Portrait painted in Auschwitz

Contributed by Bryn Roberts

Portrait painted in Auschwitz

This portrait of Peggy Roberts, painted in Auschwitz in 1942 hangs in my front room.

I was captured in Belgium in June 1940 and sent to Stalag VIIIB (Lamsdorf) in Poland. As a private, I was sent out of the camp on working parties. Some of these provided opportunities for temporary escape, but not the one in 1942, when I was sent for five months to Auschwitz, working in the machine shop. I always carried with me a photograph of Peggy, then my girlfriend, and the portrait was painted from this photograph by a Jewish prisoner, one of a group of artists, supplied with oil paints to make copies of looted paintings for the Nazis.

The painting spent the rest of the war rolled up and fixed around my waist with sticking plaster. It survived my escape from the Lamsdorf "Death March" my recapture in Prague and subsequent six months in the Gestapo prison in Terezin.

In 1945 I returned to England and to Peggy. We married in 1945 and in 2005 celebrated our Diamond Wedding Anniversary.

For me the painting sums up both my hopes of getting back to Peggy and the indomitability of the human spirit of the Jewish artist who created the painting for me.

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  • 1. At 11:33 on 18 May 2011, cindyj wrote:

    a most moving account of wartime resilience. This is an amazing, uplifting story to encourage anyone feeling low. And what a beautiful painting!

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  • 2. At 11:43 on 18 May 2011, Sybil2 wrote:

    This was a great choice for aan additional history of the world. We need these recordings before the courage of men succh as this is forgotten

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  • 3. At 11:58 on 18 May 2011, Tim Fretwell wrote:

    A most tenacious and modest man; I was moved by his selfless and understated account of his wartime experiences. We post-war folk don't know we are born. I have searched but cannot find any reference to a book about this remarkable and seemingly completely none-self recognising man? I would like to thank Bryn Roberts for his amazing summarisation of his experiences he has truly made my day.

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  • 4. At 14:09 on 18 May 2011, sawbones wrote:

    I stopped my car, parked up and listened to this marvellous programme. You can see and read a lot about the war, but Bryn Roberts poetic accounts of his outrageously horrific experiences moved me. His stories are the most amazing thing I've heard on the radio or TV for a long time. Thankyou

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  • 5. At 20:16 on 18 May 2011, Philip wrote:

    Remarkable item. Remarkable story. Remarkable man.

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  • 6. At 22:40 on 18 May 2011, alisonpeachey wrote:

    My father , Don Peachey, was POW in Lamsdorf (he died in 1980)and also escaped a couple of times and would have agreed that solitary gave you time for yourself. He didn't talk about his experience much except that he was on the death march and that they had very little to eat or covering to protect them from the bitter cold. He did tell us of a British Jewish prisoner who was singled out for severe punishment and humiliation - breaking his rations into crumbs and destroying his red cross parcels. My mother has PHOTOGRAPHS of the prison camp life that my father kept hidden -I don't know how they were able to be taken.. He came home at 7 stone and fought for working people and against fascism all his life - I am very proud to be my father's daughter and hope such testimonies as Bryn's prevent the horror of WW11 from being forgotten. TOO MANY WARS and TOO MANY DEATHS...

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  • 7. At 14:43 on 19 May 2011, gill mulley wrote:

    My father was in the army in the Middle East during the war. He was a church organist and played in a church in Alexandria which was used by the British troops. He would go regularly to the church to practice and he noticed a man who often slipped in to the back of the church to listen to him playing. He spoke to the man and discovered that he was an Italian Prisoner of War who was also an organist. My father asked him if he would like to play too; the man was very enthusiastic and my father arranged for him to have access to the organ key so that he could go in to the church and play the organ whenever he was able to. In thanks for my father's kindness the prisoner asked for photos of my mother and my father's sister and produced two beautiful portraits (drawn I think in pencil, but possibly pastels). I have both portraits now. The name of the artist/POW was Lionel Ankapura and one of the portraits is dated 4 Aug 1944.

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  • 8. At 14:26 on 22 May 2011, Cordelia Mansall wrote:

    Thank you for this deeply moving broadcast about a truly remarkable man whose optimism and zest for life shines through every word. The unknown artist, the portrait, his life and his love for Peggy will endure, inspire and uplift the spirits as has done the life and diary of Anne Frank.

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