Doris Zinkeisen: War Artist

Doris Zinkeisen photographed by Harold Pierce Cazneau

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In the early spring and summer of 1945, Doris Zinkeisen (1898-1991) volunteered her services as a war artist to the north-west Europe Commission of the Joint War Organization of the British Red Cross and Order of St John (JWO) as it moved into newly liberated Europe.

She recorded the commission's activities supporting post-war relief, and the rehabilitation and repatriation of prisoners of war and civilian internees. She was stationed in Brussels at the commission's headquarters, which had been the German headquarters during the occupation. 

She said: "I was sent all over the continent to make sketches which I brought back to work out in my studio. If the distance was too great to travel by lorry, I went to the RAF just up the road from our headquarters and got a lift by air."

Doris was a well-known artist, trained at the Royal Academy Schools, and had exhibited her work in London, Paris and the United States. She had also helped to nurse wartime Blitz casualties in London. Both Doris and her sister, Anna, also a talented artist, had first trained as VADs during the First World War.


Painting at Belsen camp

Evelyn Bark, of the Joint War Organization, remembers seeing Doris at work at the liberated Belsen camp. “She arrived at Belsen while I was there, and I watched her start a painting of the saddle-room [where camp survivors were washed and disinfected].

"Just as she was about to make the first brush stroke, a party of young men in a lorry drove past the window. Catching sight of her, they began to wave and call out her name at the top of their voices. They were medical students, whom she had known at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington [where Doris had worked as a volunteer in the casualty department].

"These students were about to learn more about medicine in a few months – in charge of thousands of patients with unusual diseases – than they might otherwise have done in their whole lives…”

The Red Cross museum and archives hold four of her paintings from this time. Others are held at the museum of the Order of St John and the Imperial War Museum.



War Paintings

Human Laundry at Belsen.  A line of wooden tables the front three with an emaciated figure sitting or lying on top. Each of the figures is being washed by a man or woman dressed in a white uniform. A metal bucket stands at the foot of every table.

Two military ambulances are in the process of being unloaded. In the centre foreground two male orderlies carry a patient on a stretcher towards the hospital building.

The interior of a hospital ward with a male patient sitting up in bed with a woman in uniform sitting in a chair beside him. The woman is sewing a piece of material and there is an open sewing basket on the bed.

War kitchen

Feeding freed prisoners of war