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A new film brings to life ‘the largest single work of art created by a Jew during the Holocaust’

(New York Jewish Week) —  While hiding from the Nazis, the German Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon began a series of autobiographical paintings and texts with a painfully simple description of her aunt, and namesake’s, suicide: “Scene 1: 1913. One November day, a young girl named Charlotte Knarre leaves her parents’ home and jumps into the water.” 

Intense and memorable, that image is the launching point for “Life? or Theatre?”, a series of hundreds of gouaches Salomon made between 1940 and 1942. Best described as an “autobiographical play,” it features personal stories illustrated with vibrant paintings and cues for music. Salomon, in her 20s when she made the body of work, called it a “singspiel,” a play with music.

And now, a new film directed by French sisters Delphine and Muriel Coulin, delivers a cinematic representation of her best-known work. “Charlotte Salomon: Life and the Maiden” will make its world premiere at Lincoln Center on Weds., January 18 as a centerpiece of the New York Jewish Film Festival

The film lies somewhere between cinema and art installation: Aside from a brief opening and conclusion, Salomon’s expressive paintings take up most of the screen time. Sound design brings the paintings to life, as does the music Salomon indicated in her original script, along with text read by the actress Vicky Krieps (“Phantom Thread,” “Corsage”), who plays protagonist Charlotte.

“We didn’t want to make a pure documentary of her,” co-director Delphine Coulin told the New York Jewish Week. “What had never been done was to make a true film with the painting, the music and the text, and to imagine what Charlotte was visualizing when she was painting… Because the neighbors said they could hear her singing while she was painting.” 

French sisters Muriel Coulin, left, and Delphine Coulin are co-directors of “Charlotte Salomon: Life and the Maiden.” (Richard Schroeder)

These days, Salomon — who died at Auschwitz at age 26 in 1943 — is something of a cult favorite among art lovers and Jewish historians. In a 2017 New Yorker article, writer Toni Bentley notes that “Life? or Theatre?” is “the largest single work of art created by a Jew during the Holocaust.” She is also sometimes compared to Anne Frank. Critics have noted this comparison does neither artist justice, distinguishing between the youthful directness of Frank’s writing as an adolescent in hiding with the more mature, sophisticated representations made by Salomon as a young artist. 

Born in Berlin in 1917, Salomon grew up in a cultured German Jewish family. Her mother died when she was 8. She studied at the German capital’s prestigious Academy of Arts until the Nazis’ rise to power made it impossible for her to continue. In 1938, her father spent a brief period in an internment camp — after his release, he sent his daughter to stay with her grandparents in the south of France, where he hoped she’d be safe. 

After Salomon’s arrival at Villefranche-sur-Mer in 1939, her grandmother attempted suicide and eventually died. Only then did Salomon learn that her mother had died by suicide as well, and that the women in her family had a history of depression (though it isn’t covered in the film, there is some evidence that her grandfather may have been abusive). 

In “Life? or Theatre?” Salomon writes: “My life began when my grandmother ended hers, when I learned that my mother too had ended her life, and that deep down I felt the same predisposition to despair and death. I thought to myself: either I kill myself too, or I create something really crazy and extraordinary.” 

For the next two years, Salomon did just that, creating some 1,300 paintings about her life in exile. She accompanied these paintings with text and musical cues that included Bach, Schubert, Mahler and the German anthem “Deutschlandlied,” creating an entire multimedia body of work. 

As the Nazi grip tightened in France, Salomon, realizing the danger she faced, brought a box containing all her paintings to a friend, the town’s doctor. The film recounts what she tells him: “Take care of it. This is my whole life.” Just weeks later, Salomon, five months pregnant, was sent to Auschwitz, where she died on Oct. 10, 1943. 

While Salomon’s work includes depictions of Nazis, antisemitism and persecution, the majority of “Life? or Theater?” — and therefore the film — is dedicated to the explosive inner life and autobiography of its creator. She explores suicide, Freudian lust, psychological distress, music, philosophy and her own artistic impulses. 

Yet “Life? or Theatre?” is unmistakably a product of its time, and as such the film includes historical images of Hitler’s rise. Though the French filmmakers don’t identify as Jewish themselves, Delphine said that she and her sister have some Jewish family, and she noted the film’s content is more relevant than ever. “Antisemitism never did end, but now in France and in Europe, it is stronger and stronger than ever, since 1945,” she said. “We really see it and we talk to it nearly each day. We can’t ignore it.” 

“With all these strange times we’re living in, Charlotte gives you strength, because she really crossed the times with a strong belief in art and love,” she added.

The film ends with astonishing footage from the early 1960s of Salomon’s father and stepmother, who survived hiding in the Netherlands, looking through their daughter’s paintings as they are interviewed about her. “I was surprised when I discovered her work,” says her father Albert Salomon. He had known nothing of his late daughter’s project until the couple visited Villefranche-sur-Mer after the war, hoping to find some traces of Charlotte’s life. 

“The work is very, very vivid — very expressive of life in all its aspects,” said Delphine of Salomon’s art — and the Coulin sisters, in turn, were inspired to bring the work to a broader audience. In 2019, Muriel directed her first theater piece, “Charlotte,” a rendition of Salomon’s work for the stage that played in Paris at the Théâtre du Rond Point. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the production, the Coulins transposed their medium to film. 

Delphine added that they were also drawn to what she called the “poignant story” of Salomon’s brief life, now immortalized by her singular creative impulse in the face of adversity. 

“In difficult times — and her times were probably the most difficult times ever — she really believed in art,” she said. “How art makes you survive. How it can give you a piece of eternity. We wouldn’t speak about her this way if she had not been able to make this wonderful work.”

Charlotte Salomon: Life and the Maiden” will screen on Weds., January 18 at 12:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. at the Walter Reade Theater at 165 West 65th St. For additional information on the New York Jewish Film Festival, which runs through Monday, January 23, click here


The post A new film brings to life ‘the largest single work of art created by a Jew during the Holocaust’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Obituaries

Dr. NATHAN WISEMAN

Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.

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A number of speakers addressed the crowd of 800, including Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun-Herzlia Congregation; Members of Parliament Ben Carr & Marty Morantz; Yolanda Papini-Pollock of Winnipeg Friends of Israel; Paula McPherson, former Brock Corydon teacher; and Gustavo Zentner, President of the Jewish Federation.

Ben Carr

Click here to watch Ben Carr’s remarks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crfREGNRKfg

Marty Morantz

Click here to watch a video of Marty Morantz’s remarks: https://studio.youtube.com/video/zHzC-iaqivg/ed

Gustavo Zentner

Click here to watch a video of Gustavo Zentner’s remarks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3M_cCYuLgs

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