Holocaust Survivor, Art Dealer Jan Krugier

By Eliane Engeler
Associated Press
Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jan Krugier, 80, a celebrated art dealer and Auschwitz survivor who collected the works of Picasso and other renowned artists to help move past the horrors of the Nazi era, died Nov. 15 at his home in Geneva. No cause of death was reported.

Mr. Krugier set up his first gallery in 1962 in Geneva and followed with a second in New York in 1987.

The Krugier galleries, which specialize in 19th- and 20th-century art, handle works by renowned painters such as Paul Cezanne, Marc Chagall, Francis Bacon, Balthus, Georges Braque, Alexander Calder, Edgar Degas and Henri Matisse.

Mr. Krugier, who was well known for his traveling exhibitions, became the exclusive agent for the collection of Picasso's works that the artist's granddaughter, Marina, inherited.

His shows offered fresh views on art by unexpected combinations of styles, such as African art with paintings from old masters and famous contemporary art works side by side, the Krugier galleries said.

Mr. Krugier was born into a Jewish family in Radom, Poland, in 1928. His father was an art collector, and the young Krugier became interested in art at an early age.

At age 12, he joined the resistance against the Nazi occupation. He was eventually arrested and taken to several concentration camps, including Treblinka and Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he witnessed the execution of 8,000 people in one night.

He was subsequently forced to take part in one of the "death marches" that killed thousands of prisoners as the SS moved them ahead of advancing Russian forces.

He was liberated at the end of the war, but he had lost all his immediate family. With the help of a Swiss group, Mr. Krugier went to Switzerland, where he was taken in by a Zurich family.

Mr. Krugier wanted to become a painter and studied at the School for Applied Arts in Zurich before going to Paris, where sculptor Alberto Giacometti, who was his friend and mentor, introduced him into art circles. After a brief stay with the Academie Lhote, Mr. Krugier opened his own painting school.

But he soon realized it was difficult to make a living from painting and teaching, and Giacometti persuaded him to become an art dealer.

"Collecting is a kind of psychotherapy," he said in a 1999 interview with the Berlin-based daily Die Welt. "That's the way I tried to close Pandora's box, to reconcile myself with other human beings and to live with the memories haunting me."

Mr. Krugier is survived by his wife, Marie-Anne Poniatowski, a painter and descendant of the last king of Poland, and two children, Tzila Krugier and Aviel Krugier.

Associated Press writer Alexander G. Higgins contributed to this report.

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