Paul Markl – Artwork

This book contains approximately ten pieces created by Paul Markl, a German prisoner of war in the Missouri from 1944 through 1946. He was a gifted artist who created a remarkable collection during his time in the American POW camps.

Markl frequently gave his work to others or bartered it for chocolate, cigarettes or other desirables, a common and legitimate second economy that existed in every POW camp. His pieces ended up with fellow prisoners or the Americans around him, which included both the military personnel and the civilian workers at the camp. Viggo Jensen was one of these. An older man with a family, Jensen was assigned stateside duty as an MP with the German prisoners after being drafted. He and Markl spent time together at a number of camps like the ones in this book as they worked in locations around the Midwest following the need for agricultural labor. After the war, Jensen came home with several Markl pieces, some of which appear in this book. Additionally, Markl often dedicated pieces specifically to prisoners he considered his friends. They marveled at the way he captured the images and feelings from their own lives in the camp, and recalled with great pride their association with Markl. These men saved Markl’s work, and took the sketches and paintings back to Germany with them after the war.

Paul Markl quite poignantly used his art to express the agony of life as a prisoner, including that despair which settled in himself as well. All things considered, being a prisoner in the United States was not bad, but ultimately these men were still being held captive against their will by guns and barbed wire. Every man grew despondent at times and longed to return home. They missed family, yearned to see their children, longed to hold lovers one more time. Some of Markl’s more somber pieces reflect this despair.

Yet, standing in contrast to those darker pieces, many Markl works reflect the hope and humor that still infused the spirits of the German prisoners. The simple jaunty tilt of a man’s pipe as he hangs out laundry in one sketch is one example. Another is found in a drawing where Markl counters two German POWs with darkened and down-turned faces with another prisoner whose face, turned to the east and home, is illuminated by the sun. Markl’s embodiment in the first pair of the discouragement and despair of the present circumstances is subverted to the symbolism of the brighter future coming after the war as represented by the third man. Indeed, each of Markl’s works, whether depicting his fellow prisoners in scenes around the camp, or other pieces, such as his landscapes, silent and haunting yet utterly beautiful, gives us a fascinating insight into the sensibilities of one man brought by war and fate to a place far from home.

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