Charlotte Salomon–daughter of the renowned Berlin surgeon, Albert Salomon and Franciscka Grunewald–grew up in a typical Berlin Jewish family, acculturated, and well educated. During her adolescence she was greatly influenced by her stepmother Paula Lindberg, a famous opera singer who was one of the first to perform on the gramophone disk.
Many people know Charlotte’s personal history, I suppose. Less known, is the history of her magnum opus, Leben? oder Theater? (Life? or Theatre?) now on view at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Illinois through September 21, 2014.
After finishing this operetta based on her own life, Charlotte lived a married life in the south of France under increasing German repression, before being caught by the Nazis in 1943. Though the pregnant Charlotte perished in Auschwitz, her masterpiece survived and serves as a testament to her life.
Life? or Theater? was donated to Jewish Museum of Amsterdam in 1971. The work was seen as Weimar-influenced German art and was recently shown next to a contemporary memory of events at Tharir Square, Cairo, by Anna Boghugian at the 2012 dOCUMENTA13 in Kassel, Germany. As modern art, it was shown at the Fodor wing of the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum and at the Royal Academy in London.
Charlotte has been compared to Marc Chagall, Max Beckman, William Kentridge and most of all to Emil Nolde, a German expressionist. Films were made about her work, which is appropriate as one can see from the several gouaches forming Life? or Theater?, that Charlotte seems to be creating a film. We know that the Pabelsberg film studios, were a part of her Berlin sphere may have inspired her.
Notably this past Monday, the Salzburg Festival premiered the first opera based on her work. From performing art to film-making, it is clear that Charlotte’s story and moving masterpiece will resonate with generations to come.
Posted by Joel Cahen | Director of the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam