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Artists and Breendonk
WILLEM PAUWELS, alias “WILCHAR”, was born in Saint-Gilles on 1 November 1910. His father worked on the Brussels tramway and his mother was a laundrywoman. At the age of 15, he became an apprentice lithographer and took evening courses at the Saint-Gilles Academy of Art.
All his life, Wilchar was a committed, political artist. From 1935-1940, he created over 70 posters for the Belgian Workers’ Party and the Communist Party and never abandoned his belief in leftist ideals.
In 1940 he was called up for the 18-day campaign. He escaped capture and joined the National Labour Office where he took an active part in the Resistance within this organisation. The following year, he founded a group of artists called “Contact” and the year after that published the Communist Party’s secret newspaper “Art et liberté”.
On 2 April 1943 he was arrested in Forest for his resistance activities. He was prisoner no. 1939 at Breendonk until 27 May 1943, when he was transferred to the Citadel of Huy, where he remained until his release on 28 June.
From 1944, he secretly painted watercolours of Breendonk and after the liberation he illustrated the book “Breendonck-la-Mort” by Edgard Marbaix.
From the 1950s onwards, he devoted himself to linocuts and painting. He always wanted to be seen as a “popular illustrator” and produced many works denouncing the consumer society and social injustice.In 1993, the director Richard Olivier brought Wilchar back to Breendonk and asked him to recount his memories. Entitled “Les Larmes noires”, (Black Tears) the film painted a sober portrait of this anarchist with a big heart.
On 28 June 2005, Wilchar died in Uccle, aged 95.
The Memorial, with the support of the King Baudouin Foundation, has acquired 30 watercolours in Indian ink, produced by Wilchar shortly after his release from the camp.His works include: 70 original posters (and 30 drafts), 30 Breendonk watercolours, 145 linos, 2 compositions on 3m by 2m canvas, 20 compositions on 1.20m by 2m panels etc.
Jacques Ochs was born in Nice on 19 February 1883, to German parents. At this time, his father was living off an annuity. In 1893, the family moved to Liège where Jacques Ochs entered the Academy of Art. Not content with being a skilled artist, he also shone at fencing, and became Olympic champion in 1912 in Stockholm.
Volunteering for the army in 1915, he became a motorcycle dispatch rider, then artillery sub-lieutenant and was finally assigned to an observation squadron. He was seriously injured in August 1917 and ended the war in a hydroplane squadron hunting down German submarines.
In 1921, he was appointed professor at the Liège Academy of Fine Arts, becoming its Director in 1937. In the meantime, he became lame as a result of a serious aeroplane accident, which ended his sporting career. At that time he was collaborating with various newspapers (Pourquoi Pas?, La Nation Belge, L’action wallonne, Le Petit Parisien etc.) and took an uncompromising stance towards Flemish-speakers, lack of civic duty and appeasement, expressing a strong anti-German feeling. He also satirized the political classes and highlighted social and economic matters (poverty, strikes etc.). He was a true witness of his time.
In 1938, for the satirical magazine “Pourquoi Pas?”, he drew a caricature of Hitler with his hands covered in blood (“Hitler the Emperor”). He was denounced by a jealous colleague whose sympathies lay with the New Order (Auguste Mambour), and was arrested on 17 November 1940 in his Director’s office at the Liège Academy of Fine Arts.
He was taken to Saint-Léonard prison in Liège then the Gestapo building on Avenue Louise in Brussels, before ending up at Breendonk on 7 December 1940. He was prisoner no. 56.
Major Schmitt assigned him firstly to the “Stubedienst" (cleaning department) then the “Zeichendienst” (drawing department). He was asked to sketch the prisoners for the camp commandant (mainly during July-October 1941). Every evening, he had to give his drawings to his barrack master, who gave them to the SS. In fact, he only handed over copies, hiding the originals.
He became ill and was transferred to Antwerp military hospital, then was released on 20 February 1942, thanks to the intervention of Queen Elisabeth. He managed to secretly smuggle out most of his camp drawings.
Arrested again in 1944, he was transferred to Dossin barracks, the assembly centre for Belgian Jews before their deportation to Auschwitz. He was held there from 5 July and was finally released on 4 September by the Allied troops.
In 1947, he published “Breendonck, Bagnards et Bourreau. Textes et dessins par Jacques Ochs”. (Breendonk, Prisoners and Hangmen. Texts and drawings by Jacques Ochs.)The Memorial owns several dozen of these drawings as well as the artist’s sketchbook, which he managed to smuggle out of the camp on his release. In 1973, the newly created French and Flemish Community purchased 64 drawings at an auction in Antwerp. Some of these drawings are on a long-term loan to the Memorial.
After the Second World War, this committed Communist produced thousands of political caricatures under the pseudonym of Diluck, in Communist publications such as “Le Drapeau Rouge” or “Pourquoi pas?”. He then became Director of a film distribution company.
He followed the Malines trials as the press illustrator and donated his portraits of the accused to the Memorial.
He has donated to the Memorial a series of drawings produced during the Malines trials.
Iancelevici is not actually a Breendonk artist but a Belarusian artist who produced the statue “Le Résistant” (the Resistance Fighter) which can be seen on the plain in front of the Memorial.As a Jew he hid himself during the Second World War (under the name of Janssens Adolphe) in Maransart and then Auvelais, refusing to comply with the order to attend the Dossin Barracks in Malines, and thus evading deportation.
After the war, he began work on his monumental work of art, Le Résistant (“kneeling but never on his knees”) which, after much negotiation, finally came to Breendonk.