Prisoner photo from Auschwitz, Courtesy Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oswiecim, Poland
(April 14, 1907 - March 27, 1983)
One wonders if any of his portraits of Polish prisoners of war are in the hands of families and institutions in the United States. Born in the picturesque town of Niepolomice, Poland, his parents sent him to study in the Academy of Fine Arts at Krakow, Poland. On January 14, 1940, in the second year of the Second World War, he was arrested in Krakow for resistance to the Germans and banished to hard labor, first to the German camp at Montelupic and on October 8, 1940, to Auschwitz. The work in stone quarries was so hard on him that he ended up in the prisoner infirmary.
Another prisoner, Leon Turalski, who came from Gostynin, Poland, and worked in an artists' detail, asked Siwek to paint a portrait of an SS officer at Auschwitz. No sooner did he do it than the German officer asked him to paint other portraits of SS officers and families, landscapes, hunting scenes, and calligraphy. During his confinement at Auschwitz, he found time when the guards left him alone to make portraits of more than 2,000 fellow prisoners. In addition, he drew up plans to make Auschwitz bigger than it was.
By the fall of 1944 the Germans expelled most of the Polish population from Warsaw and banished them to concencration camps in Germany. Then, no matter what they did in Poland, whether they were Catholic priests, army officers, teachers, doctors, and minor government officials, the inmates were forced to work in armament plants, aircraft factories, and other German industries. More than 3,500 of them were incarcerated in Sachsenhausen, 35 kilometers north of Berlin, and on October 29, 1944, Siwek was transferred to the camp of the Polish elite and continued his art work after working long hours in an aircraft factory.
With the approach of Allied forces in April of the following year, SS camp guards forced 30,000 prisoners to march to camps farther away. Guards shot prisoners who were unable to keep up, and 7,000 died of starvation because there was no food to give them. Siwek was liberated on May 3, 1945, near the town of Scherin, Germany, and ultimately went back to Poland where he made about fifty paintings of his experiences in German concentration camps. Others, many of whom he caught in his drawings, ended up in the United States.
From 1948 to 1953 he worked as an artist for the museum at Auschwitz and after that lived in Warsaw, doing illustrations for zoological and scientific publications.
From: Edward Pinkowski (2008)