Memoir

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Belsen and Nuremberg

Topolski visited Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in north-west Germany two weeks after its liberation in April 1945, attached to a unit of the Polish army. Later in the year, he was an official war artist at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg.

From the end of 1944 as Allied forces advanced on Germany the Nazis evacuated thousands of Jewish prisoners to Bergen- Belsen, where conditions rapidly deteriorated. When the British army liberated the camp they found thousands of dead and dying prisoners and despite their best efforts, more than 10,000 prisoners died after liberation.

Topolski has painted one of the mass graves he saw at Belsen. Unusually for him, he photographed some of the scenes he witnessed, feeling that his drawings might not be believed.

Topolski has included in the Century some of the senior Nazi leaders who were tried by the victorious Allied powers at Nuremberg for war crimes. Twelve of those convicted were sentenced to death. These included Hermann Goering, Hans Frank, Alfred Rosenberg and Julius Streicher. Goering committed suicide but the remainder were hanged. Seven others were sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment. Topolski has named all the Nazis leaders he has included — Goering, who held a particular fascination for Topolski, is painted three times.

As if to contrast his public and private life, and the horrors of the war with domestic happiness, above the Nuremberg section Topolski has painted his family. He married Marion Everall in 1944 and they had two children, Daniel, born in 1945, and Teresa, born in 1947. He has also included a portrait of his friend, the writer H.G. Wells, who died in 1946 and is shown holding a copy of his last book.

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