WARSAW, Poland — Polish prosecutors are investigating a Swedish artist's claim that he used the ashes of Holocaust victims to make a painting, an act that could carry a prison term.
The artist, Carl Michael von Hausswolff, wrote on the website of a gallery in Lund, Sweden, last year that he made a painting using ashes that he took from crematorium furnaces in Majdanek, a former Nazi German death camp located in eastern Poland, on a visit there in 1989.
Spokeswoman Beata Syk-Jankowska said today that local prosecutors have opened an investigation to check whether there is truth to the artist's claim. She said there is no evidence and prosecutors are acting on media reports. Swedish investigators will be asked for assistance in gathering evidence, she said.
It could be difficult, even impossible, to determine whether von Hausswolff is telling the truth or staging a publicity stunt. If he did actually use the ashes, it would likely be extremely offensive to Holocaust survivors and many others. He also could be charged in Poland with desecrating human ashes or a resting place and face up to eight years in prison.
In 1989, there were still some human ashes remaining in furnaces from World War II from the burning of the Nazi's victims. Removing any ash would be a crime, but there were no security cameras on the site at the time to register such an action, Agnieszka Kowalczyk, a spokeswoman for the museum at the site, told The Associated Press.
The AP has made multiple attempts to get comment from the artist's gallery, but in one case the owner refused comment and today no one answered the phone. The exhibition closed in December in reaction to the scandal involving the painting, which Polish media have described as small with just brown and gray lines.
Between 1941 and 1944, some 150,000 people were held at the Majdanek camp. An estimated 80,000 of them died, most of whom were Jewish.