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Album depicting grim life at Dachau to be displayed at NYC exhibit

Drawing depicting the cruelty prisoners suffered in the

Drawing depicting the cruelty prisoners suffered in the camp at the hands of Nazi soldiers. The picture was drawn by Roman Catholic prisoner and artist Michal Porulski who was also interned in Dachau. Credit: Courtesy of Arnold Unger Foundat

As a child, Shari Unger sensed that something forbidden was tucked away on the top shelf of her parents’ bedroom closet in Parsippany, New Jersey.

“I recalled sneaking around,’’ said Unger, now 57, who climbed up and discovered an album. “I sat down on my parents’ bed and intentionally, covertly, started thumbing through it.’’

Unger was horrified by the contents: “gruesome photos’’ and 30 hand-painted drawings depicting the grim existence of Jews and political prisoners being held in Dachau, a Nazi concentration camp. “I put it away and for many years had not seen it until after my father passed away. . . . But I always knew there was something unique, special, on that top shelf.’’

For the first time, the album will be on public display Sunday, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The graphic images offer a glimpse into the bleak existence and atrocities at Dachau, where Arnold Unger, a Jew, was imprisoned at 15, after his family was killed.

The public will be able to view “The Dachau Album” album at the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture on Bleecker Street in Manhattan.

The drawings created by Polish artist and political prisoner Michal Porulski, a Catholic, show starving prisoners scavenging for food and being beaten by Nazi soldiers.

In 2015, the contents of the album was blessed by Pope Francis after it was carefully researched for almost 10 years, said Shari Unger, who was 12 when her father died. She is one of four siblings left behind. Their mother died of cancer in 1974.

For many years, Unger put the memory of the album in the recesses of her mind until she learned that a neighbor, Avi Hoffiman, actor and founder of the Yiddishkayt Initiative, was also the child of a Holocaust survivor.

“I had a gut sense that something needed to happen. I wasn’t ready to do this at the Holocaust Museum in Washington,” she said. “I had to find the right person who had vision and that was Avi. He would do it justice.’’

It is not known if Arnold Unger and Porulski knew each other.

However, Shari Unger said strong evidence indicates the album with the inscription written in Polish — “To be a keepsake forever from times of difficulty and long captivity’’ — was given to her father by American officers who took the young boy under their wing as a beloved and trusted assistant after the liberation of the camp.

Unger suspects the drawings were found and the album was put together for her father, who would later move to America to live with an uncle and his family.

The album also illustrates Arnold Unger’s life after the war, including a photograph of him and a teenage sweetheart under a tree.

He would go on to complete his education in electrical engineering and work on the team that designed the landing gear for NASA’s Apollo lunar module, his daughter said.

“I didn’t know how extraordinary he was. His intellect and character. . . . He was a brilliant man who accomplished so much,’’ she said.

It is hoped that the display of the album will bring to light “a shared humanity,’’ said Andrew Levin, managing director of the Sheen Center. “Many people have been affected by the Holocaust and other holocausts throughout history. Today we continue to be challenged to learn from it.’’

“This 70-year-old album shows the same things that is happening today,’’ said Cole Matson, the center’s curator.

Some of the album’s graphic images echo those now seen in war-torn Syria, he said. “This album really makes it present for what people are experiencing again and again.’’


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