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Ginger Churchill heads to hell in Nazi mural

The Local · 22 Dec 2015, 10:41

Published: 22 Dec 2015 10:41 GMT+01:00

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In an appearance which has somehow escaped notice in his official biographies, Churchill's image was included in a highly politicised mural dating from the Second World War in an obscure Austrian church.

The serious omission may be explained by the fact that he's in disguise -- as church officials ordered him to be painted wearing a red wig.

But the reality is that it was not at Churchill's insistence that his image painted on a church ceiling in Austria was covered up, but in fact at the insistence of local residents in the village of Hittisau, who were worried that the British wartime leader might send over the RAF to bomb them when he heard about the insult.

Churchill, the arch enemy of the Nazis at the time the fresco was created in 1940, was originally painted bald by the artist who was hoping to win favour with Third Reich leaders in Berlin, but when locals found out what had been done they were so worried the British would exact revenge for the insult, they insisted Churchill be given a red wig.

Photo: Justin Fischer

The remarkable story of how Churchill ended up before the court of ultimate retribution in a red wig began when a new priest, Josef Maisburger, took over the parish church in in the western Austrian province of Vorarlberg in 1934.

Local historian and author Hans Weiss said: "When he took over the parish church he was very pleased by the impressive size, but disappointed at the lack of ornamentation and decoration. It didn't even have decent stained-glass windows.

"He decided to look in particular at the possibility of getting a large fresco painted on the ceiling of the church, and wrote to a well-known artist in Munich to request a price.

"The final offer which was made in 1936 was simply far too expensive for a parish priest to afford, and the plans were shelved.

"The situation changed of course in the 1940s because Europe was gripped by war, many feared the world was ending and of course the Nazis were against religion. But far from being discouraged, the priest tried again and this time the price was far more reasonable."

Although the artist, Waldemar Kolmsperger, was a confirmed Nazi, even those political beliefs were not enough to guarantee he would not end up being conscripted and he turned out to be much more enthusiastic about moving to the tiny rural parish.

Another motivation for his move might have been the fact that the Nazis were publicly not fans of art, and it was a difficult time for anybody in the artistic profession to make a living. As a result, the priest and the artist reached a deal, and the German from Munich travelled to Hittisau to create his masterpiece.

In order to show his loyalty to the party, Kolmsperger, who was working behind white sheets to create his fresco, had also included a picture of the Nazi's arch enemy at the time the painting was made, Winston Churchill.

He had been fighting off the Luftwaffe between July and October 1940 as the painting was being prepared, and it was hoped by the artist that he would win favour by including Churchill in the finished creation.

The huge fresco was finally finished in 1941 and when it was unveiled Nazi officials may have been pleased, but locals were horrified.

Hans Weiss said: "The fresco did not include on one side heaven and hell on the other, apparently the artist disliked the area so much, he decided to paint two hells.

"Secondly, there was quite noticeably a picture of Winston Churchill right at the heart of the hill where Judgement Day was being carried out, showing him carrying a huge bag of money which represented his ill-gotten gains for his treacherous behaviour, and containing the writing "100,000 pounds".

"Despite the protests of locals the artist refused to change it, and there was a huge row that went right up to the bishop. Locals were convinced that once bomber command found out about the insult, they would deliberately target the church in order to eradicate it.

"The Bishop apparently agreed and he eventually ordered the artist to disguise Churchill by giving him a red wig, and to change the word pounds to gold."

Story continues below…

There was also unhappiness about the way the artist had at the same time included only a few signs that there was even a heaven, including a few female characters clearly identified as local women who were seen being taken there.

It was rumoured later that the artist, who was one of the few men still in the village after others went off to fight the war, had enjoyed affairs with many of them.

In addition, barbed wire indicating the war that was happening around them was also featured in the fresco.

When locals revealed that he was planning to add a few of their citizens as revenge for forcing him to paint Churchill out of the imagery, he was reportedly chased out of the area.

The historian added: "I guess it was a sign of how much he disliked having to live here in the middle of nowhere because he painted two hells instead of one, but the quality of the artwork and the passion that he invested in it shows that he was certainly a lot more interested in the subject of hell than of heaven."

Story courtesy of Central European News

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