Zofia Pociłowska’s sculptural work began with miniatures. These very fragile carvings of just a few centimetres were made from toothbrush handles between 1941 and 1945, when Pociłowska was imprisoned in the Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp. Despite their small size, the miniatures have multi-dimensional meanings and are important points of reference for researching artistic life in Ravensbrück.
Outside of SS art workshops, artistic activities were strictly prohibited and could only be carried out in secret. Anyone who was discovered faced severe punishment. Despite the danger, other prisoners helped acquire materials and sometimes even took on work in the camp to cover for the artists. The finished objects were often given as gifts or exchanged for bread or other favours. They had to be carried close to the body or hidden away safely.
Art fulfilled multiple functions in the camp. It was an aspect of social and religious practice, it served to document the horrors of everyday life, and it was a medium for making it through each day. For former Ravensbrück prisoner Urszula Wińska, artistic activity was also a form of resistance. She said that the artworks created in secret in the SS workshops were referred to as ‘little acts of sabotage’. Zofia Pociłowska worked in the sewing workshop, and it is difficult to say today whether her miniatures can be counted among these ‘little acts of sabotage’. Artistic activity gave the prisoners a way of affirming their human dignity despite the systematic degradation they were subjected to by the SS. Urszula Wińska writes:
‘When creative activity took place and people could experience the artistic works, [...] it meant that those who ran the criminal camp system could not stifle humanity.’
Zofia Pociłowska had no experience with sculpture prior to arriving in Ravensbrück, but she found her calling as a visual artist under the extreme conditions in the camp. The works she created here make explicit reference to the place and her own experiences. Her few surviving miniatures primarily involve religious motifs (crosses with and without the figure of Jesus, depictions of Mary). For conservation reasons, the miniatures themselves cannot be put on display.
Hanna Freudenberger, Cultural Studies student
About the miniatures:
 Wińska, Urszula, Zwyciężyły wartości: Wspomnienie z Ravensbrück (Values Prevailed: Memories of Ravensbrück), Gdańsk 1985, p. 257 of the German working translation.