Read­ing Char­lotte Salomon

Michael P. Stein­berg; Mon­i­ca Bohm-Duchen, eds.
  • Review
By – May 21, 2012

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. 

Bar­bara S. Cohen is a tri­al attor­ney in Los Ange­les who spe­cial­izes in child abuse cas­es. She is a mem­ber of NAMI and a sup­port­er of NARSAD, and is an advo­cate for those who suf­fer from men­tal illness.

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