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Yad Vashem The Story of the Jewish Community of Plonsk

Leo (Lev) Haas

"We were four painters working in a group. Often in the night, we drew starving prisoners, transports of children, scenes of hanging. We built very safe hideouts in the ghetto [for our paintings]."
  • Emil Eisler, Nisko Camp, 1940
  • Hans (Jean) Lenthal, Mauthausen, 1945
  • Oskar Fuchs, Theresienstadt Ghetto, 1943
  • Leo Holzer, Theresienstadt Ghetto, 1943
  • Captain Josef Klaber, Theresienstadt Ghetto, 1943
  • Portrait of a Man Wearing Glasses, Theresienstadt Ghetto, 1943
  • Portrait of a Man Wearing Glasses, Theresienstadt Ghetto, 1943
  • Portrait of a Man, Theresienstadt Ghetto, 1943
  • Portrait of a Woman, Theresienstadt Ghetto, 1944

Born in Opava, Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1901. Died in Berlin, East Germany, in 1983.

Haas graduated from the art academies of Karlsruhe and of Berlin. From 1925 to 1938, he lived in Vienna and Opava, and concentrated on portraiture. Due to his affiliation to the Communist Party, he was arrested in 1939, and deported to the Nisko Labor Camp. From there, he was conscripted to forced labor at Ostrava. In September, 1942, he was deported to the Theresienstadt Ghetto. There, he was assigned to the Technical Department, where artists were forced to illustrate propaganda material for the Germans. Along with other artists, he secretly painted life in the ghetto. Following the Red Cross visit, in the summer of 1944, the artists were accused of smuggling out of the ghetto their "gruesome" art. Haas was arrested with a group of artists and imprisoned in the "Small Fortress", where he was brutally tortured. In October 1944, he was transported to Auschwitz and a month later to Sachsenhausen. There, he was assigned to counterfeiting currency as part of "Operation Bernhard", a scheme to crash the Allied economies. In February 1945, the group of counterfeiters were transported to Mauthausen and then to Ebensee, where they were liberated.

After the war, Haas returned to Terezín, where he found some 400 of the artworks he had hidden. Thereafter he lived in Prague, and worked as a newspaper editor and caricaturist. In 1955, he moved to East Berlin, where he was a university art professor and worked in the film industry.

The portrait from the Nisko labor camp constitutes rare visual documentation of one of the inmate leaders. The portraits drawn in the Theresienstadt Ghetto were created in a caricaturistic style. At the bottom of some of the artworks, the artist noted an attribute characteristic of the sitter. Most of those portrayed signed their names. The colorful portrait from Mauthausen is of Hans Lenthal, a friend of Haas from the counterfeiting group.

Yad Vashem holds 21 of the artist's portraits in its collection.