Dina Babbitt narrowly survived Auschwitz when her art skills came to the attention of Josef Mengele, who needed watercolor portraits to accurately document the skin tone of Gypsy prisoners whom he was studying. Sometime after the war, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum claimed ownership of the paintings. Babbitt died in 2009 after an emotionally-charged, and ultimately unsuccessful battle to have her work returned to her. Her story was related in this 2006 NY Times article by Steve Freiss:
At 83, Dina Gottliebova Babbitt still recalls the rickety easel where in 1944, under orders from the infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, she painted watercolors of the haggard faces of Gypsy prisoners.
But her memories of the Auschwitz concentration camp, vivid though they are, aren’t enough for Mrs. Babbitt. Seven of the 11 portraits that saved Mrs. Babbitt and her mother remain not far from where she created them, on display at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Poland.
“They are definitely my own paintings; they belong to me, my soul is in them, and without these paintings I wouldn’t be alive, my children and grandchildren wouldn’t be alive,” Mrs. Babbitt said with a Czech accent as she served schnitzel in her cottage here in the hills outside Santa Cruz. “I created them. Who else’s could they be?”
[Full Article at NY Times]
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