Arseny Joseph SAVITSKY (aka Joe) [1903-1990] | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Arseny Joseph SAVITSKY (aka Joe) [1903-1990]

Arseny Joseph
Alias / nickname: 
c.1903-10-25 (Month, Day are approximate)
Birthplace (country): 
c.1990-01-01 (Month, Day are approximate)


Portrait Artist in Stanley Prison Camp

AJ Savitsky was an artist interned in the Stanley Prison Camp during World War II, when the Japanese occupied Hong Kong, He was a Russian who had migrated to Hong Kong in the early 1930s and became a member of the Hong Kong Police Reserve in 1936. He was interned with other civilians, including police officers. 

Apparently Savitsky did some 200 portraits whilst in the Camp and should be recognized for these extraordinary works. Yes – extraordinary when one considers his dedication in producing these portraits despite the considerable lack of materials, and secondly, for rendering such a unique and accomplished record of so many of the internees.

See the two drawings (under 'images') done by AJ Savitsky of Ron (Roland) Brooks who was an officer in the Hong Kong Fire Brigade, prior to the Japanese invasion. One portrait, depicts Ron in his Fire Brigade uniform (dated 30 March 1942) and the second is a portrait in civilian clothes (dated 27 April 1942). 




Photos that show this person



Hi Everyone,

AJ Savitsky is my grandfather! Known as Joe Savitsky.

He was born in 1903 and died in 1990. And even recently had a book written about him (albeit only in Russian though I have a written translation by my dad).

He was a midshipmen in the Imperial Navy and was wounded in action as a 16 year old midshipmen leading a shore party against communist forces.

He ended up in Shanghai after the Imperial Fleet was cuttled near Shanghai and married my grandmother in the mid 1920s. He left behind his parents and 2 sisters in Russia with whom he had little to no contact until his death in 1990.

He evacuated Shanghai (they lived in the French Concession) to Hong Kong because of the Japanese threat in the mid 1930s and later joined the HK Police Reserve in 1936. My grandmother, father and uncle also were living in HK along with my grandmother's mother.

He was working as a commericial artist at the time and they all lived in accomodation above the Allhambra Theatre in Nathan Road.

Roll onto around 1940 and the Japanese menace was growing and my Grandmother and dad and uncle were ordered to evacuate (they had since become British subjects but not my great grandmother) and were evacuated to Brisbane, Australia because they were "not essential to the defence of the colony".

During this time, my grandfather remained in HK but also had his mother in law there and also his cousin - Vic Veriga who was full time HK Police and also a guest in Stanley Camp.

When the Japanese invaded, the HK Police were militiarised and issued tin hats and rifles and performed many different duties. My grandfather was assigned Air Raid Precaution duty.

Whilst performing this ARP duty outside the Police HQ at the Gloucester Hotel, he was wounded by Japanese artillery fire in December, 1941 as things were really starting to look bad for the defenders of HK.

Now at this point he was evacuated to various military hospitals and I was only recently informed by dad that grandfather told him that whilst in one of these hospitals, the Japanese came through and bayoneted all the bed ridden wounded! Luckily he was only wounded in the arm and could walk!

After surrender, he left hospital and ended up in Stanley Camp.

Pretty soon after he arrived, the Japanese Camp Commandant found out he was an artist and asked to have his portrait painted and grandfather agreed. However he had none of the necessary art supplies so that Japanese organised to get art supplies from his mother-in-law who was still living in Kowloon (as she was Russian, not British). It really was thanks to her that many of the portraits and drawings were done in Stanley (and also that invaluable documentation also survived the war - a remarkable effort for a caucasian woman in her 50s to survive in Kowloon for 3.5 years!).

I'm also a member of the Stanley Camp discussion group (I started it up) so more info can be found there:

He survived captivity, did 200 odd paintings and drawings which we have found many examples all over the world. He was repartriated to Brisbane in 1945 but to the day he died in 1990, he remained thin as a result of the lack of nutrition in Stanley Camp. he also changed out family name from Savitsky to Martin in the early 1950s.

If anyone is keen for more info, I'm happy for them to contact me -



I'll have to ask Dad for his date of birth and death as sadly I can't remember the exact dates.

Birth I think is around 29 October, 1903 and passing was in May, 1990.



Hello Michael

It is so interesting to read about your grandfather Joseph Savitsky - I now have some valuable information to put with the two portraits he did of my father in Stanley Prison Camp. As a working artist myself I appreciate this background.

Thank you,



Sounds good - happy to provide info.

Are you also able to email me some high resolution copies of these pictures? Dad and I are trying to compile an archive of all the pictures grand-dad did in Stanley and would certainly like to get high resolution copies of these if at all possible.



Hello Michael

I will try to send you high resolution photos of the two portraits I have, which were done by AJ Savitsky.



Barbara Anslow writes:

Mr Savitsky was very well known in camp as an artist, his pictures were excellent and much prized.

He did a beautiful portrait of my late elder sister Olive, on brown paper. Alas, it disappeared after Olive's death.

Mr Savitsky's naturalisation certificate is in the UK National Archive, reference HO 334/254/2935. It has the following information:

Date 11 September 1940
Full name Arseny Joseph Savitsky
Address Alhambra Theatre Building, top floor, Kowloon
Trade or Occupation Commercial Artist and Painter.
Place and date of birth Egorievsk, Russia, October 25th, 1903
Nationality No nationality
Single, married, etc. Married
Name of wife Elena Savitsky, nee Starchenko
Names and nationality of parents Joseph Martin Savitsky, Father; Citizen of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, deceased.
Olga Vitalievna Savitsky, nee Veriga, Mother; Citizen of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

The certificate also applies to his two minor children:

  • CYRIL SAVITSKY born on 24th October, 1929
  • NIKITA SAVITSKY born on 25th November, 1933