Dina Babbitt with a copy of one of the portraits she painted in Auschwitz
Annemarie Dina Gottliebová
January 21, 1923
|Died||July 29, 2009 (aged 86)|
Felton, California, U.S.
As Dina Gottliebová, she was imprisoned at Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II, where she drew portraits of Romani inmates for the infamous Dr. Mengele. Following the liberation of the camp and the end of the war, she emigrated to the United States and became an animator. At the time of her death, she had been fighting the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum for the return of her paintings.
She was featured alongside fellow concentration camp survivors and artists Jan Komski and Felix Nussbaum in the 1999 documentary film Eyewitness, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject.
Early Life and War
Annemarie Dina Gottliebová was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia (today the Czech Republic) to a Jewish family. In 1939, when the Germans invaded her homeland, she was living in Prague, where she had gone to study at the Academy of Fine Arts. In 1942, she and her mother, Johanna Gottlieb, were arrested and sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, outside Prague. The following year, they were transferred to Auschwitz.
In 1944, while in Auschwitz, the 21 year old Gottliebová was chosen by Mengele to draw portraits of Romani inmates. Mengele wished to capture the Romanis' skin coloration better than he could with camera and film at that time. Gottliebová agreed if her own mother's life were spared as well.
As of 2009, seven watercolors survive, all in the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. According to the museum's website, seven of her portraits of Romani inmates were discovered after World War II outside the Auschwitz camp in the early 1970s and sold to the museum by people who apparently did not know that Gottliebova was still alive and living in California as Dina Babbitt. The museum asked Babbitt to return to the Auschwitz site in 1973 to identify her work. After she did so, she was informed that the museum would not allow her to take her paintings home. Gottliebová-Babbitt formally requested the return of her paintings, but the museum rejected her claims.
The U.S. government became involved with House and Senate resolutions. The House version was authored by Representative Shelley Berkley. The Senate version was co-authored by Senator Barbara Boxer and former Senator Jesse Helms. Both became part of the Congressional Record in 2003 and passed unanimously.
In collaboration with Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, Neal Adams of the comic-book industry championed Babbitt's efforts. Using text from Medoff, Adams illustrated a six-page graphic documentary about Babbitt that was inked by Joe Kubert and contains an introduction by Stan Lee. Adams called the Babbitt situation "tragic" and "an atrocity".
In 2008, Adams, the Wyman Institute and Vanguard Publications publisher J. David Spurlock spearheaded a petition campaign in which over 450 comic book creators and cartoonists urged the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum to return Babbitt's seven portraits. A reprint of the graphic documentary and an account of Babbitt's plight were included in the final issue of the comic X-Men: Magneto Testament.
A group of students from Palo Alto High School, led by teacher David Rapaport, worked to help Babbitt by communicating with officials from the State Department to have the paintings returned, and by writing to individuals in the government. They have written a book about this experience.
She was the second wife of animator Art Babbitt (creator of Goofy). The couple had two daughters, Michele Kane and Karin Babbitt, and three grandchildren, all of whom have been active in pursuing Gottliebová-Babbitt's claims.
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