The deck of tarock cards was drawn by the artist and architect Boris Kobe in 1945 at the Allach concentration camp.
The concentration camp tarock cards were not meant to play with, but to depict the “power games” at the concentration camps. It was a game between life and death and the cards inspire us even today with the strength of the human will and creativity, even in the darkest moments of human existence. It is believed that the mistakes in the card design, that prevent the cards from being played smoothly, 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.
The deck of concentration tarock cards consists of 54 individual cards – respectively drawings. The cards retain the Austrian traditional set of 22 trump cards and 32 colour 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 colour pastel – the materials that were found at the camp. The trump set depicts the story of life in the camp. The first eleven trumps show themes such as (personal) hygiene or feeding, some of the cards have a bitter comic feel of the conflicts, while the other half, from trump XII to XIX, reflects the violence the prisoners felt, the cruel and inhumane treatment. The trumps also represent three phases of the camp life as the artist experienced personally. Following this we can also pursue Kobe’s deportation through the three concentration camps – the first eleven trumps depict Dachau and entering the camp; the next seven speak of Überlingen, then three speak of ending of his imprisonment in the Allach concentration camp while the number XXII (Skys) stands out on its own.
The interesting twist of this pack of cards is that ten of spades and ten of clubs are depicted as aces instead of “10”, 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.
About the artist
Kobe was a graduate of architectural engineering in 1929 in Ljubljana. Between 1930 and 1931, he continued his studies in Paris, where he studied painting. After Paris, he returned to Ljubljana where he worked as a freelance artist and started lecturing at the Architecture Department, and in 1938 he became a City architect of Ljubljana. In the beginning of 1945, Kobe was arrested (he took part on the side of the Liberation front against the occupation) and imprisoned in the labour workshops in Ljubljana. In February 1945 he was deported to Dachau concentration camp and later transfered to Überlingen (March) and finally to Allach (April) where he stayed until the liberation. In the weeks after the liberation, he drew the set of concentration camp tarock cards. After returning from the concentration camp, he became a professor of perspective and art design in Ljubljana. After 1946, he lectured freehand drawing as well as colour and perspective studies at the Department of Architecture. He also worked as a book illustrator and set designer. This important architect, graphic and painter died in 1981.