Bearing Witness: Stories Behind the Artifacts in the Yad Vashem Museum Collection

Album of drawings and portraits made by Gabriel Cohen while imprisoned in the Vapniarka camp

The transport of political prisoners from the Targu-Jiu camp to the Vapniarca camp in Transnistria in November 1942The transport of political prisoners from the Targu-Jiu camp to the Vapniarca camp in Transnistria in November 1942   More photos

Gabriel Cohen (b. 1902) joined the Socialist youth movement in Constantsa, Romania while in his teens. The subversive ideas suited his adventurous nature, and in 1921 he joined the Romanian Communist Party.

Thanks to his writing and drawing talents, he quickly became the editor and illustrator of the underground newspaper Scînteia (“The Spark”) and later set up a clandestine printing press where the newspaper was printed, along with other anti-war and anti-government materials that were distributed throughout the country. When his underground activities were discovered he was arrested at the printing press, which was located in the basement of a building in Bucharest. He was sent to prison in Doftana, and from there he was transferred to the Târgu Jiu concentration camp.

With the outbreak of war, Gabriel was sent with other Jews accused of anti-fascist activities to the Vapniarka camp in Transnistria.

While there, Gabriel sketched scenes of daily camp life on paper he found in the metal products factory where he was a forced laborer. He also drew portraits of his fellow prisoners, and various events that took place in the camp. When the camp was evacuated, he took his drawings with him and after the war an album of his work was displayed in the Jewish wing of the National Museum in Bucharest, Romania. During the Ceausescu regime, the Jewish department of the museum was closed and the exhibits were hidden. A few of the exhibits, among them the album, were given to Yad Vashem representatives who traveled  to Romania in 1996 to collect artifacts.

Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection