Life or Theatre? - the work of Charlotte Salomon
Approaching Holocaust Memorial Day, I am called to
remember our trip to Nice in 2016. Wandering around in a city that still has an intact Jewish District and arriving by sheer chance (if you believe in it) to the local history museum Villa Massena. We had been to see Matisse and Chagalle by then and to fill the time before departure we dandered into this magnificient building on the Promenade des Anglais. Amongst local history exhibits, we found a travelling exhibition of works from Amsterdam, paintings and writings by a young German Jew who lived in Nice for a short time, before finally taken to Auschwitz. She was 26 years old and five months pregnant, therefore gassed immediatelly upon arrival.
Her name was Charlotte Salomon. She left behind a painted diary, with hundreds of gouache images, which could be seen as a grafik novel today. In this, she described her life in Berlin, including her love life and friendships and then her witnessing Kristallnacht. After her father, a prominent doctor is taken to a camp near Berlin, she escapes to Nizza to live with her grandparents. The Italians did not persecute the Jews, so she was safe for a while. Only when the nazis invade the city will she be taken, in 1943. She dedicated all her work to a friend, Ottilie Moore and left it in the hands of a doctor for safe keeping. The intensity of her work still resonates and indeed, the book has a musical quality.
Only today, researching for this blog entry, I came across an article in the New Yorker, published this summer. The sad story of her family's mental illness, in which seven members committed suicide, including her mother, aunt and grandmother, was clear to me from the exhibition, but the fact that she murdered her own grandfather before being taken to Auschwitz only came to light a short while ago, when her confession letter was published. In this, a long lost secret, the whole story behind her obsessed self-expression is revealed. She transformed her pain into art and put her life onto paper.