Claim that Mengele owned pictures painted by his victims

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A leading Holocaust research institute is challenging a museum's suggestion that paintings created by an Auschwitz prisoner really belong to the infamous Nazi war criminal, Dr. Josef Mengele.

The controversy concerns portraits that Mengele forced Auschwitz prisoner Dina Babbitt to paint of Gypsy prisoners on whom he was performing sadistic medical experiments.  (Mrs. Babbitt, now 83, resides in northern California.)  The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, in Poland, later acquired seven of the paintings from a private source but has refused to return them to Mrs. Babbitt on the grounds that they are a necessary part of the museum's exhibits.

But now, in a surprising twist, the new director of the Auschwitz museum is strongly implying that the paintings belong to Dr. Mengele.  In an email to Maura McDermott of the Newark-Star Ledger, director Piotr Cywinski wrote that the paintings "have never been [Mrs. Babbitt's] property. They were made on the order and for the use of ... Mengele."  (Toronto Star, Nov. 11, 2006)

Cywinski's statement is reminiscent of a letter Mrs. Babbitt received from an official of the Auschwitz Museum in 1973, in which he wrote, "if anyone has a right to these paintings, it's Dr. Mengele, but I doubt he will pick them up." (KLAS-TV, Dec. 3, 2001)

Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, said:  "The museum's implication is shocking and offensive.  Josef Mengele was an infamous war criminal, not a patron of the arts.  He did not commission the portraits--he ordered her to paint them, and she knew Mengele could murder her if she refused.  A war criminal does not deserve to enjoy the fruits of his crimes.  The paintings do not belong to Mengele or his heirs--they belong to the painter, Dina Babbitt."

In 2002, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution, sponsored by Congresswoman Shelly Berkley (D-NV), urging the museum to return the paintings to Mrs. Babbitt and instructing the State Department to intervene on her behalf.

The Wyman Institute is now organizing an international petition by attorneys and legal scholars, challenging the museum's suggestion that the paintings belong to Mengele.  The petition drive is being spearheaded by Thane Rosenbaum, Professor of Human Rights Law at the Fordham University School of Law, and Harry Reicher,
Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and author of the forthcoming book, 'Holocaust Law: Materials and Commentary.'

The Wyman Institute recently mobilized 450 cartoonists, animators and comic book artists from around the world to sign a petition supporting Mrs. Babbitt.  (It was Mrs. Babbitt's painting of a Snow White mural on the children's barracks at Auschwitz which resulted in Mengele ordering her to paint the Gypsy portraits.  After the war, Mrs. Babbitt worked for many years as an animator for Warner Brothers and other cartoon producers, drawing such famous characters as Tweety Bird, Daffy Duck, Wile E. Coyote, and Cap'n Crunch.)

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