Charlotte Salomon (1917–1943)

Author of Life? or Theatre?

Includes the names: Foreward by Judith Herzberg Charlotte Saloman

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Charlotte Salomon, called Lotte, was born to a prosperous German Jewish family in Berlin. Her father Albert Salomon was a surgeon and professor at the Berlin University Medical School; her mother committed suicide when Lotte was nine. She was not told the cause of her mother's death, and the loss and silence made Lotte Salomon a solitary and observant child. She created her first paintings around age 13. In 1933, when the Nazis came to power, Lotte had to leave school and did drawings on her own. In 1936, she was admitted to the Berlin Academy of Fine Art (which had a Jewish quota) and attended cultural performances that were allowed to Jewish audiences. However, she was forced to leave in 1938. After the 1938 pogrom known as Kristallnacht, Albert Salomon was sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp; after his release, Lotte was sent for safety to her maternal grandparents in Villefranche, near Nice in southern France. There she witnessed her grandmother’s suicide and learned from her grandfather of her own mother’s suicide. Her parents became refugees in Amsterdam. In 1940, Lotte and her grandfather were sent to the Gurs concentration camp in the Pyrenees; they were released in the summer of that year and returned to Villefranche. Lotte Salomon supported herself by painting greeting cards and portraits and in 1941 moved to St. Jean Cap Ferrat on the Riviera. There she began creating her autobiographical masterpiece, a Singspiel -- a German form of operetta consisting of a series of notebook-size gouache paintings, with bright colors in the early scenes that darkened as the story progressed, accomanied by narrations ranged from witty and sardonic to grave and desperate. She then returned to Villefranche, moving in with Alexander Nagler, another German-speaking Jewish refugee. After they learned Lotte was pregnant, they felt safe enough to register their marriage at the Nice town hall. In September, 1943, however, they were arrested and sent by train first to the Drancy transit camp outside Paris and then to Auschwitz, where Lotte was killed on arrival and Alexander died later. Lotte had packaged her work, which she called "Life? Or Theater? A Song-Play" and hidden it with a trusted friend. It was located after the war by her parents and donated to the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. "Life? Or Theater?" went on permanent exhibit and also traveled in major exhibits throughout the world.
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