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Walter Spitzer allegorical drawing of three children seated in a concentration camp

Walter Spitzer was born on June 14, 1927, in the Czech-Polish border town of Cieszyn (Województwo Śląskie), Poland, to Grete Weiss and Samuel Spitzer. He had a brother, Harry. It was a pleasant, upper middle class existence and Walter’s artistic talent was noticed early. On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. In 1940, his brother was taken away by German soldiers. Shortly after, his father died from complications after surgery. Soon after, all the Jews of Cieszyn were banished from their homes. Walter, age 13, and his mother sought refuge in Strzemieszyce, near Sosnowiec and Bedzin in southwest Poland. Conditions were believed to be better there; the ghetto was open and the Jewish Council was extremely organized. Walter was able to support them by working as a photographer and as a welder at the Eisenwerke (Steel Factory). But in June 1943, the Jews were expelled from Strzemieszyce and transported to Blechhammer labor camp. Walter was separated from his mother and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he was tattooed with the number, 178489. In January 1945, Walter was forced on a death march to Gross-Rosen, from where he was taken to Buchenwald by train and assigned the number, 124465. In his autobiography, Spitzer relates a promise that he made to the German political prisoner in charge of his barracks. This man told Spitzer that he would keep him off the next transport lists, if he promised to tell with his pencils all that he saw in the camps. While at Buchenwald, Walter made portraits and drawings which he bartered for bread. He also did clandestine drawings of forced labor. Most of his camp drawings were lost when the camp was liquidated. The inmates were forced on a death march to Sylésie in February, then to Gera, a Buchenwald subcamp. While on the forced march to Gera, in April 1945, Spitzer was liberated by the United States Army. In May, he was transported to Austria, where he was taken in by the 3256 Signal Service Company of the United States Armed Forces and worked as an interpreter. On June 20, 1945, Spitzer departed for Paris. He received formal training at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and became a renowned painter, lithographer, and illustrator in Paris. Among his most celebrated works are a cycle of lithographs to accompany the fiction of Jean Paul Sartre, including his trilogy about the war years, as well as artwork for several novels by Andre Malraux. Through his art, Spitzer has been a compelling and eloquent witness to the Shoah and other horrors of the 20th century. He published his autobiography, Sauvé par le dessin: Buchenwald, [Saved by Drawing, Buchenwald], forward by Elie Wiesel, in 2004.
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