It is a story totally unknown to the general public, and yet incredible. That of Hanns Scharff. A member of the Luftwaffe during the war and a famous prisoner interrogator, he was recruited by Walt Disney to decorate DisneyWorld.
If you had the chance to go to Disneyworldthe amusement park created by Walt Disney in Florida, located in Orlando, you have surely been able to discover, while lingering in Cinderella’s castle, these enormous frescoes of mosaics covering the interior walls of the castle for nearly five meters, telling the story of Cinderella.
Here is a little preview :
These mosaics are the work of an artist of world renown in his field, named Hanns-Joachim Gottlob Scharff, whose name will probably only speak to very, very few of you. Strange and fascinating destiny that of this man born in 1907 in Rastenburg, in Prussia, within a wealthy family.
His maternal grandfather was the owner-founder of a large, well-known textile company. After studying Art and trained to one day work in the family business, Scharff moved to South Africa where he married, and from where he managed the local branch of the family business.
Shortly before the Second World War broke out, he was on vacation in Germany with his wife in 1939. In 1941, Scharff had to be sent to the Russian Front. His wife, anxious to keep him alive, tries, with success, to convince the authorities to leave her husband as an interpreter, because he speaks fluent English. His superiors end up sending him to Oberursel, where there is a Luftwaffe interrogation center, in which American pilots captured by the Germans were interrogated.
Here is Hanns-Joachim Gottlob Scharff, in uniform:
This is where he earned his reputation as Master Interrogator. Indeed, unlike interrogation practices where torture was most often used to extract information, Scharff sought to gain the confidence of prisoners, never by torturing them or threatening them, but always by using almost infallible psychological techniques. Scharff became the most famous interrogator in the German army.
On April 16, 1945, he was taken prisoner by the Allies, and was released two months later. In fact, his touch was so human that he even befriended former Allied prisoners he had been in charge of interrogating. In 1948, he was invited by the American authorities to come and interrogate a certain detainee named Martin James Monti, a US Air Force pilot who deserted to the Axis forces in October 1944. The American military authorities were so impressed by his methods and interrogation techniques that they are still taught today.
Scharff eventually obtained American citizenship and successfully converted into an artist specializing in earthenware and mosaics. In 1955, he obtained in the prestigious New York luxury store Neiman Marcus to decorate the interior a little with his mosaic work. In 1956, he moved to Los Angeles and set up his studio there. Blending glass, stone and marble, Scharff draws inspiration from popular Mesopotamian art and techniques dating back millennia.
Despite his creations, which range from tables to murals, he refused to call himself an artist: “I’m a copyist, not a creative artist. That’s my art. To copy. Not to create” he said one day Los Angeles Times.
A copyist? Maybe. But whose works are visible as far as Los Angeles City Hall, the California State Capitol Building, Epcot Center and Disneyworld, not to mention the various official buildings across the country, such as schools, universities , private homes, hotels, shopping malls, etc… In the four corners of the world. Not bad for someone who, modestly, did not see himself as an artist, with an extraordinary destiny. He died in September 1992, at the age of 84.