War artist's powerful images of Holocaust at War Memorial
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War artist's powerful images of Holocaust at War Memorial

Dramatic works by the only Australian official war artist to witness the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust are now on display at the Australian War Memorial.

A collection of 18 pictures by Alan Moore will be featured in the World War II gallery until March next year.

WWII official war artist, Alan Moore recorded this image of SS troops unloading the death wagon in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Germany on the day of its liberation.

WWII official war artist, Alan Moore recorded this image of SS troops unloading the death wagon in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Germany on the day of its liberation.

Two of its most poignant images depict the horrors of Bergen-Belsen. Moore had been travelling with British troops who liberated the death camp and was stunned and horrified by what he saw.

Dr Emma Kindred, the AWM's assistant curator for art, said the field studies in the exhibition are more powerful and evocative than the more stylised oil paintings he based on them after the war.

Assistant curator at the Australian War Memorial, Dr. Emma Kindred, with two paintings by WWII official war artist, Alan Moore at an exhibition on show in the WWII galleries. The two images portray activities at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Germany on the day of its liberation.

Assistant curator at the Australian War Memorial, Dr. Emma Kindred, with two paintings by WWII official war artist, Alan Moore at an exhibition on show in the WWII galleries. The two images portray activities at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Germany on the day of its liberation.Credit:Graham Tidy GGT

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One of the studies depicts a blind and crippled survivor moving through a field of the dead in an eerily lit Goyaesque landscape.

The other shows SS guards, who had run the camp until the Allied troops arrived, unloading bodies from a truck for burial in mass graves under the eyes of British soldiers.

Dr Kindred said a typhoid epidemic had swept through the camp shortly before it was liberated and the dead were everywhere.

''They had to bury the bodies as quickly as possible (for health reasons),'' she said.

Moore, who had been commissioned as a war artist on New Year's Day, 1944, began his work documenting the work of the RAAF in the Pacific.

He was fired on in March 1944 while painting the campaign to recapture the Admiralty Islands. One of his most poignant pictures is of the grave of a fighter pilot who had crashed. The artist helped dig the grave, which was marked by a cross and the plane's propeller, before creating his picture.

The RAAF sent Moore to Europe in mid-1944 where he documented the work done by the members of 450 and 454 squadrons.

The artist also witnessed first hand the devastation wrought by Germany's terror weapons on London. His picture of rescuers probing ruined buildings for survivors and bodies in the wake of a V-2 rocket explosion is only metres from the AWM's V-1 ram jet down the hall.

''He had been riding on a bus near Fleet Street when the rocket struck,'' Dr Kindred said. ''He went back that night to do the painting. The scene was lit by searchlights. They were digging people out and it was very dramatic.''

The Memorial is fortunate to have the Holocaust paintings, which are supported by documentary photographs Moore took at the time, in its collection.

They were originally rejected on the grounds they did not depict Australia's involvement in the war.

This thinking had changed by 1969 and Moore donated the works that were still in his hands, and the photographs, to the memorial.

''While Moore was creating his sketches (of Bergen-Belsen) he was approached by a British soldier who said he should take photographs as otherwise nobody would believe what had happened,'' Dr Kindred said.