Life? or Theater?: A Compilation of Artwork by Charlotte Salomon
November 2, 2022
Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences and the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education welcomed scholar Monica Bohm-Duchen to speak about Life? or Theater?: a compilation of artwork by Charlotte Salomon, a talented Berlin-born artist who, at the age of twenty-six and five months pregnant, was murdered at the Auschwitz death camp in World War II.
Life? or Theater? is a series of art examining not only artist Charlotte Salomon’s depictions of the Third Reich and an era of Nazi Germany but the struggles Saloman faced in her personal life. From her mother’s death to World War 1 and life at the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts, Saloman’s work extends into her life and beyond the horrors of the Holocaust. Bohm-Duchen provided extensive insight into Saloman’s artwork and life through her lecture.
“So, what is Leben? Oder Theater? What is Life? or Theater? It is impossible to categorize, virtually impossible. Every time I reengage with it I am astonished with its originality,” Bohm-Duchen said.
Life? or Theater? is a series of art examining not only artist Charlotte Salomon’s depictions of the Third Reich and an era of Nazi Germany but the struggles Saloman faced in her personal life. From her mother’s death to World War 1 and life at the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts, Saloman’s work extends into her life and beyond the horrors of the Holocaust. Bohm-Duchen provides extensive insight into Saloman’s artwork and life through her lecture.
Saloman’s work regarding her personal life, according to Bohm-Duchen
One work of Saloman’s prior to Auschwitz, showcased by Bohm-Duchen, depicts the tragic death of Saloman’s mother through her art.
According to Bohm-Duchen, there are many artworks in Life? or Theater? by Saloman that depict her mother’s death, but her work “In Heaven Everything is Much More Beautiful Than Here on Earth” is “the most poignant” of them.
“In a very remarkably inventive kind of image, Francesca, her (Saloman’s) mother apparently promises the young girl that she will write to her from up above from Heaven,” Bohm-Duchen said.
Two more of Saloman’s early works showcased by Bohm-Duchen illustrate Saloman’s personal life, portraying sentiments of failure from her initial rejection, and then acceptance into, the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts.
The work portraying Saloman’s initial rejection is titled “Oh I am trying, but in vain! My lovely dream is down the drain! Not for me-Academy,” and the work capturing her admission is titled “Ah now I’ve got it!”
Bohm-Duchen referenced how Saloman evokes emotion through her artwork.
“Look how, in a sense, dark and downward-dragging it is in its evocation of her failure,” Bohm-Duchen said.
Saloman’s life during the Third Reich in Nazi Germany, according to Bohm-Duchen
In her lecture, Bohm-Duchen also detailed Saloman’s work depicting the era of Nazi Germany. According to Bohm-Duchen, Saloman’s depictions of the Third Reich represent “the beginning of the end.”
One of these works is titled “The swastika- a symbol of bright hope- the day for freedom and bread now dawns- Just at this time, many Jews- who, with all their often undesirable efficacy, are perhaps a pushy and insistent race, happened to be occupying government and other senior positions. After the Nazi takeover of power, they were all dismissed without notice.”
According to Bohm-Duchen, Saloman reverses the Swastica in her art, which is “a small gesture of defiance against the Nazis in a sense that she could subvert the power of this toxic symbol.”
Two other works showcased in this lecture, “Grab what you can!” and “Vengence on the Jews and destruction to their temples” paint a picture of Kristallnacht, an event where 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to Nazi concentration camps.
“These images represent a “stark, dramatic” and “terrible” period of German life for Saloman.,” said Bohm-Duchen.
Although Charlotte Saloman’s life was cut short, people like Bohm-Duchen allow her work to live on today and inform others of Saloman’s personal life, as well as the horrors of Nazi Germany.
“Her life was brutally cut off by her murder in Auschwitz in 1943, but there was of course a life before Auschwitz and in terms of what she produced as a creative artist she has lived on way beyond her death,” Bohm-Duchen said.
(Main Photo: “Vengence on the Jews and destruction to their temples” Photo courtesy of Bohm-Duchen’s lecture’s source: Charlotte Saloman.Life or Theater? -Jewish Cultural Quarter (jck.nl).)