A Czechoslovakian Jew who was imprisoned at Auschwitz, Dina Gottliebova-Babbitt (1923–2009) was saved by her artistic abilities. Gottliebova painted the walls of the children’s barracks with images of the Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. When Josef Mengele discovered her talent, he commissioned her to paint watercolor portraits of Roma prisoners. After the war, Gottliebova worked as an animator for Warner Brothers for many years, eventually marrying Walt Disney animator Art Babbitt. Many years later, Gottliebova’s Auschwitz paintings were recovered and displayed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. When the artist requested that her paintings be returned, her request was denied. The dispute escalated into an international scandal with the American and Polish governments becoming involved. Gottliebova passed away in 2009 without having her works returned.
Watercolours is Gottliebova’s story. Journalist Lidia Ostałowska reconstructs Gottliebova’s time in Auschwitz, with an eye to broader issues of historical memory, trauma, racism, and the relationship between torturer and victim. Drawing on hundreds of accounts of the hellish camp, Ostałowska tells the story of one remarkable woman’s incarceration and battle for survival.