A Painter of the Inferno

Four years ago, a gallery was opened on the Judenplatz in the centre of Vienna not far from St. Stephan's Cathedral and at the centre of the Jewish remembrance area; this gallery still stands in the shadows of two great exhibitions – the one in the Misrachi House and in the other in the outbuilding of the Jewish Museum. In the Art Forum, Thomas Frankl exhibits pictures executed by his father, Adolf Frankl, a survivor of Auschwitz. The exhibition is composed of documents and vibrant, expressive works of art.

Looking at "In the Barbed Wire", you think you can hear the prisoner's death screams as he struggles against the effects of the electric shock and dies. The observer cringes involuntarily when looking at "Selection during Music", or "Excessive Flogging". One becomes doleful when looking at the many variations of "Parting", horror creeps over one when looking at pictures showing faces shortly "Before Gassing" or pall bearers who are carrying their murdered relatives and friends to the "Crematoria", knowing that the same fate awaits them. The entire gallery is devoted to recollections of the inferno and almost all works are of a high artistic quality.

Born in 1903 in Bratislava, Adolf Frankl was trained by Prof. Reichental in the arts and painting. One senses this in the anthropomorphic portrait of Adolf Eichmann – gallows humor where the face of the mass murderer is composed of bodies and emaciated naked people all mingled together in mortal agony.

The "Remembering the Rabbi of Bratislava" was put together by Frankl using mosaic stones from a synagogue window; the Rabi, whom Frankl met again in Auschwitz, was savaged and torn to pieces by dogs or burnt in the crematorium.

Adolf Frankl was arrested in September 1944 when a concierge betrayed him. Frankl was first taken to the Slovakian transit camp of Sered, and thence to the extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Tattooed with the number B 14395, he was one of the very few survivors of the camp.

Another reminder of his survival is a tiny piece of bread, hardly more than a crumb, which can be seen in a display case. Adolf Frankl solicitously kept it right up to the time of his death in 1983. It was the last morsel of nourishment that he still had before he was liberated by the Red Army, a tiny ration which was to keep him from starvation. This tiny piece tells of death, of death on a huge scale, but also of hope and the will to survive. Drawings in the display cases reveal further information as well as some original documents, such as for example, the pay book of the mass murderer, Amon Göth, whose brutality has become known world-wide through Spielberg's film "Schindler's List". "He only spoke a few words", recalls his son, Thomas. But the father told a story all the more intensively through his pictures.

Over the past ten years, son Thomas Frankl has been concerned with the more than 200 paintings and almost 2000 drawings. The preservation of these works and the financing of the gallery remain a private enterprise to this day, although donations are always welcome. Thomas would willingly place his father's legacy at the disposal of museums and institutions, but in Austria, hardly anyone appears interested and the same goes for cultural establishments in other countries.

Translated by Imogen Lathbury