Observations & meditations on the day-to-day
Painter, auteur, enigma, murderer.
What would you make of a woman who killed her grandfather – and did a portrait of him as he lay dying? Here’s an article on “something crazy special.”
“In February, 1943, eight months before she was murdered in Auschwitz, the German painter Charlotte Salomon killed her grandfather. Salomon’s grandparents, like many Jews, had fled Germany in the mid-nineteen-thirties, with a stash of “morphine, opium, and Veronal” to use “when their money ran out.” But Salomon’s crime that morning was not a mercy killing to save the old man from the Nazis; this was entirely personal. It was Herr Doktor Lüdwig Grünwald, not “Herr Hitler,” who, Salomon wrote, “symbolized for me the people I had to resist.” And resist she did. She documented the event in real time, in a thirty-five-page letter, most of which has only recently come to light.”
Extract from THE NEW YORKER: read the full article here:
Charlotte Salomon came from a prosperous Berlin family. Her father, Albert Salomon was a surgeon; her mother, sensitive and troubled, committed suicide when Charlotte was nine. (This fact was concealed from her until she was twenty-two.) Charlotte was sixteen when the Nazis came to power in 1933. She simply refused to go to school, and stayed at home.
At a time when German universities were restricting their Jewish student quota to 1.5% of the student body (providing their fathers had served on the front line in the First World War), Charlotte succeeded in gaining admission to the Vereinigte Staatsschulen für freie und angewandte Kunst (United State Schools for Pure and Applied Arts) in 1936. She studied painting there for two years, but by summer 1938 the antisemitic policy of Hitler’s Third Reich meant that it was too dangerous for Charlotte to continue attending the college and she did not return, despite winning a prize.
Charlotte’s father was briefly interned in Sachsenhausen concentration camp in November 1938, after Kristallnacht, and the Salomon family decided to leave Germany. Charlotte was sent to the South of France to live with her grandparents, already settled in Villefranche-sur-Mer near Nice. They lived in a cottage in the grounds of a luxurious villa L’Ermitage (now demolished) owned by a wealthy American, Ottilie Moore, who went on to shelter a number of Jewish children. Charlotte left L’Ermitage with her grandparents to live in an apartment in Nice, where her grandmother attempted to hang herself in the bathroom. Charlotte’s grandfather then revealed the truth to Charlotte about her mother’s suicide, as well as the suicides of her aunt Charlotte, her great grandmother, her great uncle, and her grandmother’s nephew. Shortly after the outbreak of war in September 1939, Charlotte’s grandmother succeeded in taking her own life.
Charlotte and her grandfather were interned by the French authorities in a bleak camp in the Pyrenees called Gurs. Released on account of her grandfather’s infirmity, the two of them returned to Nice and there – at the beginning of 1941 – Charlotte Salomon commenced the great work that would outlive her short life.
Charlotte Salomon began her extraordinary series of 769 paintings – entitled Life? or Theater? – by stating that she was driven by “the question: whether to take her own life or undertake something wildly unusual”.
In the space of two years, she painted over a thousand gouaches, working with feverish intensity. She edited the paintings, re-arranged them, and added texts, captions, and overlays. She had a habit of humming songs to herself while painting. The entire work was a slightly fantastic autobiography preserving the main events of her life – her mother’s death, studying art in the shadow of the Third Reich, her relationship with her grandparents – but altering the names and employing a strong element of fantasy. Charlotte also added notes about appropriate music to increase the dramatic effect, and she called Life? or Theater? a ‘Singespiel’ or lyrical drama.
In 1943, as the Nazis intensified their search for Jews living in the South of France, she handed the work to a trusted friend with the words, “Keep this safe, it is my whole life.”
By September 1943, Charlotte Salomon had married another German Jewish refugee, Alexander Nagler. The two of them were dragged from their house and transported by rail from Nice to the Nazi ‘processing centre’ at Drancy near Paris. By now, Charlotte Salomon was five months pregnant. She was transported to Auschwitz on 7 October 1943 and was probably gassed on the same day that she arrived there (October 10).
The above extract from WIKIPEDIA