The Background for the Drawing By Lee Kessler (Artist)
"With the onslaught of the Russian Army and their advance on Austria and the Danube in late March 1945, the Germans evacuated Stalag XVII-B, marching those who could walk, on the road West. After a couple of weeks on the road, we passed a place called Mauthausen. We later learned it was a Concentration Camp, although at the time we knew little about them. Approaching us from the opposite direction was a group of prisoners from this camp who had been working in a quarry. They were Hungarian Jews and were guarded by the S.S. We were halted at the side of the road as these walking skeletons passed. Occasionally we heard the crack of pistols and knew what they were for. Those who fell and were too weak to get up were shot. The prisoners followed a wagon and loaded the bodies.
"I approached one of the bodies of a man shot in the head lying along the side of the road and noticed a crinkled photograph by his hand. As he lie, his arm stretched out as if to be reaching for the picture. I moved off the road for a better look at the photo and I was just about to pick it up, but a guard shouted for me to get back. The picture was of a women and two small children. As I glanced back, I saw that a butterfly had lit on him.
"I was obsessed with the scene. Here was this man, dead by the side of the road. The last thing he looked at was a picture of his family, probably his only possession, and where were they? Dead, or in some other camp? At that moment I could only think that everyone has the right to die with dignity, and here was a poor soul who died with such obscurity.
"Sometime in the 1950s, I started a sketch of a rough outline but put it away, since I felt no one would understand what I was trying to portray. Twenty years later, as I lie in the hospital, a nurse who knew me and my association with art suggested I do art work for therapy. I had my wife hunt for this sketch, bring me my pen and ink, and with the encouragement of the staff, I finished the picture.
"Like other pictures, I put it away feeling that no one but me could really understand it.
"In 1983, a POW Convention in Cleveland, when another POW was being interviewed, he related the story of how he saw a man fall. “While lying on the ground, he pulled a picture from his pocket, and as he kissed it the S.S. guard shot him.”