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Auschwitz survivor wants her art back from concentration camp

Roma portraits were made by Jewish prisoner on the orders of Dr Josef Mengele

A US congresswoman, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev) is lobbying US and Polish authorities for the return of watercolours painted by a prisoner at Auschwitz on the orders of Josef Mengele. The works were made by a Czechoslovakian Jewish woman, Dina Gottliebova Babbitt, now 83 and a resident of California. She was able to save her own life and her mother’s by complying with the orders of Josef Mengele, chief doctor of Auschwitz’s so-called “Gypsy Family Camp”. He intended the portraits of Roma, or “gypsy,” inmates to assist in his notorious human “experiments” and research, which furthered Nazi racial theories. Now Ms Babbitt wants the art back from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. The museum holds over 6,000 paintings and other works of art, of which some 2,000 were made by Auschwitz prisoners. But the museum says that under Polish law it owns the seven portraits, all of which are on display. For security reasons, two are displayed in the form of copies only, in an exhibition dedicated to experiments on the Roma people. The museum’s stance on keeping the art is supported by Roma Holocaust survivors and representatives of European Roma organisations. The museum says that while fully understanding Ms Babbitt’s attachment to the works, art created at the camp is “an integral part of the material” documenting Auschwitz. The museum’s statutory obligation is to gather evidence of Nazi crimes at the camp “as an enduring witness” to its history, and the portraits, like other documentation such as prisoner cards, have “the biggest meaning, significance and impact in the place of their creation”. According to Representative Berkley, Ms Babbitt is the “rightful owner” of the work because “it was produced by her own talented hands as she endured the unspeakable conditions” of the camp.