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

Zionists Can, and Do, Criticize Israel. Are Anti-Zionists Capable of Criticizing Anti-Semitism?

Dec. 12 2018

Last week, the New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg defended the newly elected anti-Israel congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, ostensibly arguing that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism aren’t identical. Abe Greenwald comments:

Tlaib . . . has tweeted and retweeted her enthusiasm for terrorists such as Rasmea Odeh, who murdered two American students in a Jerusalem supermarket in 1969. If Tlaib’s anti-Zionism is of the Jew-loving kind, she has a funny way of showing it.

Ilhan Omar, for her part, once tweeted, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” And wouldn’t you know it, just because she believes that Zionist hypnotists have cast global spells masking Israeli evil, some people think she’s anti-Semitic! Go figure! . . .

Goldberg spends the bulk of her column trying very hard to uncouple American Jewishness from Israel. To do that, she enumerates Israel’s sins, as she sees them. . . . [But] her basic premise is at odds with reality. Zionists aren’t afraid of finding fault with Israel and don’t need to embrace anti-Zionism in order to [do so]. A poll conducted in October by the Jewish Electorate Institute found that a majority of Americans Jews have no problem both supporting Israel and criticizing it. And unlike Goldberg, they have no problem criticizing anti-Semitism, either.

Goldberg gives the game away entirely when she discusses the discomfort that liberal American Jews have felt in “defending multi-ethnic pluralism here, where they’re in the minority, while treating it as unspeakable in Israel, where Jews are the majority.” She adds: “American white nationalists, some of whom liken their project to Zionism, love to poke at this contradiction.” Read that again. She thinks the white nationalists have a point. Because, really, what anti-Semite doesn’t?

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel & Zionism, New York Times