Matthew Troyan (1913-2007) was graduated with high distinction
from both the Warsaw Academy of Fine Art, and the Academy of Fine
Art at Dusseldorf. It was while studying at the Dusseldorf Academy
he had the opportunity to be taught by Joan Miro, and even a one
day class with Pablo Picasso.
In the period between that prestigious schooling, he survived
3 1/2 years in Nazi concentration camps ( Auschwitz, Mauthausen,
and Ebensee), where, in addition to suffering the continual horrors
and atrocities of that existence, he expected to face immediate
execution on at least three separate occasions.
Troyan was first spared in Auschwitz due to his talent as an artist
and his handsome bearing, which together made him a potential
propaganda vehicle for the Nazis.
He was arrested in February, 1942, as a "traitor to the state"
and was immediately transported to Auschwitz, where his mentor
and director at the Warsaw Academy had been executed after being
arrested for a similar charge in December 1941. The commandant
there decided to spare Troyan's life if he would agree to paint
portraits of Nazi officers, an arrangement which continued at
the other two camps.
In one unforgettable episode, Troyan was forced to watch, at close
range, while five of his friends were summarily shot in the head,
one by one, the experience meant as a punishment to Troyan for
providing his fellow prisoners with loaves of bread he had stolen
from the camp bakery.
The third time Troyan survived execution was at first a postponement
due to his artistic talent, but ultimately he was spared by a
providential stroke of timing: the liberation of Ebensee Camp
four days before his scheduled execution.
Although Troyan was given occasional small comforts because of
his special standing as an artist, he also bore the daily forced
labor and cruel living conditions of the camps, and was once beaten
so severely that his right ear was all but torn off.
To his credit, as is documented in the writings of at least one
fellow prisoner, Troyan did his best to use whatever comforts
were available to him to aid others...although, as noted in the
episode above, doing so carried mortal risks, some of which could
not be foreseen.
Troyan's courage was also in evidence when he asked to be released
from foot soldier duty in Warsaw and volunteered to join the Polish
Cavalry in 1939, knowing instinctively that it would place him
in the path of the expected Nazi invasion of Poland. Almost 70%
of the Polish cavalry in the First and Second divisions, including
all of the officers, were killed in the infamous Tuchola Forest
slaughter. After this slaughter Troyan walked back to Warsaw to
rejoin his army group.