The Daily Heller: Cards From Hell

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Tarock is German for tarot playing cards. Tarot games originated in Italy, and became popular in much of Europe. The earliest detailed rules were codified in France in 1637. But these are not the usual tarock cards. This deck was drawn by artist, designer and architect Boris Kobe (1905–1981) in 1945 while at the Allach concentration lager, a sub-camp of Dachau in a suburb of Munich. Kobe is considered one of the most significant Slovenian architects and designers. After surviving the Holocaust, he continued his architectural career and created no other known artistic works related to his time in the camps.

These tell his entire story. Fragile yet strong enough to last the ravages of time, they were on display in Ljubljana at the Festival House of Tolerance in September 2022.

The cards, states a catalog for the event, were not meant to be played with, but to depict the power games between life and death. It is believed that mistakes in the card designs had been made on purpose, “as the cards were drawn to serve as a medium for the artist to express the horrors he had seen and experienced in the concentration camp.” For example, the 10 of spades and 10 of clubs are depicted as aces, which makes the game impossible to play accurately. “This intentional flaw speaks for the fact that these tarock cards were not merely a game, but a medium, which spoke a story of deeper meaning—the story of life and death, and finally of life overcoming it all.”

The deck consists of 54 individual cards—respectively, drawings. These cards derive from an Austrian traditional set of 22 trump cards and 32 color cards, however, the size proportion is changed, as each card is 9cm high and 6cm wide, and not as narrow as tarock cards traditionally are. The technique is ink and color pastel—the only art materials that were found at the camp. The trump set depicts the story of life in the camp. The first 11 show themes such as hygiene or feeding, and some of the cards have a bitter comic feel, while the other half, from trump XII to XIX, reflects the violent, cruel and inhumane treatment inflicted on prisoners. The trumps also represent three phases of the camp life and trace Kobe’s deportation through three camps.

Posted inThe Daily Heller