babbit1Upon completing the 5 issue mini-series X-Men: Magneto Testament (the origin story of Magneto and his life living in a concentration camp), I read the afterword in the back of issue #5, and was introduced to a woman named Dina Babbitt. Before completing this mini-series I had never heard of Mrs. Babbitt, but now having been introduced to her and her struggle, I feel the need to spread the word about her battle with a Polish historical museum that refuses to return her art work.

Mrs. Babbitt’s story is that while she was a prisoner in Auschwitz, she painted a mural of Snow White on the children’s barracks as a way to bring a sliver of light into the lives of the kids who were dying there. She knew that painting this simple mural was a risk to her own life, and upon discovery by the Nazi’s, she was surprisingly spared brutal execution because of her talent.

Dr. Josef Mengele (who’s M.O. was to prove to the world that all races were inferior to the ‘Master Race’ by performing sickening experiments and tests on human beings) ordered Babbitt to paint portraits of Gypsy prisoners. Mengele believed that the quality of photographs weren’t good enough to show the racial inferiorities of the Gypsies, so by having an artist depict them instead of a camera lens, he’d get the required detail to prove his theory. Mrs. Babbitt knew that once her portraits were completed, her models would be killed. So, she took as long as possible to complete her paintings as an honorable (yet futile) way to prolong the lives of the people she painted. Dina created an estimated 11 portraits during her time in Auschwitz.

Towards the end of the war when Soviet troops were approaching the concentration camp, the Germans fled and forced their Jewish prisoners to take a death march from the camp. She and her mother survived and were ultimately liberated. Dina settled in Prague where she met and married Arthur Babbitt, who ironically was the lead animator of the character ‘Dopey’. Dina moved to Hollywood, and from then on worked as an assistant animator for Jay Ward Productions, Warner Brothers, and MGM. She has illustrated such characters as Daffy Duck, Wile E. Coyote, Speedy Gonzalez, and Cap’N Crunch.

However, in 1963 the Auschwitz State Museum (a Polish-funded museum located on the site of the former death camp) purchased 6 of Dina’s paintings from a local resident, and later the museum acquired a 7th. In 1973 museum officials identified Babbitt as the painter of the works (as they were all signed by her)  and contacted the artist. Dina immediately flew to Poland expecting to take her paintings home with her.

That didn’t turn out to be the case.

The museum officials told Dina she could not take them, so she tried again in 1997 to obtain possession of her property. This time she was accompanied by Katie Couric and a camera crew from NBC-TV’s Today Show. However, the museum denied her once more. Says Dina of the paintings, “It’s like a part of my heart is still in Auschwitz.”

“Over the years the Auschwitz Museum has offered several explanations for it’s refusal to return the paintings to Dina. The museum has claimed that the educational value of displaying the paintings outweighs Dina’s right to them. Dina has pointed out that the same educational goal would be achieved by displaying high quality reproductions. In fact, during her visit in 1997, Dina found that some of her Gypsy portraits on display were reproductions, NOT originals. The museum rotates the originals with reproductions.

The museum has asserted that returning Dina’s paintings might encourage other Holocaust survivors to seek the return of their property from museums, thus depriving museums of some artifacts. But it has not explained why a museum’s right to display a particular item should necessarily trump an individuals right to his or her property.

Officials of the Auschwitz Museum have been quoted as claiming that Dr. Mengele is the legal owner of the paintings. In response, 50 prominent attorneys sent a letter to the museum, calling that claim “preposterous and offensive.” Their letter noted: “A war criminal does not deserve to enjoy the fruits of his crimes. Mrs. Babbitt was coerced, on pain of death, to paint these portraits. She did not voluntarily enter into a business relationship with Mengele. He cannot be regarded as a patron who commissioned the art work.”

In 2001, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution, sponsored by Rep. Shelly Berkley of Nevada, recognizing “the moral right of Dina Babbitt to obtain the artwork she created” and urging the President and the Secretary of State “to make all efforts necessary to retrieve” the paintings. The resolution also instructed the State Department to undertake “immediate diplomatic efforts” to secure the return of the artwork.

But the Polish government and the Auschwitz Museum have ignored the Congressional resolution and the State Department has not applied the pressure necessary to resolve the problem.

Meanwhile, the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, a research and education institute in Washington, D.C., mobilized 450 cartoonists and comic book creators from around the world to sign a petition to the museum, urging a return of the paintings.

As Dina’s struggle has become known, many people have written to the museum (muzeum@auschwitz.org.pl) in support of her cause. But despite the growing tide of public sympathy for Dina, the Auschwitz Museum has refused to yield.

And so Dina, now 84, continues to wait and hope that one day, the museum will realize the wrong it has committed and will finally give back her paintings.

How long will this outrage continue? How long will the international community accept this injustice? How much more suffering must Dinah Babbitt endure?”

This quote is taken from the 6 page comic that tells Dina’s story in the back of X-Men: Magneto Testament #5. It was written by Rafael Medoff, penciled by Neal Adams, and inked by Neal and Joe Kubert. Stan Lee wrote the afterword.

Please take a moment to e-mail the Auschwitz Museum in support of Dina.

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