Auschwitz survivor's art on show in the Netherlands

An exhibiton of 21 paintings by Polish Auschwitz survivor Marian Kołodziej opened on Friday at the World War Two-dedicated Gdynia Museum in Axel, the Netherlands. Painted over 16 years, they were inspired by Kołodziej's tortuous experiences in the Auschwitz camp.

The paintings are part of a larger exhibition of Kołodziej's work titled "Memory Reels. Labyrinth," on show in the cellars of a Franciscan church forming part of the St. Maksymilian Kolbe Centre in Harmęże near Oświęcim (Auschwitz) in southern Poland. A part of the Oświęcim display is devoted to Maksymilian Kolbe, a Polish priest and Auschwitz inmate who offered up his life in exchange for another prisoner's.

Marian Kołodziej was an artist and scenographer. After the outbreak of World War Two, he unsuccessfully tried to reach the Polish army in France, but was arrested by the German Gestapo security police in June 1940 and deported to Auschwitz in the first transport of Polish prisoners to the camp. Subsequently, Kołodziej was also incarcerated in the German concentration camps Gross-Rosen, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Mauthausen-Gusen.

After the war he graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, southern Poland, and pursued an artistic career, mainly as a scenographer for theatres in Gdańsk and Warsaw. He also made the altars used by Pope John Paul II in Gdańsk during his 1987 and 1999 visits to Poland.

Kołodziej painted the pictures making up the "Memory Reels. Labyrinth" exhibition as part of his rehab treatment following a 1992 stroke. He died in 2009 and is buried in a crypt in the Kolbe Centre in Harmęże.

The Germans opened the Auschwitz camp in 1940, initially for the imprisonment of Poles. Its sub-section Auschwitz II-Birkenau opened two years later and became the main site of the Holocaust. There was also a network of sub-camps in the complex. The Germans killed at least 1.1 million people at Auschwitz, mainly Jews, but also Poles, Roma and Soviet PoWs. A state museum opened on the site of the former camp in 1947.