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Poland Probes Artist's Use of Holocaust Victims' Ashes

Polish prosecutors have launched an investigation into a Swedish artist's claims that he used the ashes of Holocaust victims in his artwork.
By Rachel Hirshfeld
First Publish: 1/8/2013, 11:02 PM

Yad Vashem
Yad Vashem
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Polish prosecutors have launched an investigation into a Swedish artist's claims that he used the ashes of Holocaust victims in his artwork, an official said Tuesday.

The artist, Carl Michael von Hausswolff, claims he stole ashes from a crematorium at Nazi Germany's Majdanek concentration camp in Poland in 1989 then used them in one of his paintings by mixing them with water.

"The prosecution opened an investigation into this matter Monday," Beata Syk-Jankowska, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office in Lublin, told AFP.

The probe centers around potential charges of desecration of the dead or stealing human remains, crimes punishable up to eight years in Poland.

The statute of limitations for such acts normally carry a maximum of 15 years.

The artist said the black-and-white painting, featuring vertical brushstrokes in a rectangle, represented the suffering of the victims, "people tortured, tormented and murdered by other people in one of the most ruthless wars of the 20th century," AFP reported.

The piece, entitled "Memory Works", was exhibited at a gallery in Lund, in southern Sweden, in December, but was later shut down after protests from the Jewish community and the Simon-Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish rights group that combats anti-Semitism.

After a member of the public filed a police complaint against Von Hausswolff on December 5 for "disturbing the peace of the dead", calling the artwork a "desecration of human remains", Swedish police opened an investigation, but dropped it for lack of evidence since the offence was committed abroad.

"We're going to address the Swedish justice system to get more details for this investigation," Syk-Jankowska told AFP.

Historians working for the museum estimate that some 80,000 prisoners, of which 60,000 were Jews, were executed in the camp's gas chambers, or killed as a result of malnutrition or sheer exhaustion.

In total, 150,000 people were imprisoned by the Nazis in the Majdanek camp between 1941 and 1944.