Dina Babbit, Who Fought For Her Auschwitz Paintings, Passes Away; Museum Refused To Return Them; Family Will Continue The Struggle

News Release
July 30, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Mrs. Dina Babbitt, who fought unsuccessfully for more than three decades for the return of portraits that she painted in Auschwitz, passed away on Wednesday, at age 85, in Felton, California. She had suffered from cancer for several years.

The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, which has been leading the fight for the return of Mrs. Babbitt’s paintings, will continue its efforts to persuade Poland’s Auschwitz State Museum to return the paintings to the Babbitt family.

Renowned comic book artist Neal Adams, who together with Wyman Institute director Dr. Rafael Medoff recently created a comic strip about Mrs. Babbitt, said:

“Dina Babbitt’s passing is a double tragedy–a tragedy for Dina and her family, that she passed away without ever regaining the paintings that saved her life in Auschwitz; and a tragedy for the art world, that a museum has cruelly trampled the principle of an artist’s right to her artwork. It is a tragic example of a state-sponsored institution assuming self-proclaimed and unlawful rights against the moral and lawful rights of the individual creator.

“Everyone is heartsick that we couldn’t do more to reverse this tragedy before Dina could no longer carry on the fight. Now we will fight for her family and justice once removed.

“Dina was an inspiration to everyone who cares about justice. As a Jew who outlasted the Nazis, as a cartoonist who brought joy to an entire generation of American children, and as an artist who fought for the return of her artwork, her life embodied the principle of doing the right thing. We will do everything we can to continue Dina’s fight to persuade the Auschwitz State Museum to do the right thing, by returning the paintings to the Babbitt family.

“The Auschwitz State Museum does not even display all of Dina’s original paintings–some of the ones on display are high-quality reproductions. Why should the original paintings gather dust in some closet? There is no logical reason the originals cannot be returned to their rightful owners, the Babbitt family.”

While a prisoner in Auschwitz in 1944, Dina, then 19, was ordered by the war criminal Dr. Josef Mengele to paint portraits of Gypsies upon whom he was conducting experiments. Because they needed her to paint, the Nazis spared Dina’s life. She later immigrated to the United States, where she worked in Hollywood’s animation industry, drawing such beloved cartoon characters as Wily E. Coyote, Daffy Duck, and Tweety Bird. In the 1970s, seven of the Gypsy portraits resurfaced and were acquired by the Polish government-sponsored Auschwitz State Museum, but the museum refused to return any of the paintings to Dina.

The Adams-Medoff comic strip about Mrs. Babbitt (with additional art by Joe Kubert and a foreword by longtime Marvel Comics publisher Stan Lee), titled “The Last Outrage,” was published recently by Marvel Comics and turned into a motion comic by the Walt Disney Company, which included in its re-release of the DVDs of “Anne Frank,” “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” and “A Beautiful Life.”

In recent years, the Wyman Institute, together with comic art publisher J. David Spurlock of Vanguard Productions, organized a series of petitions to the Auschwitz Museum in support of Mrs. Babbitt, including one by 450 comic book artists and writers from around the world; one by 50 prominent attorneys emphasizing Mrs. Babbitt’s legal right to the paintings; and one by prominent museum officials, curators, and painters.