BAD AROLSEN, Germany (AP) — Deep in Shari Klages' memory is an image of herself as a girl in New Jersey, going into her parents' bedroom, pulling a thick leather-bound album from the top shelf of a closet and sitting down on the bed to leaf through it.
What she saw was page after page of ink-and-watercolor drawings that convey, with simple lines yet telling detail, the brutality of Dachau, the Nazi concentration camp where her father spent the last weeks of World War II.
Arrival, enslavement, torture, death — the 30 pictures expose the worsening nightmare through the artist's eye for the essential, and add graphic texture to the body of testimony by Holocaust survivors.
Klages now wants to make the album public. Scholars call it unique and a treasure.
It is the story of both her Jewish father Arnold Unger (then 15) and much older Roman Catholic artist Michal Porulski, who may have crossed paths as inmates of adjacent blocks in Dachau's main camp during three weeks that Unger was there. Both men are dead (Unger in 1972 and Porulski in 1989) and cannot provide answers to the many quetions.
Porulski's signature on some of the drawings provided clues to his life, and the story covers Klages' quest to find out who he was and how her father was the album's custodian. The AP has helped answer some of the questions.
What unfolds is a story of Holocaust survival compressed into two tragic lives, a tale with threads stretching from Warsaw to Auschwitz and Dachau, from Australia to suburban England, and finally to a bedroom in New Jersey where a fatherless girl makes a traumatic discovery.
It shows how today, as the survivors dwindle in number, their children and grandchildren struggle to comprehend the Nazi genocide that indelibly scarred their families, and in the process run into mysteries that may never be solved.
This is Shari Klages' mystery: How did Arnold Unger, her Polish Jewish father, a 15-year-old newcomer to Dachau, end up in possession of the artwork of a Polish Catholic more than twice his age, who had been in the concentration camps through most of World War II?
Read the entire story here. The same page offers eight photographs related to the story. There is also a related video and a narrated slide show here. Click on "In Search of a Holocaust Mystery" for the video. If you scroll down - to a box titled Multimedia - there is a link to a slide show narrated by Shari Klages.
Some links in the story:
National Center for Jewish Cultural Arts
International Tracing Service