University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


Henry Koerner (1915-1991)

Henry Koerner was born in Vienna in 1915 to Jewish parents. He studied graphic design and moved to the US in 1938 after Hitler came to power.  He began his artistic life as a commercial artist in Brooklyn, and during World War II he designed posters for theOffice of War Information and the Office of Strategic Services. His poster “Someone Talked” won an award from MOMA.  In 1945 he was sent to Germany to sketch the Nuremberg Trials. In 1946 he discovered that his parents (Leo and Fanny Koerner) and his brother (Kurt) had died in an extermination camp. In the early 50’s he and his family settled in Pittsburgh where he taught art at Chatham College and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

Koerner was known as the master of Magic Realism (a style of painting in Europe and the U.S. popular from the 1920’s-1940’s, which exists somewhere between surrealism and photorealism.)  and his work is part of several museums permanent collections. 

Koerner was in Vienna bicycling with his wife when he was hit by a car and killed in 1991.


Henry Koerner: YouTube. Produced by Penn State. 2009 ( A short video that features Koerner talking about his art and life in Pittsburgh and Vienna.)

Artist's Statement

"I have seen enough of Vienna. Now I know what I must do. I must go to Am Tabor and be told that my mother and father are murdered. I will be told all the details. On the corner a grocery store was open--the only store spared on the whole street. Frau Busch stood at the door. It was she who told me what I had known all the time. Her voice was unmoved. It had an undertone of satisfaction, but tears formed in her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. A puff of wind blew through the broken building. I looked up to the room in which I was born. I loved and belonged to the empty space behind the torn curtain."

"...And so I painted this scene in the Wienerwald. I helped my parents to walk once more in their beloved Vienna Woods, and I hung the locket with its photo of their children on a tree where their ways departed."

- Henry Koerner

Artwork: Absence/Presence

My Parents Henry Koerner

Henry Koerner (1915 - 1991) - My parents II. Oil on Masonite. 63.5 x 72.2 cm. 1946. Courtesy of Curtis Galleries, Minneapolis, MN.

My parents II detailMy parents II detailMy parents II detail

Details My Parents II.

Page updated 2013.