Lee Kessler Display

About Lee Kessler

Lee Kessler most well known sketch “The Hand.”   This was completed by the artist many years after the actual event and the best way to truly understand the picture is to read his description:

“The Hand”

The Background for the Picture

With the onslaught of the Russian Army and their advance on Austria and the Danube in late March 1945, Germans evacuated Stalag XVII-B, marching those who could walk, on the road West. After a couple of weeks on the road, we passed a place called Mauthausen. We later learned it was a Concentration Camp, although at the time we knew little about them. Approaching us from the opposite direction was a group of prisoners from this camp who had been working in a quarry. They were Hungarian Jews and were guarded by the S.S. We were halted at the side of the road as these walking skeletons passed. Occasionally, we heard the crack of pistols and knew what they were for. Those who fell and were too weak to get up were shot. Two prisoners followed a wagon and loaded the bodies. 

I approached one of the bodies of a man shot in the head lying along the side of the road and noticed a crinkled photography by his hand. As he lie, his arm stretched out as if to be reaching for the picture. I moved off the road for a better look at the photo and was just about to pick it up, but a guard shouted for me to get back. The picture was of a woman and two small children. As I glanced back, I saw that a butterfly had lit on him.

I was obsessed with the scene. Here was this man, dead by the side of the road. The last thing he looked at was a picture of his family, probably his only possession, and where were they? Dead or in some other camp. At that moment I could only think that everyone has the right to die with dignity, and here was a poor soul who died with such obscurity. 

Sometime in the fifties, I started a sketch of a rough outline but put it away, since I felt no one would understand what I was trying to portray. Twenty years later as I lie in the hospital, a nurse who knew me and my association with art suggested I do artwork for therapy. I had my wife hunt for this sketch, bring my pen and ink, and with the encouragement of the staff I finished the picture. 

Like other pictures, I put it away feeling that no one but me could really understand it.

In 1983, at a POW Convention in Cleveland, when another POW was being interviewed, he related the story of how he say a man fall. :While lying on the ground, he pulled a picture from his pocket, and ask he kissed it, the S.S. guard shot him.” Thus, this was another testimony and confirmation of an unforgettable scene.

— Lee Kessler ’85

Lee Kessler Scrapbook

Here at MAPS we are lucky to not only have a display dedicated to Lee Kessler but also to have access to his personal scrapbook thanks to the generosity of his family.

The digitized scrapbook is below but the size of the scrapbook means it needed to be split into three parts. The links will open in a new link and from there you will be able to click on the scrapbook to view it. This is a new software for us and if there are any problems please feel free to email Brittany Amiet at amiet.brittany@mapsairmuseum.org.