In 1979, at the age of 56, Italian writer and artist Arturo Benvenuti and his wife drove across Europe in a motor home in search of former prisoners of Nazi concentration camps. He saw the journey as a secular Via Crucis—a pilgrimage in which the Stations of the Cross were Auschwitz, Terezin, Mauthausen and Buchenwald. He met with dozens of concentration camp survivors, many of whom shared not only their stories but the artwork they created in the camp.
Benvenuti originally published those drawings in 1983, under the title KZ, the German acronym for Konzentrationslager, or concentration camp. He chose drawings only from people who had a direct experience with the camps. Most were drawn by internees during their time in the camps, though a few were drawn by soldiers who entered the camp as liberators.
The drawings vary in their skill, but not in their power. Some are the work of professional artists. Most are the work of what Benvenuti describes as “bonafide ‘naifs”. A few were made by children. Primo Levi summed up their effect in the foreword, saying that words are insufficient to describe the horrors of the camps but these drawings “say what the word is not able to.”
Benvenuti’s work has recently been released in a new edition, titled Imprisoned: Drawings from Nazi Concentration Camps. The new edition includes several poems by Benvenuti and several explanatory essays but leaves the arrangement of the drawings untouched and uninterpreted. As Benvenuti intended, the book is both a work of art and an act of testimony.
This review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers.