Arie Galles – “GNADENDOD” 29 ½” X 22” – 2017 – Charcoal and Conté on Arches BFK


I was asked to contribute a work of art to the exhibition, "Mastering Death: Artistic Perspectives," at the Josephinium at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria.  The show opens on March 2, 2017 and will run through, April 1, 2017.  My contribution to the exhibition is the charcoal drawing, “Gnadentod,” presented on this page.



Open evil, visible to all, lurked in the darkness behind the blinding light of euphemisms. Gnadentod, “Merciful Death,” was one of the first such word substitutions used by the Nazis to cover their efforts to murder those they deemed a burden to society due to mental and physical handicaps. Some phrases, like “Die Endlösung der Judenfrage,” “The Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” or “Arbeit Macht Frei,” “Work Sets You Free,” remain well known to the general public. The word, “Gnadentod” triggers no instant recognition, yet it was the precursor of others that followed.

When considering creating this drawing I had to walk a thin mental edge between empathy and propaganda. The base is the image of a gas vehicle used at “Schloss Hartheim,” “Hartheim Castle,” upon whose brilliantly lit form rests a cattle-car, one of the myriad used to deliver victims to Auschwitz. Behind the cattle-car is a secretly photographed view of the castle, its chimney spewing dark smoke from its crematorium. The smoke eventually blankets most of the upper area of the drawing with its erased-out/smudged-out view of a concentration camp crematorium.

I tried to express a “Past/Future” and a “Future/Past” in my drawing. Both the word “Gnadentod” and the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” are entwined in the darkness between the gas van and the cattle car. I focused on the words “MACHT” “Makes” and part of the Gnadentod word, “TOD” “Death.” Thus “MACHT TOD” “Makes Death” became a focal point. The viewers are being asked to make their own connections with the image.

The drawing was made on a sheet of paper that Martha Schneider, a friend and Holocaust survivor, gave to me after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Although still alert, Martha said, “Soon I won’t know what to do with my art supplies, but you will.”




1: Arie Galles – “GNADENDOD” 29 ½” X 22” – 2017 – Charcoal and Conté on Arches BFK


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