Sketched in single colours on plain notebook paper, Menge’s pictures show daily life, camp guards and portraits of fellow prisoners in the Ludwigsburg prisoner of war camp near the German city of Stuttgart.
Now more than 30 years after the artist’s death in 1976, his nephew Helmut Schön has donated more than 30 pencil sketches from the period to the US Army.
“My aunt always told me that Menge spoke with great respect of the American personnel at the Ludwigsburg camp. So I would like to give the drawings from his estate to the American veterans,” Schön wrote in a letter to Army personnel.
Schön said in his letter that he decided to start giving away his uncle’s artwork – some 250 pieces in all – after his own health began to decline and he suffered a stroke last year. He delivered the drawings to US officials this month.
“In the spirit of my uncle, I want to make his works available to as wide a public as possible,” Schön writes.
Menge spent 1945 and 1946 in the American camp after serving as a non-commissioned officer in the German Army during World War. Born in 1908 near Leipzig, he attended the Academy for Graphic Arts in Leipzig and was a student of the painter Emil Block. He began working as a painter and illustrator in 1929.
Menge stopped painting and drawing during the war, according to his nephew, beginning again only during his time in American custody. After the war he worked as a teacher and illustrator until his death in Neckarzimmern, a town in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg.
“Of course all he had was pencil and just some paper. He did all of these sketches of different people. Some of them have names under them, but we can’t identify them,” Gabriele Torony, a staff curator based in the military historian’s office in Heidelberg, told The Local.
“It shows some campgrounds, some guards at an outpost gate. Some of them are very quick sketches,” Torony said.
Army historians hope to display the pictures in a museum or in US Army offices in Germany, Torony said.