BIROn - Birkbeck Institutional Research Online

    If walls could talk : Prisoner graffiti in Nazi concentration camps and ghettos

    Putnam, Jennifer Christine (2024) If walls could talk : Prisoner graffiti in Nazi concentration camps and ghettos. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

    [img] Text
    Putnam J thesis for library.pdf - Full Version
    Restricted to Repository staff only until 22 February 2026.

    Download (154MB)


    Disguised by the texture of bricks, hidden under bunks, carved into bedframes, and scattered across Nazi concentration camps and ghettos are the forgotten and unseen inscriptions of inmates. Around the barracks of Auschwitz I, the crumbling structures of Birkenau, the buildings of Theresienstadt ghetto, and the walls of Sachsenhausen, deeply carved inscriptions, drawings, and sketches bearing prisoner numbers, names, cities, and depictions of various figures reveal themselves to the careful observer. These graffiti have gone unnoticed by visitors to the sites, scarcely remarked upon by museum staff and curators, and ignored by researchers in the field. As these graffiti are painted over by film crews, covered by the soot of candles, destroyed during restoration processes, and worn away by the hand of time, they vanish as sources of testimony. It is clear that these marks are of incredible value; yet, graffiti in Nazi camps during World War II have been neglected as a resource for researching prisoners’ experiences. This thesis undertakes the task of uncovering, cataloguing, and interpreting the graffiti in Theresienstadt, Auschwitz I, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Sachsenhausen, and Groß-Rosen with the goal of understanding the practice and purpose of graffiti writing in the concentration camps and ghettos. Organising the graffiti by theme, this thesis adds critical nuance to our understanding of prisoners’ experiences of incarceration and abuse, exploring a wide range of topics, from timekeeping to sexuality. This research also adds to the debate on prisoner agency, showing how prisoners actively and purposefully interacted with the environment, often to their own benefit, through graffiti writing. Examining graffiti as a unique form of testimony that captures both survivor and non-survivor experiences, this research employs interdisciplinary methods to open up new avenues of inquiry in Holocaust Studies.


    Item Type: Thesis
    Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
    Depositing User: Acquisitions And Metadata
    Date Deposited: 04 Mar 2024 17:37
    Last Modified: 05 Mar 2024 14:17


    Activity Overview
    6 month trend
    6 month trend

    Additional statistics are available via IRStats2.

    Archive Staff Only (login required)

    Edit/View Item Edit/View Item