100 years since birth of artist who portrayed Mengele’s victims

Dina Gottliebová-Babbitt

It was her skill as an artist that saved Brno-born Dina Gottliebová-Babbittová from death in Auschwitz’s gas chamber. She was protected by the angel of death himself, SS doctor Josef Mengele.

Dina Gottliebová-Babbitt | Photo: Wikimedia Commons,  Fair Use

The Czech-American artist was born on January 21, 1923. During the Nazi occupation period she was kicked out of her studies at the local art school because she was a Jew. Then, in 1942, Gottlieb was transported into the Terezín Ghetto. A year later, she was sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

The camp’s wardens soon recognised her talent and would ask her to create replicas of various photographs and paintings in exchange for an extra food ration. She was then selected to act as a portrait artist for Josef Mengele, who wanted her to photograph the victims that he would conduct his experiments on. Mengele didn’t like the photographs of Roma prisoners because he thought their skin colour was not sufficiently depicted on the images. Gottlieb therefore had to paint watercolour copies of the photographs with just the right shade of brown to satisfy the SS doctor. Mengele planned to use 11 of the portraits in his pseudoscientific monograph about the Roma.

Dr. Mengele at Auschwitz  (in the middle) | Photo: Karl-Friedrich Höcker,  Yad Vashem,  public domain

After being rescued from Auschwitz, Dina Gottlieb travelled to Paris, where she met her future husband, American animator Art Babitt. The couple moved to California, where Gottlieb-Babitt would work as an artist for Hollywood studios such as Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbera. She took part in creating the look of famous cartoon characters such as Wile E. Coyote and Tweety.

Gottlieb was also one of the artists interviewed in the 1988 documentary “From Bitter Earth - Artists of the Holocaust”. She died in 2009.

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