The Last Expression: Art and Auschwitz

September 27–December 8, 2002

The Last Expression: Art and Auschwitz explored the role of visual arts in concentration camps. Focusing on Auschwitz, it considered artists who were either prisoners there or were sent there from other parts of Europe. Some survived; many were murdered. More than other camps or ghettos, Auschwitz has been seen as a symbol of Nazi atrocities and its name has become synonymous with Nazi crimes against humanity.

Although it is known mainly as a death camp and work camp, Auschwitz also had an active cultural life. It was one of the few camps to run an art studio with printing presses, a painting studio, a museum for the display of art and cultural artifacts and was characterized by an active black market in the trade of art for goods needed for survival.

Art served as a means of survival for artist-prisoners. Some artists worked under the auspices of the Nazi authorities, and created works of art to decorate the barracks, document racial types, illustrate manuals or make landscapes or portraits and other traditional genre. Artists who were able to find work in the studio were sometimes spared the hard physical labor that was the demise of many prisoners. Ironically, however, their work sometimes helped perpetuate and reinforce Nazi policies. Other artists worked secretly and created artworks that served as small acts of indirect or explicit resistance. At times works were smuggled out of the concentration camps and used as evidence to inform the world of the atrocities of the concentration camp.

The Last Expression website

In the fall of 2000, the Block Museum and Northwestern University Information Technology launched a media-rich website for The Last Expression: Art and Auschwitz. For three years prior to the site’s launch, the museum engaged in the research and organization of more than two hundred paintings, drawings, prints, illustrated diaries, musical manuscripts, sculpture and other artworks created by those imprisoned or murdered at Auschwitz. A vast majority of art produced in the camp had never been published or analyzed and, therefore, remained largely unknown.

The project was designed to give voice to those who were denied public expression, to integrate the vast subject of art produced by victims into the mainstream of Holocaust studies, and to understand how these works contribute to our knowledge of the history of World War II and the history of art. The website was also designed to employ new network technologies in the delivery of media-rich content, and to model how a museum can provide new experiences and ever-changing content to a worldwide audience.

The Last Expression website is no longer active; however, parties interested in obtaining more information about the project can contact a museum representative at