Prisoner photo from Auschwitz, Courtesy Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim
Born January 28, 1912 in Kalisz, Poland; died March 6, 1993 in Warsaw, Poland
Kościelniak attended the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts, and after completing his studies moved to Warsaw. He was drafted into the Polish army in 1939 and wounded in the fighting around Warsaw. After recovering, he joined the Home Army resistance in the town of Kalisz, using the code name "Zawrat."
Arrest and Deportation to Auschwitz
March 3, 1941, Kościelniak was arrested for producing a painting that depicted Germans shooting at Poles—the arrest occurring despite the fact that he had completed the picture in 1928, long before the occupation of Poland, while he was still a student. Two months after his arrest, on May 2, 1941, Kościelniak was deported to Auschwitz, where he received prisoner number 15261.
Work Assignments at Auschwitz
Kościelniak was assigned to work in demolition (Abbruch), one of the camp's most strenuous labor details. Fellow prisoner and artist Wincenty Gawron's unpublished memoirs recount the incident leading to Kościelniak's transfer from Abbruch. In response to an Auschwitz guard's continual taunting, Kościelniak stated that he was willing to be whipped if his art displeased the guard. The guard, in turn, gave Kościelniak five minutes to make a picture. The resulting artwork, a pencil portrait of the guard, reputedly impressed its subject so much that he told an Auschwitz Kapo that "Kościelniak should no longer swing a shovel...and... was to be reassigned." Following this episode, Kościelniak was transferred to other work details: the SS-Unterkunftskammer (billets), the Lagerdruckerei (camp print shop), and the Lagermuseum (camp museum).
Produced at Auschwitz
The art works that Kościelniak produced at Auschwitz range from SS commissions to more private images and include oil paintings, watercolors, woodcuts, linoleum cuts, etchings, and illustrated letters. "We... devised our escape [from SS terror] using humor, song, ridicule, and caricature." With the help of the camp resistance, Kościelniak smuggled out of Auschwitz some 300 of his drawings as well as those of prisoner physicians and infirmary staff.
He was evacuated from Auschwitz on January 18, 1945 and then transported to Mauthausen, Melk, and Ebensee.
Liberation and After
Kościelniak continued his artistic activities in these subcamps of Mauthausen and was liberated by American forces at Ebensee on May 6, 1945. Following liberation, he remained for approximately six months with the U.S. Army, completing a number of works that include portraits of Generals Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton. Returning to Warsaw in 1946 or 1947, Kościelniak completed a postwar series about Auschwitz entitled The Day of a Prisoner and saw his works featured in numerous postwar exhibitions in Poland and Germany.
Goldmann, Sybille and Myrah Adams Rösing. Kunst zum Überleben: Gezeichnet in
Auschwitz. Ulm, 1989.
Jaworska, Janina. Nie wszystek umrę... Warsaw, 1975.
Kościelniak, Mieczysław. Bilder von Auschwitz. Frankfurt, 1982.
Milton, Sybil and Janet Blatter. Art of the Holocaust. New York, 1981.
Stefanska, Irena. "Muzeum w KL Auschwitz," Przeglad lekarski 39, No. 1-3 (1982).
Stütz, Marina, ed. Überleben und Widerstehen. Cologne, 1980.