Holocaust Sketches Donated To Imperial War Museum

By Richard Moss | 15 May 2007
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a pencil self portrait of a man in a cap and jacket with an open necked shirt

A self-portrait of Brian Stonehouse done using a mirror (his signature is reversed). Picture courtesy St Edmundsbury Heritage Service.

Moving war sketches drawn by an Ipswich artist and former Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp are to be donated to the Imperial War Museum after they were unearthed with the help of St Edmundsbury Heritage Service.

The pencil and pastel sketches drawn by Brian Stonehouse during the Second World War were unearthed during a workshop held by Moyse’s Hall Museum in 2005.

The session at the Bury St Edmunds branch of the Royal British Legion was designed to find material and memories for an exhibition commemorating the end of the war.

a pencil sketch of a bedstead with clothes thrown over the end

Picture courtesy St Edmundsbury Heritage Service.

Dale Stonehouse from Bury St Edmunds brought in a carrier bag full of his brother’s fascinating sketches and drawings, which provide a unique record of some of the inmates imprisoned in some of the world’s most notorious concentration camps, including Dachau.

“I think this is a very important discovery,” explained Peter Jones, Heritage Officer at St Edmundsbury Borough Council. “This is one of the key roles Local Authority Museums do. We’re out there at the front involving work with communities and every so often something amazing like this comes in.”

The pictures, which have been hidden away since the end of the war, are now to be donated to the Imperial War Museum where some of them will be displayed in the permanent Holocaust exhibition at the Museum’s main site at Lambeth in London.

a pencil sketch of a man with blue eyes wearing a sweater

SOE Agent 'Pat O' Leary' survived repeated torture, several concentration camps and a death sentence by the time of his liberation at Dachau in April 1945. Picture courtesy St Edmundsbury Heritage Service.

Miss Margot Stonehouse and her brother Dale said: “Brian always said he wanted people to know about the horrors of concentration camps so that it did not happen again.”

Mr and Miss Stonehouse will present the sketches to representatives from the Imperial War Museum on May 22 at Moyse’s Hall Museum to help mark Museums and Galleries Month 2007.

Brian Stonehouse’s wartime story and survival is remarkable. Having trained as a radio operator for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in July 1942 he was parachuted into France, a country in which he had spent his early childhood.

a pencil sketch of a cat in a notebook

Picture courtesy St Edmundsbury Heritage Service.

After being captured by the French Vichy Police he was deported to Germany and eventually imprisoned in Dachau concentration camp, where he initially tried to keep his sketches secret for fear of being punished. However, when his talent was discovered, guards began asking him to draw sketches of them and this saved him from heavy manual work and helped keep him alive.

“His art saved him,” added Peter. “Once his Nissen hut commander discovered he could draw, the German guards got him to draw themselves and their families. The irony was that after his release he knew how to identify all of them and became a key witness at the Nuremberg Trials.”

Amongst the many fascinating portraits in the collection is a sketch of the Belgian Allied agent Albert-Marie Edmond Guérisse who went under the alias Pat O’ Leary. Until his capture and torture and incarceration in Dachau, Guérisse ran one of the biggest escape and evasion lines of World War Two. Like Stonehouse he survived the war when American troops liberated Dachau in April 1945 - just before a death sentence was carried out on him.

a pencil portrait of man with a cap short sleeved shirt and neckerchief

A portrait of Bob Sheppard, a friend of Brian’s who survived with him in various concentration camps. Picture courtesy St Edmundsbury Heritage Service.

Beyond the portraits a recurring motif in the sketches is the presence of what Stonehouse cryptically referred to in his diary as “sleek grey cats”. It is thought they probably survived at the camp by feeding off scraps and perhaps the mortal remains of the prisoners.

After his liberation on April 29 1945 Stonehouse was employed by the Americans to draw and record Dachau concentration camp for their records. Just two days after his release he was back in the camp, sketching everything from the Nissen huts to the gas ovens. An entry in his diary recounts that he was “...in the ovens while they were still warm.”

After the war, he visited General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe and later 34th President of the United States, and the collection brought to light by Moyse’s Hall includes a personally dedicated photograph from him.

a fashion drawing showing a woman in a fashionable coat and trouser suit

After the war Stonehouse went on to work as a fashion artist working for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Elizabeth Arden in America. Picture courtesy St Edmundsbury Heritage Service.

Mr Stonehouse went on to develop his professional career in America as a fashion artist working for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Elizabeth Arden. He returned home to England in 1979 to paint portraits. Sitters included the late Queen Mother, who sat for him several times at Clarence House. He died in 1998 aged 80.

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