The beautiful, cubist-like mountainous landscape, not signed by the author, was created in Oflag VI B Dössel. That camp, organized in Nordhein-Westfalen, following its establishment in the fall of 1942, became one of the largest in which Polish officers were isolated during World War II. It was also a place of especially vibrant artistic activity. On 11 May 1942, a group of POWs interned there set up Confraternity of Artists, under the auspices of which, both graduates from the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow (Leon Jędrzejasz, Zbigniew Suchodolski and Tadeusz Fonferko) and a large group of talented amateurs were artistically active. Regular courses in painting and drawing were run there as well. The works which were created in Oflag VI B Dössel, although they were not always perfect in terms of artistic quality, today make precious documentation illustrating the POWs’ self-educational system. They also have a unique historical, social and cultural value. Besides, they provide a testimony to World War II and the POW system, and – at the same time – are a visible, material protest of subdued people, whom the Nazi totalitarian system endeavored to deprive of human dignity. The picture shown on the exhibition was painted by Bolesław Syrowatka, an amateur painter, who was one of the founders of the Confraternity of Artists. The landscape stands out with its bold composition and artistically thought-out manner of framing the topic, becoming one of the most interesting in the Museum’s collection of paintings, in the opinion of art critics. That it is also an item of exceptional historical significance and – at the same time – one of our most precious mementos, is because of its reverse. On the back side, beside the author’s name, there is the information that reads: “Things left behind the dead! Do not touch! At the time of an air raid on 27 IX 1944 Oflag VI B Dössel-Warburg.” On the night of 27 September 1944, bombers of the Allied Forces, targeting the railway station in Nörde, dropped a bomb onto Oflag VI B Dössel by mistake, killing 90 officers and wounding 230, including, among others, Brigadier General Wiktor Thommée, Colonel Bolesław Borkowski, Colonel Stefan Brzeszczyński and Major Władysław Steblik. In consequence of the bombing, six POWs’ bunkhouses, including the camp chapel and dayroom, were completely destroyed. The picture survived the fire to become a silent witness to one of the most tragic events connected with the captivity of Polish officers in the years of World War II. The information inserted on its reverse allows assuming that the POWs who had survived removed the rubble and retrieved things that belonged to their tragically killed mates. The personal belongings which were regained in this way were sent to the dead POWs’ families. This particular interesting mountainous landscape was brought to Poland after the end of World War II by Józef Kobylański, an animator of the cultural life and a collector of POWs’ mementos in Oflag VI B Dössel. The gouache, painted by Major Bolesław Syrowatka, became part of the exhibition entitled “Painting of Prisoners-of-War” and was reproduced in the publication which appeared in the series “The Catalogue of Collections” under the title Prisoners’-of-War Painting (from the collections of the Central Museum of Prisoners-of-War).
Prepared by: Beata Madej
Mountainous landscape – witness to the tragedy of Polish officers
Source of acquisition
The painting was donated by Józef Kobylański, a former POW in Oflag VI B Dössel.
Description of the item
Gouache made on paper of 70cm x 50cm, presenting a mountainous landscape in the form of geometric blocks. In the foreground, if features a lonely tree growing on rocks; deep inside there is a blue pond, behind which there are sharp rocky pinnacles.
CMJW jest instytucją kultury Samorządu Województwa Opolskiego,
współprowadzoną przez Ministra Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego