KRAKOW – Polish prosecutors have opened an investigation after a Swedish artist
claimed he used the ashes of Holocaust victims in a painting.
Michael von Hausswolff, a composer, visual artist and curator based in
Stockholm, said that he took the ash from the crematoria at the Majdanek
concentration camp in Lublin when he visited the site in 1989. He said that he
later mixed the ash with water and used it in a black and white
The painting, titled Memory Works, consists of vertical
brushstrokes that give the impression of a group of people standing close
together. It was on display at a museum in the city of Lund in southern Sweden,
until the exhibition was shut down last month following massive protests by
local citizens, the Swedish media, the Jewish community of Sweden and the Simon
The protest began after the artist wrote on the
museum’s website that he had used ash he took from the Majdanek crematoria. He
added that the ash had remained in a jar until 2010, when he had the idea for
The sharp criticism levelled against von Hausswolff for
“disturbing the peace of the dead” led Swedish police to open their own
investigation into the matter, but it was quickly dropped, with the Swedish
issuing a statement saying there was no evidence of theft and in any case, the
alleged theft had been committed abroad.
Beata Syk-Jankowska, a
spokeswoman for the Lublin prosecutor’s office, confirmed that an investigation
had been launched and that Polish authorities would cooperate with the Swedish
justice system to obtain more detail for their investigation. “The prosecution
decided to open an investigation into this matter on Monday. As of now, we do
not have any evidence and prosecutors are acting on media reports. We will check
whether there is truth to the artist’s claim,” she said.
She added that
Polish prosecutors will ask for the assistance of Swedish investigators and that
the case is being investigated under article 262 of the Polish criminal code,
which concerns thefts from graves or other places of rest.
this code can carry a penalty of up to eight years imprisonment. Another
paragraph pertains to the desecration of human remains and carries a penalty of
up to two years imprisonment.
Sources close to the investigation say they
have not ruled out the possibility that the artist invented the whole story and
is merely staging a publicity stunt in order to promote his exhibition and
attract visitors to see his painting.
The Majdanek Museum has also issued
an official statement: “This Swedish artist certainly did not come into
possession of victims’ ashes in a legal way. We hope that the authorities will
quickly determine whether there has been a theft or a desecration of the remains
of the victims, or whether this is just artistic provocation that simply
Salomon Schulman, a Holocaust survivor and member
of Lund’s Jewish Community, told local media that the painting was “a
desecration of Jewish bodies” and wondered whether it should be called art at
“Some of the ashes might have come from some of my relatives. It was
a disgusting painting,” he added.
About 150,000 people were held at the
Majdanek concentration camp in Lublin, the second largest concentration camp in
Poland after Auschwitz, between 1941 and 1944. It is estimated that 80,000
victims – three-quarters of whom were Jewish – perished.