WASHINGTON, D.C.- Four hundred and fifty cartoonists and comic book creators from around the world have signed a petition urging a Polish museum to return eight portraits to the elderly California artist who painted them in Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp. The petition is the latest development in an ongoing international conflict over the paintings.
Mrs. Dina Babbitt, 83, now of Fenton, CA, was deported to Auschwitz as a teenager in 1943, but her life was spared after the war criminal Dr. Josef Mengele learned of a mural of Snow White that she had painted in the children’s barracks. Mengele ordered her to paint portraits of some of the victims of his savage medical experiments. In the 1970s, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, a Polish government institution on the site of the former death camp, acquired eight of the paintings, but refuses to give them back to Mrs. Babbitt.
Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, which organized the cartoonists’ petition, said: “Holocaust survivors have a right to reclaim their belongings. Four years ago, Congress declared that the paintings belong to Mrs. Babbitt, and instructed the State Department to intervene. Yet Poland refuses to budge, and the State Department has not acted. This must change.”
The Congressional resolution (Section 705 of PL 107-228) was sponsored by Rep. Shelly Berkley (D-Nevada), who has been the leader of Capitol Hill efforts for return of the paintings.
After the war, Mrs. Babbitt worked in Los Angeles for major animation studios, illustrating such well-known cartoon character as Wile E. Coyote, Speedy Gonzalez, Cap’n Crunch, Daffy Duck, and Tweety Bird.
Now her fellow-cartoonists are mobilizing on her behalf. The 450 signatories on the Wyman Institute’s petition include Stan Lee of Marvel Comics (co-creator of Spider-Man, the Hulk, and the X-Men); DC Comics president Paul Levitz; Pulitzer Prize winners Art Spiegelman and Michael Chabon; and the creators of such popular newspaper comic strips as “Beetle Bailey” and “For Better or For Worse.”
Although most of the artists are from the United States, there are also many signatories from Italy, France, Spain (including the president of the Spanish Comic Authors Association), Argentina, Brazil, Norway, Israel, Canada, England, and other countries.
Their petition, addressed to museum director Dr. Piotr Cywinski, declares in part:
“The fundamental principle that art belongs to the artist who created it is recognized everywhere except in totalitarian countries. One would hope that Poland, having been liberated from totalitarian rule, would not revert to the mentality that regards everything as the property of the state.
“We agree that the display of Mrs. Babbitt’s artwork is of great educational value, and we are pleased that the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum recognizes their importance. But that educational purpose could just as easily be achieved by displaying high-quality reproductions of the paintings, while returning the originals to their creator and rightful owner. Mrs. Babbitt has suffered enough. We implore you to do the right thing and give her back her paintings.”
The petition was spearheaded by veteran DC Comics artist and editor Joe Kubert, whose acclaimed graphic novel “Yossel,” features a teenage artist whose life is spared by the Nazis so he can draw cartoons for them; his son Andy Kubert, the current artist on the “Batman” comic book; and his son Adam Kubert, the current artist on “Superman.”
Other signatories include:
* Joe Quesada, editor in chief of Marvel Comics; Nick Meglin, coeditor of MAD magazine; and Rick Stromkowski, president of the National Cartoonists Society.
* The artists and writers on numerous newspaper comic strips, including Beetle Bailey, For Better or For Worse, Family Circus, Hagar the Horrible, Mutts, Big Nate, Brenda Starr, Alley Oop, The Phantom, and Flash Gordon.
* Animators from such hit movies as “The Little Mermaid” and “The Ant Bully.”
* Legendary comic book artists Neal Adams and Jim Steranko.
* Famed science fiction writers Harlan Ellison and Michael Moorcock.
For the complete text of the petition and the signatories, click here.