The Work of a Unique Jewish Artist, Murdered by the Nazis, Finally on Display as Its Creator Intended

Nov. 21 2017

Born in Berlin in 1917, Charlotte Salomon fled Germany for France in 1938, following Kristallnacht. After France fell to the Nazis, she was briefly interned in a concentration camp, subsequently released, and trekked on foot to temporary safety in Italian-controlled Nice. There, in the space of several months, she produced over 1,000 small paintings and shaped them into a single work. When the Holocaust caught up with Nice, she went into hiding but eventually was apprehended by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz, where she was gassed along with her unborn child. The Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam has now put on display, for the first time in its entirety, her masterpiece titled Life? Or Theater? It has also been published in a single volume. Griselda Pollock writes:

[M]ade up of 784 paintings, this single work demonstrates a dazzling variety of painterly modes, from detailed vignettes on a single page to freely painted fields of color with barely established figures. Three-hundred-and-thirty of the paintings combine image with text placed in beautiful configurations on tracing-paper overlays. Elsewhere, words are painted directly onto the paintings, serving as ironic commentary or dialogue. There are pages of pure text, also painted, that preface and conclude the work, which is fronted by a playbill with Brechtian character names, suggesting an almost satirical theatrical form, and presented with a title page, a somber memorial page, and an anonymous author’s preface. Salomon referred to her work as “my book” and signed it with a cipher, CS, veiling both her gender and her Jewish ethnicity.

[I]n 1942, Salomon arranged and numbered the paintings into three sections. A prologue paints a saga of life and death in Berlin between 1913 and 1936 of four women: a teenager who commits suicide by drowning, a mother (Salomon’s older sister) who leaps from a window, the grieving mother of both women, who is also the grandmother of the bereaved child, and a stepmother who is a beautiful singer. After Hitler’s takeover of Germany forces the child, now a teenager, out of school, she decides to become an artist.

A main section, the largest part, covers in intense detail 1937–8, when the art student encounters a survivor of World War I who preaches a philosophy of art and life drawn from Michelangelo and the works of Nietzsche. . . .

Each section is painted in a different mode. The prologue demonstrates an astonishing ability to weave an integrated whole out of many tiny scenes. There are brilliant composites painted with telling details of domestic interiors, train stations, holiday travels, encounters with art in Venice and Rome, as well as single-image paintings that capture the often agonized inner world and imagined memories of several women. . . . History brutally erupts with paintings of riotous fascist crowds. . . .

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Read more at Times Literary Supplement

More about: Art, Arts & Culture, German Jewry, Holocaust


Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war