Before us rises a demon with the face of a beautiful woman adorned with jewels, with the repulsive torso of a monster with many unimaginable reptile heads. In their maws and serpentine tentacles squirm the murdered skeletons of powerless human beings. Four apocalyptic horsemen rage on spectral horses. In the shape of depraved lovers, the horror of crime wades through the piles of skeletons. A monstrous louse consumes piles of prisoners.
(Jolanta Kupiec, “Słowa - obrazy Mariana Kołodzieja” [Words: Marian Kołodziej’s Images] Pro Memoria 9, 1998)
Labyrinths is a catalogue and album from an exhibition by Marian Kołodziej, a painter and prominent Polish stage designer. As prisoner no. 432, he was in the Auschwitz camp from the first day of its existence (June 14, 1940) to the last. He remained silent about his Auschwitz experiences for fifty years. Only in the mid 1990s did he speak out as a result of illness, when his doctors prescribed drawing as part of the rehabilitation of his hand.
Thus he began working on “Memory Images: Labyrinths.” He uses words and the images that make up the frames of memory to lead us into his grim vision, a labyrinth of memories of what he experienced.
For several years, the exhibition has been on show in the basement of the Franciscan church in Harmęże, near Oświęcim.
In the introduction, Kołodziej writes that “this is not art., it is not pictures, it is not words captured in drawings. Art is helpless in the face of what man did to man. Read my sketched words that spring, as well, from a longing for clear criteria, for a legible separation of good from evil, truth from falsehood, art from the pretense of art. This is also my dissent from the world as it is today. It is also about us, about what we have done with our personhood-a pretext for thinking about and drawing conclusions that are important to us today. This is an old man’s letter to his younger self of 55 years earlier. It is also homage to all of those who ended up as ashes.”
'Marian Kołodziej’s Labyrinths'
Publisher: Wydawnictwo Diecezji Pelplińskiej Bernardinum, Zakon oo. Franciszkanów (OFMConv)
Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, 2003
99 p. 30 x 32 cm, hardback