Reading Charlotte Salomon is an extraordinary anthology which provides an open window to the unusual life of a young artist who died in the Holocaust. The book consists of essays by prominent historians and critics, who assess Salomon’s life from different perspectives, focusing on her identity as a Jew, her artistic talents, and the various cultural and political elements of the time in which she created her art.
Charlotte Salomon was born in Germany in 1917 and was murdered at Auschwitz in 1943. In her short life Salomon demonstrated extraordinary courage, determination, and artistic genius, which are all evident in her work. When the Nazis began to take over Germany, Charlotte was sent to live with her maternal grandparents in the French Riviera. It was there that she created more than 1,300 gouaches, 800 of which are known as her exhibition Life? Or Theatre? This book includes 24 color plates of Salomon’s art; they are bold declarations of her feelings of pain and anguish resulting from the persecution of the Jews during this time. These works of art are not from the perspective of an inmate of the camps, but from the point of view of a woman’s personal response to an intolerable crisis, and to her decision to choose ‘life’ rather than the ‘death’ which had plagued her own family through multiple suicides.
These essays paint a bewitching picture of Salomon. Her work, although small in size, harnesses the large intensity and power that existed in this woman during a time of tremendous cruelty and hatred toward her people. In many ways Salomon’s art, and this book, speak of hope, desire, and determination in the face of adversity.