of existence in a Nazi concentration camp. At the Nazi war crimes trials in Nuremberg, the Allies showed horrific films of the conditions discovered when they liberated the camps. But very few pictures exist that depict the workaday life of prisoners. Kantor sketched and painted surreptitiously, mainly at night.
   Kantor’s 127 paintings and sketches of concentration camp life were published in 1971 by McGraw-Hill as The Book of Alfred Kantor, which included his account of his experiences. In the introduction to his book, Kantor wrote, “My commitment to drawing came out of a deep instinct of self-preservation and undoubtedly helped me to deny the unimaginable horrors of that time.” While some of the book’s paintings were made inside the three camps and smuggled out, Kantor-who had destroyed most of his work, fearing that the Nazis would find it and kill him-re-created many pictures from memory at the end of the war.
   At Theresienstadt, Kantor sketched daily scenes in the ‘‘model ghetto,” including the new shops and fresh food that suddenly appeared in the town when an International Red Cross delegation visited. Theresienstadt, however, for most Jews was only a stopping place on the way to the death camps. Kantor was eventually herded into a cattle truck and transported to Auschwitz, where he sketched all the horrors of that camp: naked women being sorted into those who would live and those who would die; prisoners loading corpses from the gas chambers into trucks; the desperate search for food; the red glow of flames from the crematorium chimneys at night; brutal guards; and the infamous chief physician, Josef Mengele, in Nazi uniform. (An attached note said that “a motion with his stick” was sufficient to send a prisoner to his death.)
   In 1944, Kantor was sent with other prisoners to help rebuild a German synthetic fuel plant at Schwarzheide, near Dresden. There he continued drawing, despite grueling 12-hour work shifts. When the war ended the next year, he was one of only 175 prisoners out of 1,000 who survived a death march back to Theresienstadt. The last picture, “Happy End,” shows a liberated concentration camp inmate, still in his prison stripes, talking with friends on a Prague street on 10 May 1945, two days after V-E Day.
   See also Art and The Holocaust.

Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. . 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

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