The artist, Carl Michael von Hausswolff, claims he stole ashes from a crematorium at Nazi Germany’s Majdanek concentration camp in Poland in 1989 then used them in one of his paintings by mixing them with water.
“The prosecution opened an investigation into this matter on Monday,” said Beata Syk-Jankowska, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office in Lublin, southeastern Poland.
The probe centres around potential charges of desecration of the dead or stealing human remains or graves, crimes punishable up to eight years in Poland.
The statute of limitations for such acts normally carries a maximum of 15 years.
The artist said the black-and-white painting, featuring vertical brushstrokes in a rectangle, represented the suffering of the victims, “people tortured, tormented and murdered by other people in one of the most ruthless wars of the 20th century.”
The piece, entitled “Memory Works”, was exhibited at a gallery in Lund, in southern Sweden, in December, but was later shut down after protests from the Jewish community and the Simon-Wiesenthal Center, which represents Jewish interests.
After a member of the public filed a police complaint against Von Hausswolff on December 5th for “disturbing the peace of the dead”, calling the artwork a “desecration of human remains”, Swedish police opened an investigation, but dropped it for lack of evidence since the offence was committed abroad.
“We’re going to address the Swedish justice system to get more details for this investigation,” Syk-Jankowska told AFP.
The Majdanek camp was created near the city of Lublin by the Nazis in 1941 and was in use until 1944.
Historians working for the museum estimate that some 80,000 prisoners, of which 60,000 were Jews, were executed in the camp’s gas chambers, or died through malnutrition or exhaustion there.
In total, 150,000 people were imprisoned in the camp between 1941 and 1944.