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At the heart of the art collection are works which have been given to the memorial by camp survivors since the 1950s. A systematic effort to collect relevant works of art began in the 1970s. The works are divided into various categories, including works executed by inmates while held in the camps, works by former inmates, works executed for memorials and works by contemporary artists who have grappled with what has been called the “rupture of civilization” under National Socialism.
The art collection currently encompasses more than 1,700 objects, including approximately 600 sketches, studies and paintings produced in a variety of techniques and dating from the years of the camp's operation, 350 drawings, prints, paintings and sculptures executed after 1945, and approximately 400 contemporary artworks.
In addition to the works relating directly to the camp context and executed while the camp was in operation or in retrospect, the art collection also comprises drawings and prints produced previously or outside the camps in Germany or in exile, among them some 100 sketches by the Frenchman Paul Goyard dating from World War I and 100 drawings by Alfred Ahner (on permanent loan from the Ahner Foundation) executed in Weimar between 1920 and 1945.
Sketches, drawings and small-scale paintings in pencil, ink, watercolour and oil on paper, cardboard, plywood and canvas as well as wooden sculptures from Buchenwald, Mittelbau-Dora and other concentration camps form the core of the art collection. Owing to the circumstances surrounding their execution, most of the works were made with inferior materials and thus require special conservatorial supervision. Examples include drawing series by Maria Brzęcka-Kosk, José Fosty, Paul Goyard, Karol Konieczny, Henri Pieck and Karl Schulz, individual works by Dominik Černy, Flemming Hinsch and Herbert Sandberg, and sculptures by Bruno Apitz.
Works executed by survivors after the war include drawings and installations by Józef Szajna, drawing series by Nachum Bandel, Leonid Carizynskij and Max Lingner, print series by Hermann Bruse, José Fosty, Gaston Gentillon, Hans Grundig and Herbert Sandberg, sculptures by Walter Spitzer and Fischel Libermann, and a wall hanging by Anne Aknin. The room installation Reminiscences by Józef Szajna is on permanent loan to the collection.
Among the works of sculpture and printmaking executed for memorials are examples by Theo Balden, Fritz Cremer, René Graetz, Hans Kies, Waldemar Grzimek, Johann-Peter Hinz, Will Lammert, Heinz Scharr, Wieland Schmiedel, Siegfried Tschierschky and Erich Wurzer.
The contemporary works encompass pieces by Jürgen Brodwolf, Naomi Tereza Salmon, Esther Shalev-Gerz, Rosemarie Kočzÿ, Klaus Steinke, Jenny Stolzenberg, Franz Anatol Wyss and others.
A fund has been established for the acquisition, restoration, conservation and reproduction of artworks.