Adolf Frankl was the son of a Jewish merchant family in Pressburg in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (today Bratislava in Slovakia). Frankl initially trained as an interior decorator. Afterwards, he studied art at the School of Arts and Crafts in Pressburg with František Reichentál and Gustáv Mallý. He also worked on the side as a caricaturist and as a designer of advertising posters. Frankl set up an interior decorating business in 1937, but it was confiscated as part of the “Aryanisation” of Bratislava by the Nazis. On 28 September 1944, Frankl was arrested along with his wife, their two children and his brother-in-law. They were sent to the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
His family was murdered there; his father and his two brothers also died in the Holocaust. Frankl only survived because he was able to hide in the typhoid-ridden barracks of Althammer. Frankl was liberated by the Red Army in January 1945. He initially returned to Bratislava, but after he emigrated to Vienna in 1949. In order to try and come to terms with his traumatic experiences, he began to paint the “inferno” of Auschwitz. His depictions of the Holocaust were his attempt to create a memorial to it.