Witness to Nazi horrors

I knew I was painting for my life: The Holocaust artworks of Marianne Grant. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow. tel 0141 287 2650 until June 30

When Steven Spielberg's film Schindler's List was released, many people commented on how moved they were by the opening sequence, featuring a little girl in a red coat in an otherwise monochrome setting.

Some 50 years earlier, a young Jewish artist named Marianne Hermannova was also attracted by a splash of red. Now Dead Body of a Young Woman with Red Hair inside Bergen-Belsen amidst Birch Trees in Spring forms part of an extraordinary exhibition which has opened at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow.

In fact, that delicate watercolour of the red haired woman, naked and emaciated, is probably the most poignant of all the paintings and sketches that feature in the show, which, not surprisingly, has been moving many people to tears.

Marianne was an art student in Prague when the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia. In 1942, she and her mother were deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto, then to Auschwitz, later to a slave labour camp in Hamburg and, finally, to Bergen-Belsen, just 10 days before it was liberated. During that time, Marianne never stopped painting and drawing.

In the ghetto, she sketched the dummy customers and musicians at the propaganda cafe that was set up for visits by the Red Cross, to show how well the Jews were being treated.

At Auschwitz, where she encountered Dr Josef Mengele, Marianne created a jolly frieze of Snow White and Mickey Mouse for the children's block.

Digging trenches in Hamburg, she exchanged brightly coloured caricatures for sandwiches and apples.

In Bergen-Belsen, where starving prisoners were shot at when they tried to dig for beetroot, Marianne sketched the dead. "It was crazy," she says, "but I saw beauty even in dead bodies." When the British army liberated the camp on April 15, 1945, she sketched that, too. Her pencil drawing of the first jeep to roll into the camp is still splashed with Bergen-Belsen mud.

She also captured Germans made to drag away dead bodies and the historic moment When the last hut was burned.

"My art helped me survive," she says. In fact, the title of the exhibition, I knew I was painting for my life, is taken from her encounter with Mengele.

Marianne met Jack Grant, a German Jewish refugee, in Sweden after the war and they married and moved to Glasgow in 1951, where she still lives with her children and grandchildren.

Her art work, including examples from her Prague college days and the textiles she designed and sold in Sweden - which are also included in the show and of which she is equally proud - had been stored in a trunk in her attic for the past 50 years. Research that Glasgow Museums' curator, Deborah Hasse, was carrying out for another project led her to Marianne's house and the discovery of this extraordinary Holocaust testament.

At the opening of the exhibition, Marianne said: "I hope that, through my art, there is a message to our young and not so young, a message to respect and tolerate different religions, cultures, nations, colours and races so that no one should ever experience a Holocaust again."

A catalogue and 18-minute video interview with Marianne accompany the show.

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