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Fritz Hirschberger, 91; His Angry Paintings Recall Holocaust

February 09, 2004|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Fritz Hirschberger, 91, a Holocaust survivor who in retirement depicted his memories of Nazi Germany in stark, angry paintings, died Jan. 8 in San Francisco of natural causes.

When Hirschberger exhibited his work at Los Angeles' Heritage Gallery in 1988, a Times critic commented that the artist's "figuration is built from supple Teutonic dark lines that describe hollow eyes or resigned grimaces. Inside contours, broad areas of translucent bright magentas and blues or jarring areas of jade and turquoise create the crude anatomy of victims and perpetrators." One typical painting, called "The Concordat," depicted a corpulent Nazi officer and a faceless Catholic bishop standing on the emaciated body of a concentration camp victim.

Born in Dresden, Hirschberger founded the city's chapter of an underground Zionist organization called Betar in 1933. He was a star hockey player in the 1930s, competing in the first International Jewish Winter Olympics in Slovakia in 1936.

Deported to Poland in 1938, he soon joined the Polish Army and fought against the Nazis and Soviets. He later fled to the Soviet Union where he was sentenced to 20 years in a gulag, only to be freed in 1941 when the Germans invaded Russia. Hirschberger later joined British forces in North Africa and Italy.

When he immigrated to New York City in 1947, he learned that the rest of his family had died in German concentration or slave labor camps. In the 1980s, he began to paint Holocaust scenes from his memories and research.

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