Human Laundry, Belsen: April 1945

Doris ZinkeisenApril 1st 1945

Imperial War Museums

Imperial War Museums

In 1944 Zinkeisen was commissioned by the Red Cross and St John War Organisation to record their work in north-west Europe, and was one of the few women war artists to be sent overseas. On 15 April 1945 British soldiers entered Bergen-Belsen concentration camp to find a scene of absolute horror. Ten thousand corpses lay unburied, and around 60,000 starving and sick people were packed into the camp’s barracks without food or water. Doris Zinkeisen arrived soon afterwards. Human Laundry is arguably the most powerful work produced by any of the artists who were present. Zinkeisen finds an effective motif in the contrast between the well fed, rounded bodies of the German medical staff and the emaciated bodies of their patients. Although the artist’s later account refers to ‘the German prisoners’, they were actually nurses and doctors from a nearby German military hospital pressed into service. The camp inmates needed to be washed and de-loused to prevent the spread of typhus before they could be admitted to the makeshift Red Cross hospital nearby.

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  • Title: Human Laundry, Belsen: April 1945
  • Creator: Zinkeisen, Doris Clare
  • Date Created: April 1st 1945
  • Location: Belsen, Lower Saxony, Germany
  • related people or organisations: British Red Cross Society
  • provenance: War Artists Advisory Committee commission
  • period: Second World War
  • Subject: concentration camps,  Holocaust,  atrocities and war crimes,  medical/convalescence,  wounded/disabled,  bathing/toilet,  civilian personnel,  civilian suffering,  women/womens work,  Liberation of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp 1945, German Home Front 1939-1945
  • Physical Dimensions: w1000 x h804 mm (unframed)
  • Provenance: © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 5468)
  • Type: painting
  • External Link: Imperial War Museum website
  • Medium: oil


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